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The path to a healthier life can start with a notebook Stories by Jennifer Motl I
Volunteers for food diary project illustrate the challenges of eating well

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Date published: 4/16/2006

T TAKES COURAGE to reveal your weight, age and what you ate yesterday to another person, much less the public. Yet more than 100 readers responded to my invitation to do just that.

I asked readers if they'd be willing to keep a detailed food diary for a day and let me write about it for Healthy Living. In exchange, they'd get a free nutrition analysis and a one-hour coaching session.

That so many people jumped at the chance to get free advice from a registered dietitian, despite the public scrutiny involved, reflects the challenges of eating well in a busy world.

The Free Lance-Star's editors narrowed the crowd of candidates to three local women who embody the struggles of many readers.

Of the more than 100 people who asked to participate, just a few were men. We chose three women trying to reach a healthy weight while balancing a combination of family, jobs, long commutes and health problems.

One, like so many other respondents, is a single mom who wants to feed herself and her child well. Another is a commuter who says the "candy bowl has replaced the water cooler" at work. The third is battling health problems not uncommon among people who struggle to eat well.

All three kept a detailed log of what they ate--which can be useful for anyone trying to eat better. The simple act of writing down what you eat can be a powerful incentive to eat well, and a great way to identify the unhealthy aspects of your diet.

I reviewed the participants' food diaries carefully for this project, and I also interviewed each woman. I wanted to know if their food diaries described a typical day's diet. I also wanted to learn more about their lives.

My advice is tailored to meet their concerns, food preferences, lifestyle and health history. But I hope it benefits other readers as well, as I'm sure many will see their own struggles and habits reflected in the lives of these women.

Today's installment focuses on the eating habits of our commuter participant. In the next two weeks, you can read about our other participants' food diaries.

My advice is not meant to replace that of a physician. And I want to note that, normally, a dietitian meets with people more than once, to encourage them and to help troubleshoot problems.

Even so, I think my suggestions provide a starting point for eating and living more healthfully.

To find a local dietitian, try the American Dietetic Association's toll-free Consumer Nutrition Hot Line at 800/366-1655, or online at eatright.org.

JENNIFER MOTL, a registered dietitian, welcomes reader questions via her Web site, brighteating .com, or mailed to Nutrition, The Free Lance-Star, 616 Amelia St., Fredericksburg, Va. 22401.