Healthy Eating Tips for Writers

Monday, August 05, 2013
When the final school bell rang in May, I made two promises to myself: I would cross off a number of items on my writing to-do list and I would lose weight by making smart food choices and exercising more. I started the C25K program and on day 1, I tore the LCL in my left knee.

Guess which promise I kept?

Now it’s almost time for school to resume, which means I’ll be driving, teaching, driving, interviewing and writing. Whew! To heck with healthy choices! Pass the ice cream…and pretzels…and…

If you spend any time writing and find yourself with BICAD (butt-in-chair-all-day) syndrome, or if you’re a journalist (like me) and find that you live life on the highway, traveling from assignment to assignment (and to school to assignment) and then add BICAD, you may face some of the same struggles I do.

This much I know for sure: I need to have better control over diet when I'm in the writing zone. Now, how do I get that control?

I sat down with Amber Pankonin, a Registered Dietitian licensed as a Medical Nutrition Therapist and a board certified specialist in pediatric nutrition. Amber holds a B.S. in Nutrition Science from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and Master’s degree in Community Nutrition from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Amber also blogs about health and nutrition topics. We talked about some of my food and exercise issues due to my writing obligations. Perhaps, my fellow writers, you wrestle with these concerns, too.

LuAnn: Welcome to The Muffin, Amber. My schedule is one of my main concerns, and I know all writers have such varied schedules. Some people prefer to get up early in the morning and write. Others - like me - are night owls. It's tough to maintain a decent meal schedule! Compound my schedule with my husband’s dairy farm routine and it’s a recipe for disaster when it comes to meals and meal planning. Then I find myself snacking at midnight. What can writers do to maintain a healthy eating schedule?

Amber: This question makes me smile. As a Registered Dietitian that works as a free lance writer, I have the same struggles! Honestly, I usually trust my gut. Meaning, when I'm hungry then I'll eat! However, you and I both know that not all meals and snacks are created equal. I do eat breakfast every morning and I try to limit my snacks to under 250 calories. You could eat six smaller meals every day, but a small meal might be packed with fat, calories, and sodium. It really depends on what you're eating! I usually do three meals and a couple snacks throughout the day but that can change depending on my hunger levels. Sleep is also really important for a healthy metabolism. Even if you are a night owl, try and get consistent rest each night. My other suggestion is to have a plan for meals & snacks. I also try to not keep foods in the house that I know I will overindulge in. (I'm talking to you, salt & vinegar potato chips)

LuAnn: Oooh, salt and vinegar chips. Yum! I mean, pass the carrot sticks. (Smiles) My morning routine seems to work, but by mid-afternoon, I crash and burn. Probably because I think I’m hungry and open the cupboard to see what’s available. Why, hello, box of Wheat Thins. Okay, I know I shouldn’t eat those. What are some healthy snack options that will maintain my energy?

Amber: I reach for sugar snap peas or cucumbers with hummus. It's packed with fiber and not loaded with empty calories. I mention fiber because since most writers aren't moving, constipation is usually a problem. I also love greek yogurt. Chobani makes the "bites" which are around 100 calories/serving. It provides protein that fills me up until dinner time.

LuAnn: I am a hummus fan, so I will need to make sure it’s available. Luckily, I don’t have a problem with empty calories from soda. Sweet drinks are too much for me. I do drink a lot of tea, but even that becomes boring after awhile. Do you have some ideas about sprucing up a drink without packing on pounds? How many ounces should I be drinking a day? And I'm not talking alcohol. (Smiles)

Amber: Infused waters have been trending the last few years. Adding cucumbers, herbs, orange slices, or strawberries are a great way to add life to your water or tea. The blanket fluid recommendation is about 9-13 cups of fluid/day. The amount of fluid you need every day is unique as how many calories you need every day. It's depends on your age, gender, height, how active you are, and even environmental factors. Keep in mind that you can get fluid sources from your food. Fruits and vegetables are about 95% water and meats/cheeses are about 50% water. Yes, coffee & tea do count as a part of your overall fluid intake. If you're a soda drinker, I suggest switching to diet or cutting it out altogether if you can. Again, small changes like that will give you better results in the end.

LuAnn: Perfect! I’m going to try infusing tea with orange slices. Sounds good! Okay, Amber, here’s one of my biggest problems. If I'm in "the zone," I can write for hours without a break. Then, I realize I haven't eaten anything and instead of making a meal, I'll snack, which leads to another snack, which leads to... Should I be concerned about skipping lunch?

Amber: Well, it depends on the person, but let's say a writer is diabetic. This could lead to a drop in blood sugar which would impact cognitive function. For those of us without diabetes, we might feel hungry which could be a distraction. Again, we have to pay attention to what our bodies are telling us. I know what it's like to be in the zone, but I also know breaks are healthy. Also, try and keep all meals and snacks away from the work area because that can also lead to mindless eating.

LuAnn: Ding! Ding! Ding! Been there, done that! Another change I need to make is taking a break to exercise. When it’s crunch time and I have a lot of deadlines, I push exercise to the end of the to-do list. I’ll be honest, I just don't like to. What are some quick exercises writers can do between tasks/assignments if they can’t block a set amount of time for exercise?

Amber: Funny that you should ask this because I have been working on finding a balance with this in my own life. I have been researching standing desks and treadmill desks for months now! I used to have a job where I was on my feet all the time. Since I quit my job to become an entrepreneur, I've noticed it's harder for me to get those daily steps in. I would suggest consider purchasing a standing desk or even a treadmill desk. I recently purchased one for myself! In fact, I'm answering these questions while working from my treadmill desk. You also don't have to spend a fortune either. IKEA makes table legs that extend to 42" which are about $30/leg. With the right adjustments, you should be able to assemble yourself a decent standing desk. I put mine over my treadmill and I write and walk comfortably between 1.0-2.0 miles/hour. It doesn't necessarily replace my workout, but it does help me get steps throughout the day. I would also consider purchasing a pedometer. I own a Fitbit zip and I love tracking my steps throughout the day. Fitbit also allows social sharing so I can compete with my friends or others that I know who work from home. Any activity tracker allows you to really see what your activity looks like throughout the day.

LuAnn: Sounds like I better retrieve the pedometer from the junk drawer and USE it! Hello, C25K, my old friend. Great tips, Amber. Now, I need to implement them.

Interview and graphic by LuAnn Schindler


Margo Dill said...

LuAnn and Amber, I really appreciate this interview. Late night snacking is one of my BIGGEST problems (I have to do a lot of writing at night due to small children in my household...:) and I like to eat salty stuff to stay awake). So, I'm wondering is there anything that is good to eat at night that feels like you are eating something salty but you're not. . .:) LOL

Anonymous said...

Great interview!
Water with lemon slices works for me. Now I will try some orange or cucumber. Thanks!

Rev. Linda M. Rhinehart Neas, M.Ed. said...

LuAnn and Amber...thank you, thank you for this great article. Tips well taken...I tend to forget to eat...then, I get wicked grumpy. Fortunately, my Roger realizes this habit and puts nutritious snacks at my elbow.

Blessings, Linda

Anonymous said...

Thanks Luann & thanks for all the nice comments. Margo, I really to much on dried peas. I know it sounds strange but Trader Joes makes "inner peas" and I believe there's also something similar at walmart. They remind me of "funions" chips in a way. They are super crunchy & tasty but low in salt and high in potassium. I think only 130 calories/serving.

Sioux Roslawski said...

The time I've spent with my BIC this summer has made my butt and my gut get bigger. Thanks for this post, LuAnn.

Margo--Baked kale "chips" might satisfy your crave for salt, and it's a lot healthier than chips or crackers. Take kale (the rough-looking stuff), wash it, dry it, and tear the leaves off the too-tough "spine." When it's dry, put the leaves in a bowl and drizzle a little olive oil (it doesn't take much) on it, and toss it so all the leaves are coated. Spread the leaves--a single layer--on a baking sheet, sprinkle sea salt and whatever other spices you desire. (I've used "seasoning for greens" and minced garlic.)

Bake at 350 for 15-20 minutes. (Turn them over midway so each side gets crispy.) They have to be watched carefully, because there is a fine line between crispy and burnt when it comes to these fragile leaves.

They look disgusting (dark green, almost black, and quite fragile) but are pretty tasty.

Hopefully ALL of us will write more and eat less this year...

LuAnn Schindler said...

Margo, I want sweet and salty snacks when I'm up past midnight. For the last two weeks, when that urge to snack hits, I've been making an attempt to reach for a glass of water first. Hopefully that fills me up and I won't snack. The first nights were tough, but it's easier now.

Sioux, I LOVE kale chips! Made a huge discovery this summer though...I made a big batch to take to a family reunion. Super crunchy when we left, but when we got there, they were soggy. I stored them in a plastic container and I think I should've put them in a paper bag instead. Yes, they look strange, but they are tasty. I made a bbq spice to put on them before baking. Tasted like bbq potato chips, only healthier. :)

Angela Mackintosh said...

Fantastic interview Amber and Annie! I've also committed to getting healthy this summer. I haven't lost any weight yet except for a couple pounds, but I feel healthier and more toned than I have in years. I exercise for at least an hour a day--a combination of jogging, yoga, boxing/kickboxing, Jillian's Abs, Buns, Thighs workouts, and Zumba! The key for me is having an exercise partner to hold you accountable. If it weren't for my next door neighbor I probably wouldn't make exercising a priority. We motivate each other and it makes workouts fun. We meet at 5:45 and spend fifteen minutes decompressing and talking about our day while walking her dog (this is super therapeutic! lol), then workout until 7 or sometimes a little after. Then I rinse off, make dinner, and either get back to work or relax for the night. Having a routine is super helpful.

If you don't know of anyone who wants to workout with you, you might try a site like -- I know a writer friend who uses it and is happy with the connections she made.

Recently, I've been trying the Special K challenge where you substitute a meal or two with cereal and fruit. I'm not a big snacker, although I do love potato chips (I need to make some kale chips!). If I eat particularly bad, I try to balance it out by exercising harder! LOL. My big problem is drinking wine with dinner. I know it's full of sugar and calories, but I love it so much! I wish there was a healthy substitution for wine besides not drinking it!

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