Food Traps & the Grocery Challenge

The nurse who smokes cigarettes. The financial adviser who declares bankruptcy. The guy who writes about working out and eating right on a health website, but doesn’t always follow his own advice…

We all know the “right” things to do. Of course, the hard part is actually doing them. The thing that I think trips people up with nutrition is being way too ambitious. It’s easy to say, “I’m going to eat nothing but kale for the month of December” but who’s really going to do that? It’s just setting yourself up for failure.

So last weekend at the grocery store, I got the idea for a challenge. With nothing in my apartment but some meat in the freezer, a box of Cheerios and some black bean hummus, I had to buy basically everything. And this week, that included the things I’d normally avoid bringing into the house. Maybe instead of avoiding temptation, I should get better about working on my discipline so the temptation is less crippling.

Here’s the first part of the challenge: Eat whatever and make it work for myself, without going over my calorie allowance from MyFitnessPal. That last bit keeps it from being a free-for-all, forcing me to hold myself accountable and not get torpedoed by my shortcomings.

Here are some things I struggle with:

  • I’m impulsive and I have a sweet tooth;
  • I’m guilty of overindulging on something because it’s low-calorie (defeating the purpose of eating something low-calorie); and
  • My favorite snack in all of the land is full of carbs and saturated fat: cheese and crackers.

Part two of my challenge is to share it here, starting with my grocery haul.

Photo credit: Mike O'Brien

Photo credit: Mike O'Brien


It’s pretty good, right? Lots of produce, meat, frozen fruit, oatmeal… and then some of my “test” foods. I’ve got frozen coconut Greek yogurt pops that can easily lay the “Oh, it’s only 90 calories— oh well, looks like I ate all four at once” trap. Same with the low-calorie popcorn. And then cheese and crackers (Wheat Thins, even though I like Triscuits better they have way more calories per serving, though, so let’s crawl before we walk).

I’m not going to share my food diary for the entire week because God, how boring would that be? Here are some highlights, though:


Monday was pretty solid. A peanut butter and banana sandwich for breakfast, quinoa salad with chicken and salmon for lunch, and then for dinner, scrambled eggs with mushrooms, ground beef, and string cheese. I tend to use string cheese because it comes pre-portioned, which makes it easier to judge. Because seriously, how much is “an ounce” of cheddar?

When I ate cheese and crackers Thursday night, I tried to estimate and cut what I thought was an eighth of the brick. I may not have done that right, but I did manage to eat the serving size as opposed to “all of the cheese and crackers.”

Photo credit: Mike O'Brien

Photo credit: Mike O'Brien



I eat Eggo waffles for breakfast a couple of times a week. The serving size is two, but that doesn’t fill me up. I usually eat four and, especially given how many calories and grams of sugar are in the syrup, I offset that with some rabbit food for lunch. (I buy the good stuff, though, because I’m a snob like that. I’d rather have more calories than the whole periodic table of elements in low-calorie maple syrup, which is gross to me anyway.)

Anyone who works in an office can relate to the feeling of bringing lunch to work, and then leaving it in the fridge for the next day because something else is more appealing. I did that Wednesday, leaving my salad for Thursday because I was really feeling Chipotle. As far as “fast food” goes, Chipotle may be about as sensible an option as you’re going to find. I like to get a salad, with lettuce as the base instead of rice. And then I completely throw that on its head by turning that salad into DIY nachos, with chips instead of utensils.

Part of this challenge is full transparency. That means sharing how I actually eat, not how I eat in “job interview” mode when I’m trying to be “perfect” because I’m under a microscope. So yes, I blew nearly half my day’s calories at Chipotle because I wanted to eat a salad with tortilla chips. That meant come dinner time, I only had enough calorie allowance left for a Quest bar and some veggies with hummus. Good hummus, but still. I was hungry, but I had made my own bed at Chipotle.

Photo credit: Mike O'Brien

Photo credit: Mike O'Brien



“Hmm, I feel like a donut,” I thought, as I was ordering my coffee at Dunkin Friday morning. Since I had oatmeal for breakfast and brought quinoa salad for lunch, I figured I could “afford” it. The quinoa salad is one of my go-to lunches because it’s so easy, and switching up the proteins makes me feel less like I’m eating the same thing all the time. Every week, I set out to bring lunch four out of five days, which I accomplished this week.

Doing Sunday meal prep is one of those things that sounds good in theory, but people struggle to put into practice. I personally find it to be an arduous pain, especially the part where I chop and wash a bunch of vegetables. So I make sure to do it as early as possible on Sunday to avoid the old “Oh, it’s already 9:30 pm and I haven’t made my lunches yet. Yeah, I really don’t feel like it. I’ll definitely do it tomorrow.”

Photo credit: Mike O'Brien

Photo credit: Mike O'Brien


Also, my dinner calories may be a little off because I ordered that poke bowl (rice, eel, tuna, seaweed, various vegetables) and don’t know its full nutritional contents.

Final thoughts

I’d grade myself a B. I ate well enough that I came in under my calorie count every day, without even factoring in exercise. I actually never log exercise on MyFitnessPal because I’ve definitely been guilty of using how many calories I’ve burned as an excuse to overindulge. But still, I don’t think I overindulged too much this week.

Studies have shown that you’re more likely to achieve goals that are small and very specific. “I’m going to lose 50 pounds” is too to lofty whereas “I’m going to lose five pounds this month by cutting out refined sugar” is a lot more actionable.

The combination of being impulsive and having a sweet tooth is tough for me because I work in an office, where there is always candy. Which I ate a little bit of every day. It didn’t feel like much at the time— what’s a mini Reese’s peanut butter cup or three? But looking back at my week of MyFitnessPal, I see that I ate probably 1,000 calories worth of candy over the course of the week. And it wasn’t even that good; it was just there.

Small, specific, actionable goal for next week: Be better about eating the office candy because it adds up more than we probably realize.

What “food traps” do you tend to fall into?
Share your comments at the bottom of the page.

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