Health

I Tried It: Swapping Diets

What happens when a clean eater and an Uber Eats-er trade diets for one long, long work week?

Diet swapping: Here's what happened when Maureen and Carlene swapped diets

Here we are! Carlene (left) and Maureen (right) with our salad and chicken finger swap situation

The Challenge

This summer, the FLARE team is tackling new (and scary) dares in our quest to be healthier (and, juuuust maybe to feel a little hotter at the beach). We had the bright/evil idea that two staffers should switch diets for a week. And not just any two staffers, but our two most polar opposite eaters. Here’s what happened when no-calorie-unplanned-or-uncounted Maureen Halushak and Uber Eats’ top customer Carlene Higgins traded meals for five glorious (at least for the rest of us watching) days.

The Backstory

Carlene: As I write this, I am very literally shoveling Uber-delivered pad thai into my mouth. It’s 6:30 p.m. and I’m at the office. I can’t possibly write this at home, since my eldest child, who doesn’t go to bed until 9, NEEEDS ME, and I’d really like to get this story done before midnight so I can get some sleep (oh, and my littlest one had me up at 4 a.m. this morning). This is my life, a high-speed war dance from home to office, during which I do not have time to hunt, gather and prepare my food. I get it to come to me and then I crush it.

Tasked with the challenge of swapping meal styles with our deputy editor Maureen, I’m curiously game. I see her eating salads at her desk everyday and that’s about all I know. Truth: I could stand to lose a few pounds and maybe this is just the push I need.

But our diet-briefing meeting nearly sends me running. Those Tupperware salads? They involve homemade dressing, people. Of the GOOP kind. Those sexy green smoothies? They don’t come off the kale leaf that way, ya know. (Do I even own a blender? I don’t remember). And then there are the snacks. “Twelve almonds and an apple.” Honestly, I don’t know if it’s my feminist side or my cushy core that’s making that vein in my temple flutter. All in the name of health, right?

Maureen: As an editor at a women’s magazine, I’ve encouraged many writers and coworkers to do silly and also difficult things in the name of a good story.

Yes, you should definitely attend an all-day dating seminar led by a likely charlatan. Who knows, maybe you’ll learn something?

Is there absolutely any way you could get the 15-year-old troll who called you a “dried-up c-nt” on the phone? Her perspective would really add a lot to your piece.

You know, this story would be ever so much more… impactful if you just tried vagina steaming for yourself.

And yet apparently, what is good for the goose is not always good for the gander. When I was dared to switch my relatively healthy, made-from-scratch, rigorously tracked diet with Carlene’s largely takeout-based, on-the-fly eating style, I thought it was an excellent idea, in theory. And then I began to rail.

 I refuse to eat cafeteria chicken fingers and pizza. Just can’t do it.

Two glasses of wine a night? [vigorous head shake]

What do you mean, you don’t know what you’re having for dinner tonight?

Okaaaayyyyyyyy, maybe it was time to loosen my tight, tight food rules. A typical day for me—and I have the My FitnessPal diary entries to prove it—involves homemade granola or oatmeal for breakfast, a salad with protein and homemade dressing for lunch, a green smoothie in the afternoon and some sort of protein with baked sweet potato fries at night. Oh, and lots of apples and almonds and Greek yogurt as snacks. OH, and I’m also not drinking right now, penance for a recent craft beer–filled vacation. But even when I’m off the wagon, I usually only have one or two drinks on the weekend because CALORIES.

I typically spend a few hours on Sundays making a jar of salad dressing, a few salads and a round of green smoothies, plus prepping veggies for a few dinners for the week. And the truth is, I really like making my own food. (Also, I don’t have kids, which means I have the time to do so.)

The Sunday before the swap…

Carlene @ 1 p.m. Well Maureen is probably on a friggin’ patio right now because that’s where I’d be if I were childless and free on a Sunday. But like her old self, I’m at the grocery store buying up the entire produce aisle. Yesterday, my husband did our usual shop, where he spent about $200 on diapers, pasta and the like, but this one is EXTRA. And I have to do it alone because I’d never be able to find the tahini with my two-year-old throwing shit off the cart and screaming, “I Want! I Want! I Want!” Cha-ching, $190 (minus the cupcakes for my ma’s birthday party tonight).

8:30 p.m. The party is over and now it’s time to get to work (because hosting a pile of family is so fun!). For the lunch salads, I got my husband to throw an extra couple of chicken breasts on the grill. I wash lettuce, chop up carrots, red pepper and cucumber and slice off the leftover corn on the cob. Next, I make the salad dressing with tahini, fake mayo, fresh squeezed lemon juice and a couple other things.

9:30 p.m. My husband takes pity on me and washes up. Now technically, I should be putting in about 45 minutes making tomorrow’s smoothie, but lucky for me, my father-in-law just bought one of those $500 juicers and he was psyched to take home my kale, pineapple, mango and ginger, then return it all liquefied in the morning. Phew.

Maureen @ 12 p.m. It felt weird to go to the grocery store and largely bypass the produce aisle. Instead, I bought lunch meat and a taco kit—items I had not purchased since the advent of the smartphone. I spend about $80, compared to my usual $120.

4 p.m. This is typically my peak lunch-prep time, but instead I hung out in the park with a friend and her baby. Hey, maybe Carlene is onto something.

Monday 

Carlene @ 8 a.m. Breakfast time! I usually grab something on my way to the office but Maureen always eats at home, usually oatmeal (with fruit “or a compote” on top), which I remember we already have! Oops, expiry date is November 2013. Greek yogurt it is, with some strawberries I bought pre-cut. We have granola, right? Wrong. Apparently that got eaten back in ’14.

12 p.m. I grab my salad from the office fridge, which usually scares me due to foreign, ancient and decaying smells. Today, it smells OK. Rejoice.

1 p.m. Apple snack. Sweeter than I remember.

1:52 p.m. Still hungry. I eat a Raw Energy Goji Mix of seeds, almonds and dried fruit I was sent from a PR company about a month ago. Thank you, Devon Consulting. Wait, one of them tastes like pure mold and I spit it out into a Kleenex. One reason I’m not in love with eating natural food: you never really know what you’re going to get (whereas sour keys are pretty much always guaranteed to be safe).

3:02 p.m. Maureen gives me five Aero Bubbles. Apparently even *she* cheats on her perpetually healthy diet. Hey, no judging. Problem though: when I pop into her office I spy a large bag of grapes in her purse. Not cool. I would NEVER do that.

6 p.m. For dinner, it’s leftovers: a pork chop, mashed potatoes and beets from a gourmet jar. There’s half a glass of wine left in a bottle in the fridge but I resist the urge and have ginger ale instead. Meal incomplete.

9 p.m. I build my salad for next day, but this time, the lettuce is already washed and the chicken and dressing made, so it only takes 15 minutes!

10 p.m. I ignore the three mini cupcakes in the fridge and snack on banana instead.

1:30 a.m. I’m awoken by my daughter having a nightmare, so I go lie with her in her room, but can’t fall back asleep. Instead I watch Netflix on my phone while my stomach growls, then drift off eventually.

Maureen @ 6:30 a.m. I typically get up, eat breakfast with my husband, and then walk our dog for an hour, black Americano in hand. Since Carlene doesn’t eat brekkie until she arrives at the office at 9—nor does she drink coffee (!!!)—I intend to do the same. Regrettably, I swiftly lose my shit when my kindly husband kindly asks what type of green tea I’d like from our local coffee shop (“IDONTCAREJUSTGETITGETITGETIT”). I spend the rest of the walk apologizing and vowing to work on my hanger management.

9:30 a.m. At work, I patch together a healthy-ish bowl of plain yogurt, bran flakes and berries at the cafeteria breakfast bar, and pick up a green smoothie with avocado and spinach. This rings in at $12.50, which is shocking (though not as shockingly disgusting as the green smoothie turns out to be).

Diet Swapping: A clean-eating FLARE editor discovers just how expense a healthy takeout diet can be

This is what a $12.50 breakfast looks like

11 a.m. With my late breakfast, I don’t need any of my usual mid-morning snacks.

12 p.m. I hit up the cafeteria for lunch. After perusing the various food stations, I land on a cheese and vegetable omelette ($8) that’s actually pretty tasty—likely thanks to the vat of oil it was cooked in.

4 p.m. I have a Simply Protein Bar ($2.50, slight variation on Carlene’s 3 p.m. candy break).

8 p.m. I head home and eat leftovers from the weekend—Carlene’s typical Monday night dinner plan. Admittedly, this is a bit of a cheat as my leftovers are exactly what regular me would eat: chicken chow mein from the new Gwyneth Paltrow cookbook. Day one, done.

Tuesday

Carlene @ 8 a.m. Yogurt and strawberries with tea at home again today! Off to a preview in the west end. There, I have a small glass of beet juice and a quarter of a bagel with cream cheese and lox. I feel like (hope that) Maureen would have indulged too.

10 a.m. On the cab ride into work, I realize I’ve forgotten the precious homemade salad I so carefully crafted. I also forgot almonds and an apple for my snack. I’ve got nothing. The old me’s back and empty handed. My stomach is already rumbling and I’m devastated, picturing it wilt by the hour at home.

10:42 a.m. Maureen hands me a bag of raw almonds in sympathy. I eat them all. Probably two days worth of rations.

12:15 p.m. I spend $5.50 on a meatless salad at the caf. Sniff.

1:48 p.m. I’m hungry again, so I drink yesterday’s leftover carrot and ginger smoothie my FIL made for me. Yum.

3:30 p.m. Huuuuungry. Maureen’s advice? A Simply Protein Bar from the convenience store downstairs ($2.58). I reach for the chocolate and peanut butter flavour. More like chocolate- and peanut butter-flavoured cardboard.

6:30 p.m. I arrive at a gala dinner and start on the shrimpy hors d’oeuvres. Maureen green-lit a thorough partaking, saying she would do the same (except I hit at least one of these shindigs per week). After one serving of beef tenderloin, two glasses of Moet and two glasses of red, I’m feeling rather good about her diet all of a sudden.

Maureen @ 6:30 a.m. In light of #greenteagate, I deviate from plan slightly and eat a banana first thing in order to save my marriage. I also cave and have an Americano when we’re out with the dog. Walk proceeds without incident.

9 a.m. I meet a writer for coffee, so I have another black Americano—there is no going back now that I’ve returned to Javaville—and a breakfast cookie ($3). It’s hands-down delicious, and something I usually “treat” myself to once a month.

12 p.m. Today’s lunch is Carol’s Carribbean curry, a favourite at the Rogers cafeteria ($8). It’s served with rice and carrots. The curry is good and the carrots are tasty, but I don’t eat the rice because carbs at lunch make me feel like lying down.

4:10 p.m. I have another delicious Simply Protein bar. (This is not a paid endorsement.)

6:30 p.m. I arrive home to taco-seasoned ground turkey simmering in a frying pan. (Did I mention that my husband is a really great guy?) The hard shell tacos—loaded up with avocado, tomato, salsa and Greek yogurt—are a freaking revelation, both dead easy and delicious. This meal—somewhat regular in Carlene’s kamikaze meal rotation—is definitely getting added to mine.

Wednesday

Carlene @ 8 a.m. Yogurt and raspberries at home, no probs. Today, I will NOT forget that salad in the fridge, even though I’m not feeling the greatest about eating the chicken that was grilled three days ago….

10 a.m. Apple.

11 a.m. 12 cashews

1:30 p.m. Old salad, which is still actually quite delicious!

3 p.m. My green juice has too much parsley for me, but does make me feel more awake.

5:45 p.m. My husband’s not happy about having to turn on the grill when he has “too much work to do.” The recipe for grilled chicken with avocado salsa on top—a Maureen favourite—requires that the chicken be marinated for 30 minutes, and he’s hangry now. I disappear and distract the kids while he cooks, giving them a bath and putting the little one to bed.

8 p.m. Dinner’s ready, the latest meal I’ve eaten at home since before my kids were born. I wash it down with fizzy water. Thankfully, it really is yummy and I’ve got leftover chicken for tomorrow’s salad. Hooray!

9:30 p.m. I’m back at it making salads while listening to classical music.

Maureen @ 6:30 a.m. I’m headed to a conference this morning, so I cheat and have a Core Meal oatmeal-cacao whey bar, purchased the last time I was in America as they remain unavailable in this country—why? ($4, slight variation on the granola bar Carlene occasionally eats for breakfast.)

12 p.m. At the conference lunch, I load up on salad—which I have very much missed—and beef kebabs (free, as I’m a panellist).

8 p.m. After a session, a panel discussion and a bunch of time spent catching up on work, I head home. My husband—what a guy!—is out of town for the next two nights. I typically still prepare one of my usual dinners when I’m by myself, but tonight I steal a page from Carlene’s speed-dining smarts and eat a toasted bagel with sliced Swiss cheese and some roasted chicken deli meat and call it a day. It takes five minutes to prep, and tastes… alright.

Thursday

Carlene @ 8 a.m. Good ole yogurt and raspberries.

9 a.m. I arrive at a beauty event for a brightening facial. In my white robe, I eat the provided granola cookies and munch on a fruit kabob. Maureen would effing love this.

10 a.m. Nuts, constant nuts. And an apple.

12 p.m. I marvel at the freshness and quality of my own work as I devour my salad.

3:30 p.m. Hungry. More nuts.

5:45 p.m. My neighbours invite themselves over and they like to drink. Must. Not. Imbibe. Must. Imbibe. I pour a glass of wine and just let it sit around while I cook one of Maureen’s recipes that involves frozen foods (dumplings, shrimp) with some sweet chili sauce on top. I’m kind of surprised that she’s into this one and wonder if perhaps she handpicked it specifically for busy little me.

10 p.m. Hot water with lemon and zzz. 

Maureen @ 6:30 a.m. I have another coffee meeting this morning, and the place we’re going doesn’t have food, so I cheat and eat another delicious whey bar at home.

12:00 p.m. I agree to eat chicken fingers, a la Carlene, alongside a watercress salad ($10)—a surprisingly ambitious and delicious cafeteria offering. Not gonna lie, the chicken fingers are goooooood. And I don’t feel gross afterwards, most likely thanks to all that cress.

Diet swapped: One clean-eating FLARE editor discovers that chicken fingers can be part of a health diet

Chicken fingers *can* be part of a relatively healthy diet

 3:50 p.m. I have another Simply Bar.

9 p.m. I’m home and back from taking the dog out. Short on time, I take bagel dining to new lows and have a toasted one with peanut butter—which I devour while watching some shady dude get his throat slit on season two of the The Wire. I am happy not to be eating meat when this goes down.

Friday

Carlene @ 8:30 a.m. Last day! I’m all out of fruit to put on my yogurt so now it’s just a sad plastic cup that’s neither homemade nor nutritious. Then, off to work.

10 a.m. My bag of nuts is empty but I found myself a browning banana.

12 p.m. We have a lunch meeting with the boss and he treats us to roast chicken and veggies. I avoid the delicious-looking cookies—I’ve got my juice to look forward to later.

3 p.m. I’m hungry. My green juice just barely holds me over.

6 p.m. I grab a Kind bar at Starbucks before my hair appointment. Now this one means chocolate when it says chocolate. I’m saving my appetite for a rare dinner out with an old friend.

Maureen @ 6:30 a.m. I can’t face another cafeteria breakfast—I am weak, I know—so breakfast is coffee-shop oatmeal, made with milk and a little granola on top ($3).

12 p.m. Our boss treats Carlene and I to lunch: roasted chicken, roasted vegetables, rapini and fries. Normally I would load up on chicken and veggies and bypass the fries, but at Carlene’s dogged insistence gentle encouragement I begrudgingly eat 10. They are soggy and so not worth the calories. I also have half a chocolate chip cookie for dessert. TOTALLY WORTH IT.

7:30 p.m. I have an event tonight and no time to grab dinner beforehand, so I enjoy three salted, crunchy breadsticks and down half a glass of white wine (#living) to celebrate FLARE’s two silvers at the National Magazine Awards.

10:30 p.m. Now home, I finish my week of eating off the cuff by going to town on a bag of Sriracha-flavoured popcorn while getting caught up with my wonderful (and patient!!!!) husband.

The Takeaway

Carlene: It’s Friday night, and I’m catching up with the bosom buddy at an Italian restaurant. The amuse bouche is some pretty heavy shit and the appetizer is awkward. For my main, I’m torn between the salmon with fresh vegetables and the pasta Bolognese. It’s a minutes-long battle in my mind. There were a few (brief!) periods this week where I felt really empowered by my self-made salad and smoothies, and the hope that they would help me shed some pounds, and that maybe I too could enjoy that conquering gleam I’ve seen in the eyes of women stronger than I. But in the end, what I’m after is the warm embrace that will envelope my insides from the pasta bolognese. Life is hard, and my armour must be thick.

Maureen: After five days of eating like Carlene (in spirit, if not entirely to the letter), I’ve spent only slightly more than I typically would on food—largely thanks to the two free lunches. But most importantly, I’ve also realized I need to chill the eff out when it comes to preparing every single thing that I put in my mouth. The world will not end (nor the scale tip) if I eat something not deemed easy or good by Gwyneth Paltrow. A bagel sandwich is a perfectly fine dinner on a busy night, and chicken fingers can be part of a relatively healthy diet. On the flip side, eating from the cafeteria doesn’t have to be a Pizza Pizza-free-for-all, a trap I’ve fallen into in the past. I continued to track my meals all this week, and was still able to stay within my daily calorie target. Feeling emboldened, I decide to take things a step further and take the weekend off from MyFitnessPal, which, for me, is a pretty goddamn big deal. My number-one craving? A green smoothie.

Related:
Science Called, It Wants You To Quit Dieting
She Wanted to Lose Weight, So She Started Cooking
Skinny vs. Curvy: It’s Time to End the Body Image Battle
Skinny Foodies: Meet the Eat-What-You-Want Generation
Monica Heisey Tries the Famous 5:2 Diet

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