A Blogging Dietitian Invites People to Watch Her Watch What She Eats

By Jennifer LaRue Huget
Tuesday, June 9, 2009

On June 2, Cristin Dillon-Jones had Kashi Heart to Heart cereal mixed with Total Cinnamon Crunch, skim milk and blueberries for breakfast, canned vegetarian black-bean chili and a mozzarella/tomato/basil salad for lunch, and grilled salmon and potatoes with steamed broccoli for dinner. And she has the pictures to prove it.

For the past two years, Dillon-Jones has taken photos of every meal she has eaten (at first just on weekdays, but recently on weekends, too) and posted them, with nutrition information and commentary, on her blog on Self magazine's Web site.

Dillon-Jones, a 27-year-old registered dietitian, was working as a nutritionist and running her own meal planning/grocery shopping/food preparation business when Self asked her to start the "Eat Like Me" blog as part of a package of new online health and fitness offerings. The idea was simple: Show readers what a healthy young registered dietitian eats every day.

Using an unremarkable Kodak digital camera, Dillon-Jones takes plain-Jane pictures of her bowls of cereal and fruit, peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches and dinner leftovers turned into lunches. Rarely does her diet venture outside the ordinary. Yet for those of us who have never learned -- or have managed to forget -- how a human being should eat to stay healthy, the blog is oddly riveting -- and useful.

"Journaling," or keeping a food log, is often recommended for weight loss and control. Though Dillon-Jones's focus is not specifically on weight loss, she joins others who have brought journaling to another level by taking pictures of what they eat; many suggest using cellphone cameras because they're always handy.

Dillon-Jones, who lives in Boston, also takes her camera along to the grocery store so that readers can see what she puts into her cart. Although she doesn't expect readers to eat exactly as she does, her example offers something solid and sensible to grasp, especially for those of us who've been so buffeted by diet fads that we're not really sure anymore whether a bag of pork rinds (a snack of dubious nutritional value made popular by the high-protein Atkins weight-loss diet) is good for us. We who have struggled with our weight might be both baffled and relieved to see that Dillon-Jones, a trim, athletic young woman, eats regular food, sometimes enjoying a restaurant burrito or a takeout pizza (with a glass of red wine). On other evenings, though, it's leftover lasagna and a salad for her and Chinese takeout for her husband. Daytime meals often feature a turkey sandwich and a latte, a baggie of Goldfish crackers (which she seems to eat more often than you'd expect) and a peach for a snack.

With her blog attracting 65,000 unique visitors and 367,000 page views per month, Dillon-Jones has won a following with her down-to-earth approach, one that doesn't insist on perfection or rely on calorie-counting. Instead, she tries to eat according to the federal government's food pyramid, which suggests the number of servings from each of six major food groups that we should eat every day.

But she doesn't obsess over those numbers; if, say, her vegetable consumption falls short one day, she makes note of the fact and pledges to compensate the next day. "Long-term health" -- not quibbling over daily details -- "should be the first priority," she says. "You could have asked 10 different people to write this blog, and you'd get 10 different approaches. Mine wasn't a perfect thing. That's why people latched onto it."

Though advice-seeking readers often want to pin her down on calorie counts, Dillon-Jones says, "I stick to my guns. I don't count calories; I never have. I just estimate portions from the food pyramid food groups -- grains, fruits and vegetables, healthy oils and fats, and so on -- to achieve a healthy balance. I try to include healthy food and limit the junk."

People who have followed Dillon-Jones's dietary diary from the beginning have watched as she trained for and ran in the Boston Marathon. They've read about her wedding to Mike, the happy arrival of a puppy they named Bruce and the even happier arrival of baby Will, who is now 7 months old. Along the way, Dillon-Jones has reported on the adjustments she has made to keep her eating habits on track, no matter what's going on in her life.

Her good habits started early. "My parents never put any pressure on us to eat restrictively," she says. "I ate Lucky Charms, but also milk and fruit. My mom cooked a lot, and she also baked. We always had sweets in the house. Doing it at home was great, mixing good food with fun. . . . It's not just like going to the store, picking up a cupcake and eating it. Making it yourself seemed social and fun." She still likes to bake, and she and her husband cook together a lot, often making meals for friends.

Dillon-Jones's approach also derives from her conviction that keeping things simple helps ensure success. "If it's not something you can do every day for the rest of your life, then it's not worth it," she says. "I don't want to be at a restaurant and weighing food."

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