Five Washington Post staffers have each embarked on a different 30-day program to change our eating habits. Last week, we each outlined our diet of choice, explaining the whys and hows — along with our expectations of the challenges to come. Every week this month, we’re updating you on our progress, including our obstacles, stumbles and victories. We’re sharing daily food diaries and, of course, reports of any weight loss.

Whole30Weight Watchers | Buddha’s DietSouper ‘Cleanse’Offseason reset


Kendra Nichols is on Whole30 this month. (Marvin Joseph/The Washington Post)

My Whole30 started inauspiciously, with the realization (a couple days in advance, thankfully) that I’d scheduled a dinner with friends for Jan. 1 at Dangerously Delicious Pies. Although it’s possible to eat out while doing Whole30, pie is not really an option — it gets strikes for both dairy and grains, and probably added sugar. I hadn’t yet done my big weekend grocery shopping trip, so I changed our plans, added some steaks to the grocery list and had the friends over to eat at my coffee table. I tried a Brussels sprouts recipe with pistachios and spices from the new Whole30 Cookbook, which made enough for leftovers. My friends were kind enough to bring over a compliant fruit salad, and everybody was happy (and full).

When they left my apartment, I got out the slow cooker, despite having plenty of food left over. This is going to be my secret weapon for fighting cooking fatigue. I made a ton of pulled pork overnight, and it lasted much of the week — lunches, dinners and even a couple breakfasts. (Note to self: Try to avoid so much repetition.)

But the slow cooker has been the extent of my brilliant planning so far. Getting rid of my sugar cravings is much more important to me than weight loss, but I still meant to weigh myself before starting (remembered on Day 3). And my lack of preparation just continued on my first big grocery shopping trip. Here are a few mistakes I’ve made, and how I intend to improve over the next few weeks:

Not doing my research before shopping: I spent way too long poring over labels at Safeway because I wanted sugar-free sausage. Hint: If you want to know which brands of a particular food are compliant, just Google it. (I did this several times on my phone in Safeway. It was a long shopping trip.) If the answer isn’t in the Whole30 forums, there’s probably a blogpost out there. I ended up going with Hatfield ground chorizo. It was great.

Not being careful with “compliant” brands: There’s a whole industry out there full of Paleo and Whole30-compliant foods. But not every brand sells only compliant foods. I learned this when a very helpful Tessamae’s rep informed me that the dressing I’d had on my spinach salad had soy in it. Here’s the ridiculous part: It was in the name of the dressing. I just really wasn’t paying attention! Lesson learned.

Using Whole30 as an excuse: More than once I skipped the gym because I told myself I had to get home and cook. Not okay! More weekend prep is in the works.

Being afraid to eat out: Sure, pies were never going to happen. But I also skipped a couple of weekday outings because they involved alcohol (not allowed) or bar food (probably not allowed). On Day 6 I didn’t have much of a choice; it was a friend’s 40th birthday dinner, and I wasn’t going to miss it. I ate a late lunch maybe two hours before our reservation so I wouldn’t be starving, and then went to the restaurant, hoping for the best. Luckily I found one entree that was completely Whole30-friendly: lamb, carrots and fennel. I skipped the wine and dessert and just enjoyed the company.

— Kendra Nichols

Pulled pork, sweet potato, spinach, peppers (Kendra Nichols/The Washington Post)


Breakfast: Eggs, chorizo, peppers
Lunch: Pistachios and carrots while making dinner
Dinner: Steak, sweet potatoes, dukkah-encrusted Brussels sprouts, fruit salad


Breakfast: Eggs, chorizo, peppers
Lunch: Steak, sweet potatoes, spinach salad, dukkah-encrusted Brussels sprouts
Pre-workout snack: Almonds, banana
Dinner: Pulled pork, broccoli, carrots, snap peas


Breakfast: Pulled pork, half a baked sweet potato, spinach and peppers
Lunch: Pulled pork, half a baked sweet potato, spinach and peppers
Snack: Banana and almonds
Dinner: Pulled pork, broccoli, carrots, snap peas


I forgot to keep track. This is why I’m not doing Weight Watchers. Good luck, Tom!


Breakfast: Eggs and broccoli slaw
Lunch: Grilled chicken salad with lots of veggies and lemon herb dressing
Dinner: Chile Lime Chicken Burger from Trader Joe’s, Tessamae’s barbecue sauce (no bun), some sort of vegetable I don’t remember


Breakfast: Eggs and broccoli slaw
Snack: Lara bar
Lunch: Ground beef and dukkah-encrusted Brussels sprouts
Dinner: Lamb, carrots, fennel


Breakfast: Eggs, ground beef, peppers
Snacks in lieu of lunch: Pistachios, banana, carrots
Dinner: Chicken breast, green beans, curry butternut squash soup

Weight Watchers

Food critic Tom Sietsema is on Weight Watchers this month. (Marvin Joseph/The Washington Post)

The first week of January loomed like one long obstacle course. For at least a decade, my new year has always started with a breakfast of beans, greens, biscuits and country ham. Would I have to ditch a favorite tradition? The same day, friends invited me over for a casual supper of burgers, crab cakes and barbecued pork. Should I bring no-fat cottage cheese to eat? On the horizon were at least six restaurant meals, a couple of plane trips and a friend’s 40th birthday party in San Antonio.

I would have felt defeated before I even started Weight Watchers had it not been for an introductory 30-minute chat with Eve S., a program coach based in Northern California who originally shed 90 pounds on the diet. When I told her I was a food critic with little control over how most of my meals were prepared, and also partial to late-night snacking, Eve could sympathize. “I can walk to wineries,” she said.

Jan. 1 was easier than I thought it would be. I ate a relatively lean slice of regular ham with less than half of a small homemade biscuit, making a point to fill up on black-eyed peas and collards splashed with hot sauce. I took a long walk instead of eating lunch, which allowed me to eat a plain hamburger patty, half cups of Caesar salad and coleslaw and a couple glasses of wine at the party. (I briefly considered trying some cupcakes that looked good, but a second glass of cabernet sauvignon won out.) To ease temptation, I sought out a room away from the buffet and bar and concentrated on listening to fellow guests rather than what my mind thought my stomach needed. Unlike at restaurants I review, I wasn’t required to eat a range of food in someone’s home.

Among the things that attracted me to Weight Watchers were its point system, the reality I could eat anything in moderation and the relative ease with which a person can track food intake and activity online. After filling out a questionnaire, I learned I had 36 points a day at my disposal. While no food is forbidden, some favorites became foes once I started doing the math. A bagel at the airport would set me back 12 points. I opted for a pre-flight breakfast of an apple and coffee. Grape Nuts (6 points per 1/2 cup) are off my list until February. Until then, raw almonds (4 points for 28 nuts) will have to satisfy my fondness for things that go crunch. I really wanted a margarita with a recent Tex-Mex spread, but at 17 points, almost half my daily allotment, I realized the drink wasn’t worth giving up refried beans, tortilla chips and guacamole (8 points total if I ate in moderation).

My restraint has its limits. On the night of my friend’s birthday party, guests sat down to a five-course dinner that started with an open bar and passed hors d’oeuvres (Hello, Manhattan! Hello, meatball and deviled egg!) and continued with gnocchi, free-flowing wine and a fantasy in chocolate and hazelnut. I felt full for the first time all week — full of regret. “Track and move on,” I could hear Eve whispering to me the next day.

I’m making progress. Already, nightcaps at home have given way to 25-minute walks, and when the urge to merge with chips or other snacks hits, my response is to brush my teeth. For whatever reason, the ritual keeps me from mindless munching.

Today, I’m three pounds lighter than when I started. Thank you, Eve S. and Oral-B.

— Tom Sietsema

Broiled chicken in chili sauce. (Tom Sietsema/The Washington Post)

Breakfast: Black-eyed peas, one slice ham, half biscuit, collard greens
Dinner: Caesar salad, one hamburger patty, coleslaw, two glasses of wine

Breakfast: Oatmeal with blueberries
Lunch: Cod, shrimp cocktail, arugula salad with balsamic vinaigrette, bite of cheese
Dinner: Trout, slice vegetable pizza, cocktail

Breakfast: Orange, almonds
Lunch: Five pieces salmon sushi
Dinner: The rough equivalent of kung pao chicken, two drinks

Breakfast: Grape Nuts, skim milk, banana
Lunch: Five pieces salmon sushi, apple
Dinner: Fluke ceviche, one bite of an empanada, grilled branzino, three bites of a sausage roll, roast chicken, churros, two glasses wine

Breakfast: Greek yogurt, cantaloupe, boiled egg
Lunch: Apple, raw almonds
Dinner: Three bites of a charcuterie board, blood sausage, beet salad, Israeli couscous, piece flatbread cracker, one bite pork chop, two glasses wine

Breakfast: Grapefruit juice, oatmeal, tablespoon raisins
Lunch: Grilled salmon, three fingerling potatoes slicked with olive oil, apple
Dinner: Guacamole and chips, grilled shrimp tacos (hold the chipotle butter), refried beans, 1/4 cup rice, tequila shot

Brunch: Smoked salmon, half bagel, guacamole, blueberries, one tablespoon home-made granola with yogurt
Dinner: Deviled egg, meatball, cocktail, gnocchi, endive-apple salad, two glasses wine, sea bass, chocolate cake

Buddha’s Diet

Joe Yonan is on the Buddha’s Diet this month. (Marvin Joseph/The Washington Post)

It was 6:55 p.m., I had scrambled to prepare dinner, and I had a dilemma: Should I scarf it down because “Buddha’s Diet” would have me finish all my day’s eating by 7 p.m.? Or should I follow one of the other important tenets, and eat slowly and mindfully?

I chose the latter. I figured Buddha would understand.

Here’s the main thing I’ve learned so far on this diet: You must think about your entire day. No more winging it. That 6:55 p.m. scramble happened because at 5:30 I had decided to go to the gym, not realizing until I got there and changed into my workout clothes that I would need to shorten my workout by half if I was going to dine in time. If I had planned, I would’ve simply gone to the gym earlier, with no rushing or scarfing required.

The truth is, I started this program the last week of 2016, so I could get a head start on our 30-day project. “Buddha’s Diet” wants me to spend at least two weeks eating within a 12-hour window (if breakfast is at 8 a.m., all eating must be finished by 8 p.m.), then two weeks at 11 hours, two at 10, and two at nine — and then to stay at nine hours until I lose my desired weight (25 pounds). But to make it to that nine-hour window before January’s end, I needed to start early and accelerate the plan.

Frankly, I found a 12-hour window so easy to manage, I spent just a week there, then skipped to 10. And now, just as nutritionist, writer and TV cooking-show host Ellie Krieger predicted, my trouble has mostly come in relation to exercise and socializing. I work out with a physical trainer once a week, at 9 a.m., and because I tend to get lightheaded when I exercise vigorously on an empty stomach, I ate two granola bars (mindfully, of course) 15 minutes before we started. I take a 9 a.m. yoga class another day, tried the empty-stomach route, and all was fine. My stomach was growling when I got up at 7:30, but I drank some tea, caught up on the news, and the feeling subsided within 45 minutes.

Evening workouts have been trickier. The day of a 7:30 p.m. yoga class, I ate breakfast at 7:45 a.m. and dinner by 5:45 p.m. I was fine during class, but afterward, I really wanted to eat. I wasn’t exactly hungry, just . . . craving. Tea to the rescue, once more!

As for socializing, I have turned one evening dinner-date request into a lunch, swapped after-work drinks for midafternoon coffee, and saved the rest for Saturday, my “cheat day.” Twice during the week, I ordered dinner at work because I knew I wouldn’t get home in time to meet my deadline. Between that and the brown-bag lunches, I’ve had more desk-bound meals than I’d like.

Thank goodness for my weekly cheat day. The first week, it was New Year’s Eve, when I hosted a small dinner party and wanted to eat (and drink) into the wee hours. The second, it was a regular Saturday, when my boyfriend and I went to Centrolina in CityCenterDC.

Even though the mice research at the heart of “Buddha’s Diet” showed that it’s more important when you eat than what you eat, I’ve been choosing healthful options and portions. Whatever the reason, I lost 1.4 pounds the first week and gained .2 pounds the second week, to put me 1.2 pounds down from where I started. I have one more week to get used to this 10-hour window before taking the big leap: shaving off another hour. Will I further delay my breakfasts so I’m not eating dinner so often at work? Probably.

This week, another hurdle looms: I’m going to Los Angeles. At the risk of stating the obvious, that’s another time zone. Uh-oh.

— Joe Yonan

Roasting mushrooms. (Joe Yonan/The Washington Post

Breakfast (9 a.m.): Matcha latte (with almond milk), cereal
Snack (12:30 p.m.): Matcha maca latte and two quinoa-oat energy bites from Calabash Teahouse & Cafe
Lunch (1:30 p.m.): Kabocha squash chestnut soup with beans
Snacks (3 p.m. and 5 p.m.): Apple, orange
Dinner (6:45 p.m.): Brown and wild rice, roasted cabbage, sesame-roasted carrots, red pepper puree, feta

Breakfast (9 a.m.): Matcha, yogurt, banana, Kashi nuggets
Lunch (12:30 p.m.): Leftover soup with pinto beans, grain mix, cauliflower, romesco sauce, orange.
Snack (3 p.m.): Apple
Dinner (7:15 p.m.): Sweet potato, red pepper puree, fried egg, roast cabbage, sesame-roasted carrot. 1 ounce dark chocolate.
Breakfast (7:45 a.m.): Matcha latte, Kashi nuggets, yogurt, maple syrup
Lunch (12:45 p.m.): Vegetable stew with almond butter and avocado, cocoa cupcake with yogurt frosting
Snack (4:45 p.m.): Handful of vadouvan-spiced popcorn
Dinner (5:45 p.m.): Another serving of vegetable stew from lunch

Breakfast (8:45 a.m.): Two granola bars
Snack (11:45 a.m.): Black bean mole tamale
Lunch (1 p.m.): Brown and wild rice, pinto beans, roasted cabbage, romesco sauce
Snacks (3 p.m. and 5 p.m.): Pineapple tamale, matcha latte from A Baked Joint
Dinner (6:45 p.m.): Tofu wrap from Protein Bar

Breakfast (10:15 a.m.): Matcha maca latte, quinoa-oat energy bites from Calabash Teahouse & Cafe
Lunch (12:30 p.m.): Coconut chickpea and spinach soup, and vegetable samosa from Calabash Teahouse & Cafe
Dinner (8:15 p.m.): Brown and wild rice, pinto beans, roasted mushrooms, sesame-roasted carrots

Breakfast (8:45 a.m.): Matcha latte, Kashi nuggets, yogurt, maple syrup
Lunch (12:30 p.m.): Spinach salad with sweet potato, smoked tofu, roasted cabbage, red pepper puree
Snack (3 p.m.): Apple
Dinner (6:45 p.m.): 3 veggie tacos from Rito Loco

Saturday (cheat day)
Breakfast (7:30 a.m.): Matcha latte, yogurt, banana, Kashi nuggets
Lunch (noon): Brown and wild rice, delicata squash, sesame-roasted carrot, avocado, hard-cooked egg, red pepper puree
Snack (2 p.m.): Apple
Dinner (8:30 p.m.): Negroni, mushroom polpettine with polenta and Parm, tagliatelle with mushrooms and cream at Centrolina

Souper ‘Cleanse’

Bonnie S. Benwick is on the Souper ‘Cleanse’ this month. (Marvin Joseph/The Washington Post)

I can understand why Soupergirl deflects notions of “detox” from this program, but at the same time — and without getting too indelicate — I’m feeling cleansed without the quote marks. Downright emptied.

My main goal was to reintroduce a healthy amount of vegetables into my diet, and that’s been met in the first week, 100 percent. Soup’s a successful delivery vehicle for such an effort, because it can be chunky or smooth, and because it’s filling — so filling that I haven’t been able to get through more than three of the four allotted pints per day. A couple of whole-food, plant-based daily snacks are suggested as well; for me, those have been hummus with Belgian endive leaves or grape tomatoes, and smashed avocado on whole-grain toast.

I prefer a savory breakfast over sweet, so digging into a 9 a.m. bowl of root veg soup with parsnips, pinto beans, sweet potato, tomato and onion posed no problem. There’s enough ginger in the evening’s pureed carrot miso option (Day 1) to make it taste different from the pureed ginger sweet potato (Day 6); and even if there weren’t, I have the means to tweak it.

The resolve to stay the course, plus the support of friends and WaPo Food readers, cannot be understated here. I think they are responsible for my not craving the cookies I’d have with tea after 10 p.m. There’s also the convenience factor I hadn’t considered: Having the soups packaged, labeled and delivered has meant I don’t have to think about it, or cook for it.

Speaking of the latter, my willpower was sorely tested when I had to prepare recipes for a photo shoot for upcoming One Pan and Sunday Supper columns in The Post Magazine. Ingredients were in my wheelhouse: Shrimp. A funky cheese. Chicken coated with bread crumbs made golden with a garlicky butter-lemon sauce. Where I might have downed at least a thigh or two for lunch and snacked on the shrimp until they were g-o-n-e, I gave away samples and limited my own tastings to a spoonful.

I wasn’t so perfect on the program’s two non-sequential two days off. I ate only when I got hungry on the first one, so the most substantial meal was consumed at night — the opposite of the Soupergirl plan. Still, it was a homemade stir-fry of sugar snap peas, rice and egg, which I managed to polish off by 8:30 p.m. On the second day off, scrambled eggs with onions and whole-grain toast felt like a holiday. Later, a basket of tortilla chips with guacamole plunked down in front of me proved irresistible, as did the promise of an appetizer-size order of sizzling steak fajitas.

I can say that I didn’t finish the fajitas and am sure my intake of chips was less than before the “cleanse.” Did I crave the crunch and chew more than the taste? Hard to say. Next morning, I felt a little guilty, a little fuller than I was used to, and ready for my black bean sweet potato chili at the start of Week 2.

Other tactical errors: I did not step on a scale Dec. 31, so I can only estimate any weight loss. And I have yet to slurp without spilling a drop or two on my desk or my clothes. Does vigorous scrubbing count as exercise?

— Bonnie S. Benwick

First bowl o’ the day. (Bonnie S. Benwick/The Washington Post)

Breakfast: Black Bean Sweet Potato Chili; black tea
Lunch: White Bean Mushroom Kale Soup
Snack/dinner: Whole-grain toast with mashed avocado; Citrusy Carrot Sweet Potato Soup; black tea

Breakfast: Winter Root Vegetable Chili; whole-grain toast; black tea
Lunch/snack: Smoky Quinoa Butternut Squash Soup; handful raw almonds
Dinner: Carrot Almond Soup; 3 tablespoons plain hummus w/leaves from one Belgian endive; clementine; black tea

Tuesday (day off)
Breakfast: whole-grain toast w/mashed avocado; clementine; black tea
Lunch: Salad from the SoHo Cafe fixin’s bar (hard-cooked egg, romaine and spring mix lettuces, grape tomatoes, raw fennel, no dressing)
Dinner/snack: Sugar snap pea stir-fry with onion, white rice and egg; handful dark chocolate-covered almonds; black tea

Breakfast: Winter Root Vegetable Chili (w/scallions and splash of balsamic on top); black tea
Lunch/snack: Haitian Pumpkin Soup; handful of grape tomatoes
Dinner/snack: Winter Vegetable Soup; 2 spoonfuls almond butter; black tea

Breakfast: Black Bean Sweet Potato Chili (pureed, with some lime juice); black tea
Lunch/snack: Curried Red Lentil Butternut Squash Soup; whole-grain toast
Dinner: Creamy Carrot Soup; 3 tablespoons hummus w/leaves from one Belgian endive; 2 clementines; black tea

Breakfast: White Bean Mushroom Kale Soup; black tea
Lunch: Barley Chickpea Butternut Squash Soup; handful of grape tomatoes
Dinner: Garlicky White Bean Soup; banana w/2 tablespoons natural peanut butter; black tea

Saturday (day off)
Breakfast: Two scrambled eggs w/onion; whole-grain toast; black tea
Lunch: Arugula salad with hot-smoked salmon in it and a yogurt dill dressing; green tea
Dinner: Guacamole and tortilla chips; small order steak fajitas w/soft corn tortillas (2); black tea

Offseason reset

Adam Kilgore is doing his annual offseason reset this month. (Marvin Joseph/The Washington Post)

I have to start with a confession: My New Year’s diet didn’t start on New Year’s Day. I had traveled to Atlanta to cover the college football playoffs and an NFL game and woke up in a hotel bed Jan. 1. I didn’t want a false start, or to begin with the frustration of trying to find healthful food on the road, between assignments, on a holiday. So, I delayed takeoff.

I ate doughy, Mellow Mushroom pizza for lunch. I had fried chicken, mashed potatoes and red wine for dinner. For breakfast at the airport, I ate a cheesy omelet with breakfast potatoes and white bread. And then I boarded a flight home and bid farewell to those kinds of foods.  

At home, on Monday, I got serious. I cooked panko-breaded chicken cutlets with a sauce of mushrooms, garlic, white wine and capers. I baked sweet potatoes, wrapped them in foil and stored them in the fridge, to deploy at various meals along the week. I marinated chicken thighs in Italian dressing Monday night, baked them Tuesday night for dinner and ate the leftovers all week for lunch, over kale or spinach drizzled with olive oil and almonds.

On Wednesday night, my wife wasn’t feeling well and wanted ramen. Which meant I would be eating ramen, too. The noodles would violate my prohibition on white pasta, so I adapted. I ordered miso vegetable ramen with a seasoned hard-cooked egg and extra cabbage. I slurped the broth and ate the vegetables — bamboo shoots, bean sprouts, onions, seaweed and scallions — and attempted to avoid the noodles. A few rogue strands found their way onto my spoon, but at the end I was left with a bowl of noodles and a full-enough stomach. (My wife left feeling much better.)

I ate only one other meal out, a bowl at Skwr for lunch, with a base of brown rice and kale, topped with eggplant spread, hummus, zucchini, carrot salad, pickled cabbage, radishes, tomato salad and red pepper sauce.

Otherwise, I made all my own meals. My breakfasts remained mostly static: cereal (either multi-grain O’s or ancient grain flakes topped with blueberries) with 2 percent milk. On Friday, I ran short of those staples. I ate what little oatmeal I had in the cupboard, topped with blueberries, and, in a pinch, finished off half a sweet potato from the fridge.

My alcohol consumption skidded to a halt. I didn’t tip one drink until Saturday afternoon, when I poured two glasses of rye over ice while watching NFL playoff games. Aside from that blip, I stuck with black coffee and water. 

I’m feeling great. I’m hungrier, for sure, but I can manage with big glasses of water and a handful of almonds here and there. I had a couple of low-frequency headaches, which I sure hope weren’t from alcohol withdrawal. (After the holidays, I’m not certain I can count out the possibility.) I’m remembering how good it feels for my body to process meals as fuel rather than wrestling with them and begging for mercy.   

One great part about starting a diet now is how quickly the just-added holiday weight melts away. I lost about six pounds, and the instant gratification provides encouragement to maintain healthy habits. I don’t expect weight loss to continue so rapidly, but looking at the scale in the morning offered validation, and a message: Keep going.  

— Adam Kilgore

Spinach salad with chicken thighs. (Adam Kilgore/The Washington Post)

Breakfast: Oatmeal
Lunch: Spinach salad, veggie pizza
Dinner: Fried chicken, mashed potatoes, kale salad, red wine

Breakfast: Cheese and veggie omelet, potatoes, white bread
Lunch: Handful of almonds
Dinner: Breaded and baked chicken thighs, mushroom sauce, sauteed spinach, avocado

Breakfast: Multi-grain O’s, 2 percent milk, blueberries
Lunch: Spinach salad with almonds, pepper and olive oil, sweet potato
Dinner: Baked chicken thighs, kale salad, avocado

Breakfast: Oatmeal with blueberries and almonds
Lunch: Skwr bowl: brown rice, kale, assorted veggies, hummus, eggplant spread
Dinner: Veggie ramen without noodles

Breakfast: Multi-grain O’s, 2 percent milk, blueberries
Lunch: Spinach salad with chicken thighs
Dinner: Spaghetti squash with homemade tomato sauce, kale

Breakfast: Oatmeal with blueberries, sweet potato
Lunch: Spinach salad with chicken thighs and almonds
Dinner: Homemade turkey burger with no roll, avocado, tomato, spinach and red onion

Breakfast: Ancient grains cereal, 2 percent milk, blueberries
Lunch: Spinach salad with chicken thighs and almonds
Dinner: Spaghetti squash with tomatoes, sauteed spinach, sweet potato