How Do You Eat Well as a Cash-Strapped Entrepreneur?

Written by Laura Bosco on December 13, 2018

Ever find yourself double-fisting pizza and beer midweek, despite plans to eat healthy? 

I do. Often.

Call it stress, lack of willpower, or the power of pizza. 

Whatever it is, eating well is tough. Especially when you’re running a business and a hundred other things seem way more urgent...like having enough cash to pay rent.  

Kristen Ziesmer—an entrepreneur herself—gets it. 

She won't brag about it, but Ziesmer is the only board-certified sports dietitian and certified personal trainer in the state of South Carolina. She’s also the owner and founder of Elite Nutrition and Performance, a comprehensive nutrition and consulting practice.

She’s legit. And so is her advice on how to fuel your body. Check out the audio or condensed transcript (both below) for Ziesmer’s tips on beating the 3pm slump, being more productive, and eating well on a budget. 


Laura Bosco: So, I’m always curious when I talk to a dietician...what food trends are driving you crazy? What’s making you go, “Oh my gosh, why would you do that to yourself?”

Kristen Ziesmer: Ketogenic diet is the #1. Everyone’s doing it as the latest and greatest weight loss fad, but the problem with ketogenic diet is: 

Your diet has to be very specific. Even your electrolytes need to be perfect. 

You feel like crap because your brain is deprived of its number one fuel source, which is carbs.

Your body resets itself; it figures out how to survive on a low amount of carbohydrates. But if you decide to eat a piece of birthday cake because, say, it’s your birthday, you can literally gain 10 lbs in a week. It’s not something you can swing in and out of—it’s literally a lifestyle change for the rest of your life. I’m not sure people realize that. 

I’m not going to say it ruins your metabolism but...it kinda does. It causes more problems than if you were to slowly cut down what you’re eating. There are other ways to lose weight.

Laura: Energy—specifically, having enough of it—is a big topic with entrepreneurs. What are some general guidelines around food and how that impacts our energy levels?

Kristen: Think of it like gassing up your car. If you don’t have enough gas in your car, you’re not getting anywhere. 

And I think a lot of entrepreneurs survive off of coffee. Well, coffee is not a food group. It’s not really giving you much of any fuel substance. Yes, it’s caffeine, but that’s short lived—once your body metabolizes it, it’s gone. If you’re not eating enough overall, you’re not going to have enough energy.

Three coffees on a tabletop.

“Coffee is not a food group.” —Kristen Ziesmer (“Well sh*t.” —Austin Price)

Carbohydrates are your brain’s number one fuel source. Its simplest form is glucose. If you’re not eating enough carbohydrates or food in general, then your brain does not have enough glucose. Eat a balanced meal of protein, carbs, and fat each time you eat. 

Also, nutrient timing is also a big thing. It takes about four hours for your food to clear out of your system. If you're not eating every four hours, your blood sugar levels have now dropped down to a level where you're sluggish and not thinking clearly. 

You could be more productive if you eat on a regular basis.

Laura: Is that four hours kind of a standard? Does it vary?

Kristen: Yeah. For some people it's shorter. It's a general rule, you know. I literally eat every 2-3 hours. Some athletes eat every two hours, like clockwork. They’re hungry, and their bodies burn it off, and they need it. 

Laura: So that gives me a little bit of insight into that afternoon slump—that 3pm mark. Do you think that's nutrition related?

Kristen: It's a couple of things, I think. Definitely nutrition-related. 

You should be eating the majority of your food at the beginning of the day, which most people do not do. They wind up eating a light breakfast, light lunch, and then they go home starving. Then they eat this massive dinner, or go out to eat. 

I usually tell people to eat the majority of their food early in the day, and then you kinda taper off as you go. If you're not eating enough early in the day, by 3 o'clock for sure, you're going to feel it and feel like crap. 

If you're not staying hydrated, that's another big thing. That’s another big problem, especially for people who are sitting at a desk all day. They think, "Well, I don't want to get up and go to the bathroom all the time because it's interrupting my work." Which, I get it. But think about how our bodies are made up of something like 70% water. So water is involved in every process that goes on in our bodies, including our ability to think. 

So if you're not taking in enough water, it's going to affect your ability to think clearly. It's going to slow down your metabolic rates. It's going to cause a whole bunch of things to happen and, by the time you feel thirsty, you're actually already dehydrated.

Exhausted human

“...if you're not taking in enough water, it's going to affect your ability to think clearly.” —Kristen Ziesmer

An easy rule is to take your body weight, divide that in half, and that's how many ounces you should be drinking on a daily basis—that's your minimum. 

There’s a water bottle, HidrateSpark, that can talk to your fitbit. And the water bottle will literally light up when it’s time to drink again. 

Laura: I saw this meme the other day, "If you're an entrepreneur, you can work whenever you want. Pick the 7 days a week, 14 hours a day that work best for you." I think a lot of people feel that way. There's this tension between being short on time and food taking time. So, what are some of the ways you help people eat well when they're short on time?

Kristen: First of all, there are a ton of healthy convenience foods. I say people do not have an excuse to skip meals because they don't have time. You could go on your phone and order groceries and tell the grocery store when to drop your groceries off. 

A ton of healthy convenience foods really require minimal preparation.

A rotisserie chicken. You could walk into any grocery store and get a rotisserie chicken. 

You could walk into any grocery store and buy those salad kits. And there’s an easy meal. Get a salad kit, and throw some rotisserie chicken on there. There’s lunch. 

There’s those Birds eye steam in the bag vegetables 

You can always do greek yogurt and fruit.

If you want to cook meals at home, crock pot is your best friend. Or if you have an Instapot, that's another good one. 

With the crock pot, as long as you have a protein source, a carbohydrate, and a little bit of fat, you could literally just throw it all in the crock pot and turn it on. So, something easy I do is take chicken, brown rice, chicken broth, and whatever vegetable I want, and I just throw it in the crock pot, and let it cook all day. And then when I come home...I have food. 

An easy thing that people can do is go online and search for "chicken dump meals."

Laura: Chicken DUMP meals? 

Kristen: Yes. It's all these combinations of chicken meals you dump in a gallon size bag, put in the freezer, and save for later. When you're ready to use it, you just dump it in the crock pot. So if you have a pack of chicken, you can put some in different gallon baggies and add different seasoning. 

Laura: You've touched on this a little bit, but many entrepreneurs are short on time AND cash. Is it possible to eat well when you're both time and cash-strapped? Do you have to shop at Whole Foods?

Kristen: You do not have to shop at Whole Foods. I actually buy my dry foods from Walmart. There's a ton of stuff you can get from Walmart that's healthy. People tend to think, "Oh Walmart, that's not healthy." You could buy flax seeds and chia seeds from WalMart that are organic. They're a great source of fiber, protein, and healthy fats. Add it to some oatmeal. Oatmeal is another thing you can buy that's really healthy. (As long as it's the plain oatmeal, not the packets of oatmeal.) 

WalMart actually has a grocery shopping app. So what I do is I actually create my grocery list on the app and then submit the order. They shop for you. So then you just pull up in your car and they put it in your trunk. You don't even have to get out of your car. So it's super easy and that's cheap. 

They even save the most logged foods, so you can just check them off.

Laura: We do overnight oats almost every day for breakfast! 

Kristen: Yeah, that's a great snack—and you don't even have to do anything! All you have to do is dump it all together and there you go. 

Laura: Speaking of breakfast, that's always been a burning question for me. Do we need to eat it? I've heard yes, no, whatever, it's gray…

Kristen: It depends on what perspective you're looking at it from. 

From a weight loss perspective, the research is now showing that, if you cut out breakfast, it is calories saved. However, I think it's a person-to-person dependent thing. If I did not eat breakfast, I would surely overeat later on. I find that, for a lot of people, if they don't eat breakfast, they're running really sluggish-ly, because they're really tired. They're hangry, they can't concentrate, they're not as productive, and then they wind up overeating at their next meal because they're so hungry.

More often than not, I'm going to recommend you eat breakfast. Even if you’re not a breakfast eater, you can train yourself to be a breakfast eater. 

I do think there’s a benefit to eating more meals, more frequently.

If you're skipping meals and eating one meal a day, your meal is going to be a gigantic meal. It may be 1,000 calories—which may only be half of what you need for the day—but your body can't burn off 1,000 calories at a time. So your body is going to store it as fat. Plus, you're going to feel like crap the rest of the day. You're not going to have the energy do anything. You're not going to workout because you don't have energy. It's a whole cascade of things. 

Yogurt and peaches in small breakfast bowls

“More often than not, I’m going to recommend you eat breakfast.” —Kristen Ziesmer

Laura: Okay, coffee and alcohol. Two of entrepreneurs’ favorite substances right there. It seems like there's a ton of conflicting advice on these. Have you landed anywhere with that? 

Kristen: Okay, so coffee and alcohol do have some benefits to them. They contain antioxidants, great. But too much of a good thing is not a good thing. If you're having too much caffeine, one, your body can become dependent on it and then, two, you can wind up not eating because coffee is an appetite suppressant. 

The problem with that is you're not getting a true fuel source; you're just kind of tricking your body. It can do more harm than good—especially if you're feeling jittery. 

I usually tell people two cups a day. And when I say cups, I mean an 8 oz cup. 

And if you just like the taste of coffee, fine, I do too! What I actually do is I have a regular coffee, and then my second cup is either decaf or half caffeinated.  

But I would really get the caffeine down because too much caffeine is hard on your heart. It can cause issues like high blood pressure and cause your heart to beat super fast, which is then causing other problems, you know. 

Alcohol is the same thing. There are some health benefits to it. If you're drinking a glass or two a day, it is shown to reduce cardiovascular risk and risk for some cancers. But, of course, if you're drinking too much of it, it's going to go in the other direction. So you really need to keep that in check. 

Not only that, alcohol contains 7 calories per gram, which is almost double the amount that's in protein and carbohydrates. And that's just the alcohol. That's not the carbohydrates. People say, "Oh, beer is so bad because it has too many carbs." It's not the carbs, it's the alcohol. Alcohol itself has calories in it. 

A lot of liquor bottles lined up on a bar

“Alcohol itself has calories in it.” —Kristen Ziesmer

Even if you're having a shot of vodka, it doesn't have any carbs, but it still has calories because it has alcohol, which is calories. 

If you're taking in an excess of calories, no matter where it's coming form, you're going to store that as fat. 

Laura: Something else I've noticed is people have really good intentions but really bad follow through. What are some of the ways you coach people so they don’t do healthy day one and terrible after that?   

Kristen: A couple of things. One is to set out goals for yourself and write them down. It's just like a business plan. If you don't have a business plan and don't have it written out on paper, it's going to be really hard for you to follow through with it. 

Come up with SMART goals. Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, Timely. 

You don't want to go for outcome-based goals, you want to go for behavior-change goals. For example, “I'm going to eat lunch five days a week,” or “I'm going to walk for 30 minutes three times per week.” Your goal should be something that is realistic and attainable. 

I usually tell people three goals is good. Look at some of the easy things you can do differently. 

I think people think, "Oh I need to do this crazy diet, what's the magic pill, I need to change everything in one day." But, you don't. In order for you to be successful, it is literally making small changes over time. 

For example, maybe you know that, when you leave work, you're so hungry you're going to stop through a drive-through and get something on the way home. An easy fix is to bring a healthy snack with you, and eat it in the afternoon. So you're not starving, and then you're not stopping by fast food. 

I think everybody can think about their diet and can think about some little thing they can do differently. Or their activity level. If you're sitting during lunch and working, get up and go walk for 15 minutes. All that counts. Those small changes add up to something big over time. 

Laura: What about cheat days? How do you feel about those? 

Kristen: I don’t like cheat days. You can literally undo all of your progress in a day or two. And I don't like the word cheat. Because now you're associating it with something bad you're doing. And it's not. 

My advice is, if you really want something, then just go and eat it. But eat a small amount of it. 

So if you really like chocolate, fine, have a little piece of chocolate. It only takes 2-3 bites to fulfill a craving, so do that and move on with life. 

If Friday night you want to go out to dinner with somebody and get burgers and fries—that's fine, as long as you're only doing it once a week or so. And you're not going crazy and stuffing yourself either. Like, "I'm never going to be able to do this again."

When you tell yourself, "I can't have something" it gives that food more power than it needs to have. 

So you need to say, I can eat whatever I want as long, as I'm balancing out my macronutrients. Little bit of vegetable, protein, carbohydrates in every meal. 

Burger and fries

“If Friday night you want to go out to dinner with somebody and get burgers and fries—that's fine, as long as you're only doing it once a week or so.” —Kristen Ziesmer

I don't like when people have this all out, gorge-fest day, because that's not good. That's basically setting you up for an eating disorder. Seriously.

Laura: What snacks do you recommend? We've talked a lot about eating small amounts consistently. What can people carry with them?

Kristen: String cheese is really easy. 

You could do Greek yogurt. But you either need to get the plain Greek yogurt, which is an acquired taste, or you could do chobani simply 100. One of the low sugar one. 

Fruit is great. Especially apples and oranges and bananas. They're in their own self-contained little wrapper.
 
Nuts are good. So almonds, walnuts, cashews, pistachios, whatever you want to do. But they're easy to go overboard on. Just a handful is plenty. 

If you ever see the Justin brand foil packets of peanut butter or the Jif to-go cups. That and a banana is a great snack. You basically want to combine protein and carbohydrates. 

Smoothies are pretty easy, as long as you can make that beforehand: greek yogurt, fruit, a little bit of milk, and some flax seeds. Blend that up, and stick it in a fridge, and that's easy. You can drink that while you're in a car. 

You can even do jerky, like turkey jerky, beef jerky. EPIC brand makes jerky bars, those are pretty good. KIND bars or LARA bars, too.

Laura: Are there any snacks that we should definitely avoid?

Kristen: High sugar, high fat snacks. Baked goods for example. It doesn't mean you can't ever eat them, but they're literally going to cause a sugar crash. It's going to spike your blood sugar, and then what happens is your body has to release a whole bunch of insulin in order to soak up that sugar. And then that leads to a crash. So that's actually going to make you feel more lethargic than you did previously. 

And that's one of the things I forgot to mention in the 3pm slump. If you have a big lunch, like a high-fat lunch, fat takes a long time to digest, so it actually makes you feel more tired. Think about a big dinner like Thanksgiving, and everyone is sleeping afterwards. Everyone thinks its the tryptophan, but it's not the tryptophan. It's so much food, and it's so much high fat food, that now your blood is in your stomach trying to digest that food. 

Same thing goes for snacks. If you're eating pastries, that can cause more harm than good.

Laura: There's so much information out there, and a lot of it is crap. Where can people go to find trustworthy info? 

Kristen: It's really hard with trustworthy. Because what you see on the internet is not always the best. 

If you want a good base of knowledge in terms of nutrition, there's a really good book called Fire Up Your Metabolism. It doesn't matter if you're trying to lose weight or not. It's written by two dietitians called “The Nutrition Twins.” They actually do these twin trials in there. Like one twin doesn't eat whole grains and one other twin does. This is a great place to start to give you a good base of knowledge.

I have a number of e-books that are super cheap on supplements and healthy grilling. There's a fat loss guide. Something I'm actually going to be starting later this year is an online general health coaching program. It'll be called Recharge Your Health

Fruits and vegetables at a supermarket

“...everybody can think about their diet and can think about some little thing they can do differently.” —Kristen Ziesmer

There's several good websites you can use. The Foodie Physician gives a lot of good, healthy cooking tips and recipes and things along those lines. And Eatright.org is the American Dietetic Association’s website and they have a lot of good free stuff as well. 

Laura: As far as you and your business—where can readers learn more about you and the services you offer? 

Kristen: The best place to go is my website, elitenutritionandperformance.com. (It’s the longest name ever. I emailed the people of eandp.com to see if they would sell it to me, and they would not.)

You can get a ton of information there, including about me. My whole background story is there. People a lot of times think, "oh you've always eaten healthy your entire life." Totally not true—you can read my whole story. I've struggled with an eating disorder, I've been underweight, I've been overweight, I've been athlete my entire life, I went to culinary school, I'm a foodie...I've been all over the place. There's nothing you could tell me that I'd be like, "uh no" or judge you. 

Oh, I have a blog so there's a ton of free information on there! 


Krit’s Key Takeaways for Busy Entrepreneurs

  1. Eat a balanced meal of protein, carbs, and fat each time you eat. 
  2. Drink loads of water. 
  3. Consume the majority of your food toward the beginning of the day. 
  4. Eat breakfast. 
  5. Coffee and alcohol aren’t food groups. Use them in moderation. 
  6. Cheat days aren’t all that helpful. 
  7. Snack smart and often. 
  8. Set behavior-based goals for improvement. 
  9. Be careful what “advice” you find online! (Not including this article, of course.)

Speaking of advice, if you’re looking for more of it from Ziesmer, check out a few of our favorite posts on her blog: 

The interview portion of this post was condensed and edited for clarity. Many thanks to Kristen Ziesmer for the time, energy, and expertise she shared with us!

Laura Bosco is a web copywriter and people person. She helps small businesses explain what they do in clear and compelling ways. Ping her on Twitter to say hi.