The media loves portraying getting healthy and losing weight as if they can only be accomplished in the lap of luxurious lifestyles, replete with expensive specialty foods, culinary diets, fancy gyms, posh personal trainers, elite clinical treatments, high end products, pricey gadgets and designer active wear that only the rich, famous, and otherwise unoccupied can indulge in.
In fact, the false bias that tends to associate better health with more expense is becoming so common nowadays (and causing more and more people to make uninformed decisions about how to get healthy and lose weight) that consumer researchers have recently given it a name: The Healthy=Expensive Intuition.
But don’t be fooled. Don’t allow yourself to give up because you’ve been tricked into believing that you can’t afford your dream body. There’s no reason why the other 98 percent of the population with far trimmer bank accounts can’t trim down their bellies and bolster their health as well.
A tight budget does not stop you from getting fit, eating healthy, losing weight and leading a balanced lifestyle. The key is to get informed and to stick to a plan that works with your life and your piggy bank. Here’s how to get started.
1. Check out your local pharmacies.
If you live in a city or town where regular doctor visits aren’t always affordable, it’s important to know that, very often, local reputable pharmacies offer free or low cost health screenings, baseline health tests and routine exams too, like blood pressure exams, cholesterol screenings, glucose levels and even Body Mass Index (BMI) assessments.
While pharmacists can’t replace your doctor and visits to the drug store do not replace the need for regular medical examinations, finding out your basic biometric stats regularly gives you the opportunity to stay informed about your health, to be proactive about making any necessary lifestyle changes, and to track your health and fitness progress.
2. You don’t always have to buy the whole thing.
Although most consumers are unaware of this option, many large chain grocery stores allow you to purchase only a certain portion of a particular item – only a quarter of the cheese block, half the head of cabbage, a small fish fillet, half a melon, etc. – if you ask a store employee from that department if you can please have only what you need (ALWAYS ask a store worker first, NEVER cut or damage store products).
Another way to make sure that you aren’t overspending or buying more than what you’ll use is by always going in to the store with a smart, organized and healthy grocery list already prepared, like this one.
3. Stay in touch online to get great deals.
Follow your local favorite stores, products and brands on social media sites like Twitter and Facebook, sign up for their online newsletters and download their apps to stay in-the-know and to take advantage of daily specials, discounts, coupons, end-of-day deals, etc.
Other great coupon apps and websites help you stretch your savings even further with online coupons for your favorite brands and manufacturers.
4. Invest in an Exercise Ball.
Rubber exercise balls are one of the most versatile pieces of exercise equipment that you can find for under $20 in a fitness store, department store or large pharmacy. They can be used in the comfort and privacy of your own home, allowing you to effectively train your core and total body in a variety of ways.
Check out this incredible core workout that tones your abs, buns and thighs with the exercise ball.
5. Buy Ugly Food
We’re suckers for pretty things. But while most customers are skipping over the two-pronged carrots, asymmetrical apples, Siamese tomatoes and specked bell peppers, these fresh fruits and veggies are just as nutritious and delicious as their “perfect” looking counterparts. That’s why you’ll often find these uglier – yet perfectly fresh – duds on the discount tables in grocery stores, right beside the very ripe produce that’s about to turn.
So get ugly at the discount produce bin (and buy the very ripe produce there as well if you are planning to use the food that same day). And once you chop up that ugly piece of fruit or veg and toss it into your salad, sauté or soup, no one will even know (or care) that it once didn’t look as picture-perfect in the garden as it now does on your plate.
6. Organic isn’t always better.
While avoiding unnecessary additives, chemicals, hormones and other unknowns from your diet is important, buying organic options come with a serious price mark-up.
Certain foods are known to be especially pesticide-laced and are well worth the extra shell-out for the organic option whenever possible (see the Environmental Working Group’s Dirty Dozen list to see which foods are worth purchasing organic).
However, when there’s no room in the budget for organic picks, just skin the fruits and vegetables and then wash them thoroughly before eating.
Moreover, outside of the EWG’s Dirty Dozen list, the cheaper conventional counterparts of many other foods are totally fine. Thick skinned produce, like avocados, melons, grapefruit and butternut squash, for example, have tough outer skins that protect the inner flesh from absorbing pesticide residues. Other conventional foods that are known to be mostly clean of pesticides include onions, pineapples, mangos, sweet peas, asparagus, kiwis, cabbage, eggplant and sweet potatoes.
And organic junk food is still just junk food, not health food, and has little nutritional value. Don’t let the cleaner and healthier-looking packaging sway you into buying more expensive organic sodas, organic potato chips or organic candy.
7. Make meals from your pantry.
You can make tons of different delicious, nutritious, healthy and low cal meals from cheap ingredients that you can buy in the dry foods or cheaper bulk bin section of the store.
Collect recipes LIKE THESE ONES that combine lean, healthy and affordable sources of protein (like dry beans, peas, nuts, seeds, natural nut butter, canned wild salmon or etc.) with whole grains (like wild rice, whole grain pasta, barley, buckwheat groats, quinoa, etc.) along with medleys of flavorful herbs, seasonings and fresh or frozen veggies for a perfectly lean, scrumptious, quick and affordable dish, soup or stew.
Why are clementines always cheaper in winter? Because local foods eaten when in season are not only tastier and more nutritious, but also less expensive relative to out-of-season produce that must be shipped in from greater distances.
Frozen produce can also be just as nutritious as fresh produce (and sometime even more nutritious than the out-of-season fresh produce), and can often be purchased more cheaply than fresh counterparts. When you can’t go all fresh, frozen produce is definitely the next best cheaper option, and is far more preferable than canned versions, which usually have extra additives and preservatives added in. Frozen spinach is excellent for sautés, soups and smoothies, frozen veggies are great for easy steaming or for soups, and frozen berries make a smoothie even more deliciously thick and frothy.
9. Work out at home.
Gym memberships can get very costly, and are more of a time commitment as travel and wait times take up precious workout minutes.
You can purchase just a few pieces of affordable storable equipment (like an exercise ball, a jump rope, a resistance band or sets of dumbbells, etc), or can get away with no equipment at all and simply use body resistance techniques. Here’s a great guide for sticking to an exercise program that is gym-free, in the privacy of your own home.
There are so many excellent online workout programs and videos that you can follow along with at home for free, or for a very low cost access membership. Check out this free Ten Minute Total Body Blast workout that you can do at home or in any small space.
Lastly, you are always welcome to work out for free in the greatest gym in the whole world, where you can burn even more calories without the wait times or expensive memberships: The Outdoors.
10. Ask the butcher to throw you a bone.
Many butcher counters and meat departments will give you their leftover bones for free or just a couple bucks. Whole Foods will sometimes even give you the organic meat and poultry bones for free (healthier hormone-free organic meat bones are definitely worth taking over the conventional ones, when available). Use these bones to make extremely nutritious bone broths, stalks and hearty soups. The slow-stewing bone chunks help to create a broth that isn’t only more flavorful, but that is also far richer in important minerals, protein and healthy collagen.