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Eat Healthy on a Budget


As I write this post, I am currently 60 pounds lighter than I was a year ago. And before that, I was…I don’t even want to say it.

I get asked all the time, “how did you do it?” And my answer is a simple canned response of, “I stopped eating.” That’s a joke of course, I didn’t stop eating altogether, but I did stop eating 3 meals a day — like we’ve been told to do for a healthy lifestyle.

Truth is, we’ve been told that by marketers. And now it’s time for a little rant about how we eat as a nation.

We’ve Been Sold On Breakfast

I’ll admit that breakfast is my favorite meal of the day, but not because of the time it’s normally eaten (morning), but because I like eggs.

Before the 20th century, breakfast was mainly for the rich. They would host hunting parties that sometimes lasted several days, and served up to 24 dishes.

The invention of the corn flake by John Harvey Kellogg, sliced bread, and the toaster, all started in the early 20th century, and marketers needed to sell these products.


That said, I eat breakfast foods, but not until I’m hungry. Sometimes I’ll wake up hungry right away. Other times, I won’t eat until noon. And when I eat, I skip the processed foods like…well…cereal and toast. In fact, I skip foods with gluten altogether, even though I don’t have a gluten intolerance.

As I’ve learned, bread is not a whole food. It has to go through a process before we humans can digest it. You can’t take wheat out of the ground and eat it, so it makes sense that our bodies aren’t adapt to eating this type of food.

Instead, I eat cooked spinach, eggs, and sometimes I’ll treat myself with fresh sausage or organic bacon.

This is my first meal of only two.

What Does This Have to do With Money?

I’m glad I asked. Because I only eat two meals a day consisting of only whole foods, I drastically reduced my grocery bill.

Now before you criticize, let me share with you exactly what I buy and what I eat everyday. I’ll warn you that this probably won’t work for everyone, but I suggest that if you’re trying to lose weight and save money, you need to serious adjust your mindset.

I spent roughly $70 a week in groceries and I eat breakfast/lunch and dinner every single day. My shopping list includes:

  • Eggs ($2.99)
  • Egg whites ($3.99)
  • 3 bags of frozen chopped spinach ($4.50)
  • A jar of roasted garlic for spinach ($2.99)
  • A pound of sausage or bacon ($6.99) — I buy the good stuff
  • 4 bags of pre-chopped, pre-washed lettuce (mostly romaine) ($8.00)
  • 4 cucumbers ($4.00)
  • Balsamic salad dressing with NO SUGAR ($3.99)
  • 8 organic chicken breasts ($30.00)

Now, you might be thinking that’s quite a lot of money for a single man to eat only two meals a day, but I choose to shop at Whole Foods and actually pay for REAL food. Sure, if I ate a box of cereal every morning, I would save more, but then I wouldn’t lose weight and feel better.

On the other hand, if I had to buy enough fresh food for a week that included three meals a day, of course, the cost would be a lot higher.

You’ll notice there are no drinks in that list. That’s because I only drink water (and coffee sometimes — but I don’t buy it every week).

With this list, I eat an incredibly healthy breakfast/lunch — that keeps me full for at least six hours — and a salad with grilled chicken for dinner. I don’t snack because I don’t keep snacks in the house.

What Are The Benefits to This Plan?

Since I started on this very strict, yet satisfying, meal plan, I consistently lose about 10 pounds a month. And truthfully, I still enjoy a day or two where I’ll eat sushi or pizza or pasta, and I love my beer so I can’t go too long without indulging in the nectar of the gods once in a while. But this plan that I loosely follow has allowed me to drop a significant amount of weight.

With weight loss comes a shit ton of benefits.

For one, my clothes fit better. I no longer have to spend extra money shopping for bigger clothes. You could argue that bigger clothes means more fabric, means more loads of laundry, means more laundry loads…and it all adds up.

I generally feel better. I don’t have to eat as much and I have way more energy everyday. My work has even gotten better because I’m not taking a bunch of breaks to eat. For me, more work = more money.

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How to Lose Weight and Save Money

You can eat healthy on a budget. If you want to lose weight AND save money, these are the actions I recommend:

1. Avoid gluten and sugar

I swear, if you cut those things out of your daily diet, you will notice an immediate change in weight and energy. Our bodies don’t handle sugar well.

As a beer home brewer, I know that taking barley or wheat and letting it sit in hot water for an hour converts the starches into sugar. Beer is sugar water with alcohol. So I always imagine my body as a mash tun (the vessel used to heat up grains to convert them to wort, which is beer before it has alcohol).

It’s a shame, but gluten and sugar products are cheap. They’re cheap because it’s easy to make, readily available, and everybody wants it.

2. Buy Only Whole Foods

I’m not saying you have to shop at Whole Foods, but you should buy foods that generally don’t come in a box. Whole foods include: vegetables, meats, fruits, nuts, seeds and eggs.

If you’re worried about price, and you should be, remember that whole foods can be cheap depending on what you buy and where. For instance, it’s hard to get avocados in the winter, so I would advise you follow the seasons if you can. Frozen vegetables are a great alternative to buying fresh. You can also shop at local farmer’s markets to get awesome deals.

I easily spend $30 for chicken breast at Whole Foods, but if I shopped at my local farmer’s market, I could get the same amount for $20, and it doesn’t come in a package like Perdue or Tyson — which I could go on a tangent about, but I’ll spare you for now.

3. Avoid Dairy

I’ll admit this is going to be hard for a lot of people, including myself. I love coffee with cream and sugar, and to be honest, I drink at least 2-3 cups per day. And I know I said to avoid sugar and dairy. However, I love it and it’s not that much, so I determined it was okay for me to drink coffee daily.

I experimented with this. I stuck to my diet, but added my cream and sugar coffee. After a week, I noticed I was still losing weight, so I keep it in. If I had determined that it was affecting my progress, I would have probably stopped drinking it, or limited myself to how much I could drink in a week.

4. Don’t Exercise

This is a joke, but I’ll admit that since I started this, I haven’t exercised once. Meaning, I didn’t do any scheduled workouts — all my exercise has been either walking or other spontaneous moments throughout my day.

For those exercise haters, this is awesome — and yes, I’m an exercise hater.

5. Avoid Alcohol

This is one of those guidelines that I have a hard time following — as I mentioned, I love beer. I enjoy drinking to both relax and socialize, and I don’t want to become a guy that doesn’t drink (I don’t trust those people).

However, I noticed with myself that drinking puts a serious monkey wrench in my weight loss progress, and since losing weight is vastly more important than wasting a day nursing a hangover, I just avoid drinking as much as I can.

Does This Sound Like A Giant List of Don’ts?

I’ll admit that you might be thinking this all seems like a way to make your life more miserable. It doesn’t have to be, but as I mentioned before, it’s going to take some mental shifts on your end. With that, here are some things I encourage you should do:

1. Eat More Vegetables

Vegetables are the best thing you can put into your body, and they grow right out of the ground! If you are serious about losing weight, you need to learn how to love your vegetables. This might take some experimentation.

I found that I love spinach with roasted garlic, and I don’t mind eating it every single day. Both spinach and garlic are great for you, and spinach has so much fiber that it will keep you filled for much longer than a bowl of cereal will. This is why I decided to eat it as my first meal.

I also experimented with homemade salsa that I used to fill omelets, but I quickly realized how much of a pain it was to make, so I decided to make my life easier with spinach.

If you want to seriously save money, grow your own veggies.

2. Drink Water

This one is easy for me because I love water. However, my mom hates drinking water, so she has to add flavoring to her water, and it’s usually Crystal Light (the devil’s cocaine). If you have to add flavor, try fresh lemons or cucumbers.

I drink at least 64 oz a day. I use a Camelbak water bottle and I fill it up with either tap water or filtered water from my refrigerator. Sure, I pee a lot, but that’s not a bad thing.

3. Eat Meat For Protein

This is a tough spot for me since I consider myself a liberal. On one hand, the way they mass produce meat makes me sick to my stomach. I’ve watched every food documentary on Netflix. On the other hand, it’s fucking delicious.

I know this is not for everyone, but in order to keep my conscience clean, I decided that I’d rather pay more for meat that I feel has gone through the proper channels of manufacturing. I buy grass fed beef, free-range chicken, and organic pork. And I know some of you will disagree, but the meat is a billion times better when it’s not sold in a styrofoam tray wrapped in plastic. Butcher-style brown paper fresh, man!

Ready To Lose Weight?

Everyone’s body is different, so you’re gonna have to play around to see what works best for you.

I didn’t start with this meal plan, it formed after trying a bunch of different foods and figuring out which ones I enjoyed and that I could stick to eating everyday. To mix things up, I’ll add variants to those meals. One week I might do seared tuna on my salad (a little more money), or do a spinach omelet instead of just scrambled eggs with spinach on the site. I even switch up my first meal with bacon, sausage, or no meat, just to keep things interesting and new.

The bottom line is, by following the guidelines I set for myself, I was able to lose over 60 pounds and spent way less money in those six months as opposed to the six months before that on food.

I hope this article has either inspired you to take action, or become angry at me for being such an advocate to a gluten-free, “hippie-dippy” lifestyle. Either way, I want to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

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  • addvodka

    I whole heartedly agree with almost everything you said here (except I am not a meat eater). It’s absolutely nuts how so many people just blindly follow the advice that the FDA gives. This includes “eat breakfast”! It’s actually healthy for humans to even fast – for longer periods than just over night – and the notion that it’s bad to not eat breakfast is a message brought to you by dairy & meat farmers. Dairy and meat farmers produce eggs and bacon, so of course they are going to push breakfast.

    Sugary, processed food isn’t food, it’s a food like substance. Since I changed my diet to eliminate all of that, and only consume whole foods, my nails have been stronger, skin brighter and clearer, my body shape has changed (the body does not process 300 calories of french fries the same way it processes 300 calories of broccoli), my energy levels have sky rocketed, my hair is shinier and my attitude is better.

    • Matt Giovanisci

      Same! I find myself frustrated when I see my brother come home from food shopping at Wal-Mart filled with bags of Pringles, Ritz Crackers, and bottled water (because he wants to be healthy).

      Also, I just read this article in the NY Times about how the Nutrition Facts are being changed to reflect the real serving sizes of the food we eat. I consider this much needed update to our food labeling as a complete waste of resources. Let me know if you also agree: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/02/27/health/new-fda-nutrition-labels-would-make-serving-sizes-reflect-actual-servings.html

      Granted, it puts a little more emphasis on sugars, but folks need to understand that a calorie is not a calorie, like you mentioned with your comparison between french fries and broccoli.

      I do not calorie count because it’s a waste of time for me. I know that I eat good foods because I feel much better, and because I’m losing all this extra weight that has caused nothing but problems my entire existence.

      And because this is a blog about personal finance, it’s also had a dramatic affect on my bank account. Like, for serious!

  • Cashville Skyline

    Lots of great advice here and congratulations on the weight loss! 60 pounds in a year is a huge accomplishment. I’ve lost weight by cutting out many of the things you’ve mentioned above, but eating every few hours has been more effective for me. The dips and spikes in blood sugar from going so long without eating make it hard for me to focus at work! Keep up the good work :)

  • Erin

    Wow, congratulations! I’m a three meal a day person (plus snacks if I get hungry) because I am mean if I get hungry and don’t eat anything. I can’t focus on anything else. That said, I’ve also switched to a much healthier diet as of late, mostly meatless. My energy levels are up and my insides feel fab :)

  • Sounds like the “slow carb” diet from the 4-Hour Body :-) My wife and I are on that right now and we’re seeing great results.

    Awesome work it getting the pounds off!!

    • Matt Giovanisci

      Funny you should mention that. I read that book, and followed it for a few months. Turns out I was eating a shit ton of beans and after i lost the first 10 pounds, I couldn’t lose anymore.

      It’s really two things that I attribute to my weight loss: eating the right foods, and less of them.

      People say to me, “how the hell do you only eat twice a day? I can’t do that.” To which I reply, “ok, then.” It’s a mindset, plain and simple.

      Wake up, eat, work, eat, go to bed, repeat.

      I’m a ritualistic person, so this comes very easy to me. And I know I’m not the only one.

  • I lost 70+ pounds by eating less and not exercising. And I was never a fan of breakfast, hoo-rah! :)

    While FAT loss is great, I really wish I’d exercised while I was l was dropping poundage… because much of the weight I lost was nice, heavy muscle along with the fat. Now I’m working hard to gain the muscle back that I lost. Just a lesson learned: if you use your muscles (say, for strength exercise), your body will prioritize it when eating at a caloric deficit and less of the weight lost will be muscle.