Tightened Wallet, Tightened Belt: It Can Happen

There are a couple of things going on in the news right now that raise good questions about the costs of healthy eating. First, the organization Live Below the Line recently completed a challenge asking Americans to try out living on $1.50 of food each day for five days. The significance of the figure is that this is the American equivalent of the extreme poverty line. (In reality, 1.4 million people around the world live below this line, according to Live Below the Line, an initiative of the Gobal Poverty Project.) The challenge was intended to make people aware of the difficulty some people face in finding nourishing food on this income, and to raise money for various organizations that fight poverty and hunger.

Also in the news is research from PruHealth in the UK reporting that Britons are less likely to spend money on healthy food in the down economy. The report uses data acquired this year from 2,000 respondents; compared to a similar study undertaken in 2008, the number of people who say they find it challenging to eat five fruits or vegetables a day increased by 12 percent. 75 percent of people said they have changed their eating and shopping habits, and 85 percent attributed this behavioral shift to rising food prices and the recession.

It’s not a secret that the cost of living has been on the rise for quite some time, but the challenging of eating healthy on a tight budget may come as a surprise to some of us. Notice I said challenging, but not impossible.

It concerns me that people think healthy eating is the province of the wealthy. But the reality is that one doesn’t have to shop exclusively at Whole Foods or some similar upscale store to become or remain trim and fit. Eating healthy for less does require a shift in where we shop and possibly what kinds of foods we buy, however. And for some, it most certainly requires better access to affordable, healthy foods–as this article states, the 6,500 “food deserts” that exist across the country pose a big problem to making this a reality. If the best deals at the corner store are on processed, prepackaged foods, and quality produce is a long commute away, it’s clear why some people will not or cannot spend time or effort on identifying the places where the best, budget-friendly  food can be found. I applaud the organizations that try to address this problem, and I hope that they will continue to make it easier for abandoned populations to get convenient, affordable access to nourishing foods.

During the course of my weight loss journey, I have come to shop more at discount stores, often reserving my traditional grocery shopping for things that simply aren’t carried at discount stores, like turkey pepperoni or light hot dog and hamburger buns. (I’m happy to say that the list of things I can’t find at discount stores has gotten shorter over the years; for example, Aldi now offers Greek yogurt, reduced fat cheese, and good knockoffs of Kashi cereals.) I put together meals every day using these items. There are viable healthy alternatives to be found with an open mind and a little ingenuity, and in my opinion, there is no need to halt your weight loss momentum if your take-home pay comes under siege by rising gas prices, health insurance premiums, or increased costs for any other necessity.

In the near future, I hope to complete a book on this topic, to share some of the things I’ve learned during my weight loss journey that have helped me to be successful while still being frugal. But in the meantime, I’ll say that research is key–knowing what’s in your local market, knowing when there are sales on things you actually buy, knowing how to combine meals for nutrition in a way that does not waste your purchases.

Yes, sometimes I round out my discount purchases with things like salmon or sirloin. Yes, things will be more challenging for someone who lives at or below the poverty line. But I believe that healthy eating is (and should be) possible at any income level, something that is vital for longevity and attainable for all.

Are you a frugal “big loser,” or are you struggling to lose weight and stay within your budget? Share your story here.

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