Tag Archives: weight loss

Unplanning our menus

So at what point do you stop calling the postpartum pounds “baby weight”? Because my baby is almost 9 months old, and I’m still hauling quite a bit more around than I’m comfortable admitting. Methinks this is less about the baby and more about the absurd amounts of junk food I craved when I was pregnant. (Note: “Breastfeeding makes you lose weight” is a MYTH. Because homeboy is still nursing around the clock, and it’s not helping my waistline.)

In an effort to finally get serious about getting myself back to a comfortable weight, I joined a gym and met with a personal trainer for a free consultation. I told him about my diet, which honestly, is reasonably healthy. I cut out the junk food after Judah was born. We rarely eat out, and we never eat fast food. We cook fresh whole foods, lean protein, and lots of vegetables … but we also eat lots of carbs.

To keep our grocery budget down, we make a lot of big pasta dishes and sandwiches, and potatoes are usually featured pretty prominently in our menus. The trainer suggested I cut the carbs and focus on eating vegetables and lean proteins instead and see if that helps me shed the rest of this weight. That doesn’t seem tough to me. I’m not counting carbs. Just sort of leaving them off our menu.

Unfortunately, this makes menu planning tough. Most weeks our menu features at least one pasta dish and one sandwich night. Most days I also throw a sandwich together for lunch. On weeks when I’m having menu planning writer’s block, we’d even eat pasta or sandwiches twice. We usually bought potatoes in bulk and served them roasted or boiled as a side dish. Clearly, I’d have to rethink our entire menu planning strategy if I was going limit my carbs.

So we’re trying something new. We’re unplanning. In other words, we’re just buying one or two meats that are sale priced, and then loading up the cart with whatever produce is cheap that week. When we get it all home, we take stock of what we bought, and we build a menu around that.

Here’s an example of how it works. Last week, split chicken breasts were on sale for 99 cents a pound. We loaded up on a few pounds of chicken. Then we filled the cart with low-price produce — several heads of romaine, spinach, tomatoes, carrots, zucchini, squash, broccoli, sugar snap peas, onion and cauliflower. We have a ton of homegrown cucumber and herbs from the garden. For snacks, we bought fruit — peaches, pears, apples, and grapes. We also bought staples like milk, eggs, cheese, and some canned beans.

Surprisingly, because everything we bought was on sale, we stayed within our grocery budget. Tony basically shopped our produce selection each night and made something up. It turned out fantastic! Here’s what he came up with last week:

  • Roasted chicken breasts with squash and side salad
  • Chicken Caesar salad
  • Chicken stir fry
  • Chicken skillet with beans and vegetables
  • Chef salad with turkey
  • Grilled chicken and veggie kabobs

Yes, you end up eating a lot of the same meat all week, but you can change it up the following week. Pork and beef would work the same way. Or you could use beans instead of meat.

Of course, this method relies heavily on having an adventurous cook in the house. Tony is great at foraging the kitchen and throwing something together.

At the end of the week, we had a few items left — spinach and cauliflower mainly. We took stock of what was left, and we made sure we used up any leftover produce at the beginning of this week to avoid waste.

I really enjoyed everything we made last week, and shopping the sales motivated us to buy and use produce that we rarely eat — like zucchini and squash. It is a little harder control spending without writing an actual menu and grocery list, but as long as you stick to sale meat and produce and only buy about as much as you’ll eat, it shouldn’t get too pricey.

Now send me low-carb recipes! I doubt the planner in me will let this “unplanning” last too long.

Photo credit

Indulgences that are killing your diet & your budget

If you’re trying to lose weight and cut expenses, it’s no secret that the first place to look is your shopping cart. The idea that healthy eating is expensive is a myth. In fact, those pricey convenience foods driving up your grocery costs are probably sabotaging your diet, too. Next time you’re at the grocery store, check your cart and swap these no-nos for healthier, more frugal alternatives.


Sodas are not only expensive — they’re also full of sugar, artificial flavors, and empty calories. Studies show that even diet sodas can lead to weight gain. Considering its negative effects on your health, the cost of soda is outrageous. Just one 12-pack per week is likely to add $12-$20 a month to your grocery expenses. Instead of drinking soda, invest in a water filtration system like Brita or Pur. If you miss flavor, drink unsweetened tea with lemon instead.


If wine, beer or liquor are weekly staples on your grocery list, it’s time to take a serious look at how much it’s costing you — not just in dollars but also in calories. Alcohol is one of the least nutritious, most caloric things you can consume. Removing it from your grocery list and your diet is a must.

Fruit Juice

Fruit juice is full of nutrients, and it’s not an inherently unhealthy drink to consume. However, when you’re trying to lose weight, it’s not a good idea to drink your calories. A glass of fruit juice is likely to have as many calories as a small snack, but it will leave you feeling unsatisfied and craving more food. Considering most fruit juices cost around $3 for a half gallon, you’re better off sticking to tea and water. Fresh fruit offers the same health benefits as juice, but an apple is a more satisfying snack than a glass of apple juice.

“Low calorie” or “fat free” snacks foods

These convenience foods not only cost a fortune, but they may not be helping you lose weight. Not only are they full of artificial ingredients and sweeteners, studies show that you’re likely to eat larger portions of “fat free” and “low cal” foods, which may cancel out their benefits. Instead of buying snack foods, opt for fresh produce. Choose fruits and vegetables that are currently in season for the lowest prices. If produce prices are too high, canned fruits and vegetables are the next best thing.

Photo by B Tal

Choosing the right gym for you

My friend Kacie is considering a gym membership, so she asked me for some advice on how I chose my gym. When I started thinking about it, I realized how much more goes into choosing a gym than just finding a good deal.

No matter how little you spend per month, it’s a waste of money if you’re not using the membership. Before you sign a contract, spend some time researching, visiting gyms in your area, and asking questions. As you consider your options, keep these things in mind.

How do you like to work out?

When I’m working out, I like to be alone with my thoughts. I read a book while pedaling on a stationary bike or listen to music while running on the treadmill. For some people, nothing sounds more boring, and they’d rather take a fitness class. If you’re looking to tone up and you’ve never lifted weights before, you’ll want beginner weight lifting equipment. If you’re not sure, you’ll want a gym with a mix of cardio and weight lifting equipment as well as a variety of class offerings so you can try it all.

How much instruction do you need?

If you’ve never worked out before, you might want to choose a gym that offers guidance through personal training or fitness classes. My gym offers free orientation sessions where they teach you how to use all of the equipment and help you develop a work out plan that fits your needs. If you’re a beginner, that kind of instruction and guidance may be what you need to get started on the right track and stick to it.

What kind of gym culture do you want?

Make sure you take a tour of the gym you’re considering during the time of day you’re most likely to work out. Pay attention to the people working out and the way you feel around them. You should be comfortable and feel like you fit in the gym. You may feel a little timid if you’re a beginner, but you shouldn’t feel inadequate or uncomfortable.

When I was looking for a gym, I visited two different places. One of them was filled with big muscle men and women. The women looked like they’d put on makeup and did their hair before heading to the gym. I would not have fit in there. My gym caters to people who are trying to lose weight or get in shape, so it’s a much better fit for me.

When do you want to work out?

Be sure that your gym will be open when it’s most convenient for you to work out. If you’re a night owl, a gym that closes early isn’t for you. If you like to get up at the crack of dawn, make sure your gym has early hours. And be sure to ask about weekend hours.

Wait for a deal.

Once you choose your gym, don’t just rush in and sign up for full price. It seems like every other month my gym is covered in signs offering great deals for new members. I paid full price for my membership, and a week later, they started a promotion that waived the $30 application fee. I could have saved $30 just by waiting a few days.

Before you sign up, ask if there are any annual membership drives coming up. Continue working out at home for a few weeks while you watch for deals. You could end up locking in a cheaper monthly price just by taking your time.

Understand your contract.

Just because they’re pushing you to sign a 12-month contract doesn’t mean it’s your only option. Think realistically about your track record. Are you someone who has struggled to stick with exercise in the past? Then a 12-month contract might not be for you. Ask about other options to protect yourself from throwing money every month at a gym you’re not using.

Photo by obo-bobolina

Slow down, you’re moving too fast

Almost two months ago, I started training to run my first 5K. I started out strong and motivated, but instead of getting easier, it’s been getting harder.

For the past few weeks, motivation has been a problem for me. As the runs became longer and more intense, my drive to get myself into the gym every night started waning. I wasn’t progressing in the Couch to 5K program as quickly as I wanted, and I was dreading my workouts instead of looking forward to them.

Last week, I came close to giving up. So I decided I needed a new game plan.

Couch to 5K is based on interval training with a blend of walking and running. It begins with equal intervals of walking and running, but as your training builds, the walking intervals decrease and running times increase. I was doing well in the sprints, but as the running intervals increased, I started to struggle.

This week I wanted to increase my endurance, and so I decreased my speed a little. I’d been setting my running pace at the same miles per hour from the beginning, but I realized that the speed that worked well for shorts sprints during interval training was too fast to sustain on longer jogs.

Sure enough, my endurance was much better at the slower speed. I made it through my first long run without walking on Monday, and last night, I ran a mile straight without walking for the first time. (YES! PROGRESS!)

So I’ve changed my game plan. Couch to 5K was a fantastic training plan for me in the beginning, but it’s not working for me anymore, so I’ve developed my own training plan. I’m focusing on distance and endurance instead of speed.

I have about a month to build from a 1-mile run to 3 miles for my 5K at the end of March. With each workout, I’m going to increase my distance by a quarter mile, but my pace will remain at a relatively steady jog. As the jogs get easier, I’ll gradually increase my pace. My goal is to run the entire 5K in under 40 minutes. That may seem slow to seasoned runners, but it would be a victory for me.

It’s a relief to realize that I’m not failing just because one training plan didn’t work for me. It doesn’t matter how I get there as long as I accomplish my goal.

My problem was that I was trying to do too much too fast. I wanted to see results overnight, and when it didn’t happen as quickly as I wanted, I came close to giving up. But I reminded myself that running is a discipline that takes time and dedication, just like saving money or getting out of debt. It’s about making progress little by little, step by step. It’s important to keep the ultimate goal in mind, but you also have to keep all of those little steps in mind to motivate yourself. You have to celebrate each little step as it brings closer to your goal.

My motivation is renewed, and I’m ready to try a new approach.

Photo by chezdom

5 ways budgeting and weight management are alike

This post was originally published on September 22, 2008.

One of my first posts was about how I lost weight using basic budgeting skills. Now that I’m working to get healthier, I wanted to revisit the topic. Only this time I’m talking about why constant monitoring and reassessment are crucial to staying physically and financially fit.

Here are some tips I’ve found helpful when managing my weight and my budget:

1. Be realistic.

Sometimes it’s necessary to go on a strict budget to pay down massive debt. You may have to cut all discretionary spending for a little while to overcome a major financial hurdle. However, if you try to maintain that level of restriction for too long, it’s harder to stay on track and meet your own high expectations.

Your best bet is to find a comfortable balance between necessary bills, discretionary spending, and saving. Maintaining a reasonable budget requires constant monitoring, but it shouldn’t be incredibly difficult or make you feel deprived.

2. Frequently monitor your progress to catch yourself before you veer too far off track.

Once you find a comfortable budget, it’s crucial that you measure your progress regularly. Without careful planning and monitoring, you could easily throw your entire monthly budget off track with one weekend of bad decisions. Imagine how bad it could get if you just stopped monitoring your spending for months at a time.

Just as you check your budget frequently to make sure you’re not overspending, you must weigh yourself regularly. A slight increase in weight could alert you to a problem in your diet and activity before you veer off track to an unmanageable degree.

3. The longer you avoid the problem, the harder it is to resolve.

It’s much easier to pay off your credit card balance every month than it is to pay down several thousand dollars of debt that’s accrued over months or years. It’s also a lot harder to lose weight when the pounds have packed on over time. Overcoming a 1-pound weight gain usually just involves watching what you eat closely for a few days. It’s a lot harder to get back on track if you wait until you’re 40 pounds overweight.

4. Constantly adjust according to your changing needs.

When it comes to budgeting, everybody knows that you can’t continue spending the same after a major pay cut. When your income decreases, your spending must decrease, too. Likewise, when you welcome a new baby, your discretionary spending is probably going to take a hit to accommodate for diapers and formula.

You must find the same balance between activity and calorie intake for weight management. I first started struggling to maintain my weight after my job changed two years ago. In retail, I was on my feet 8 hours a day running around the store, moving heavy objects, and constantly moving. I didn’t watch my diet as closely as I should have, but the constant activity made it easy to keep extra weight off. Now that I’m sitting at a desk all day instead of moving, I need to seek out more activity outside of my job and become mindful of what I eat to avoid weight gain.

5. Sticking to it and making the right choices are the hardest parts.

Everyone knows that the easiest way to stay ahead of the game financially is to spend less than you make. We also know that the best way to maintain a healthy weight is to burn more calories than you consume. It all sounds so easy when you break it down into those simple equations, doesn’t it? The truth it, it’s not that easy.

The part that’s left out of that equation is the constant struggle every day to make the right choices and stick to your commitment. After all, if it was as easy as it sounds, nobody would struggle with their weight or their finances.

The best thing that weight control and budget management have in common? They’re both totally worth the struggle.

Photo by nataliejohnson

Slow & steady

Yesterday, I started week 6 of the Couch to 5K running program. I have to be honest: it’s still really hard. I don’t love running. In fact, I hate it more days than not. I’m bored and tired and every second feels like an eternity. But I set a goal, and I’m making progress.

Even though I started off in decent shape (I’d been working out regularly for over a year), running is a whole different ball game. On my first run two months ago, running for two minutes straight almost killed me. Monday night I was supposed to run 20 minutes straight, but I only made it 13 minutes before I had to slow down and catch my breath.

When I left the gym, I was beating myself up a little. I’ve been training for 8 weeks now (two of which I spent out of the gym because I was sick and then recovering from oral surgery). I want to be able to keep up with the program.

Then I reminded myself of how far I’ve come. Though I’m not advancing in the program quite as quickly as I’d like, I’ve increased my running time from 1 and a half minutes to 13 minutes. I’m running faster and longer. I’m finally losing weight again (only five pounds, but at least the scale is moving).

Most importantly, my training has made me more aware of what I’m putting into my body. My diet has been mostly healthy for the past five years, but I have a tendency to eat too much of the healthy foods we cook. Watching the calorie tracker on the treadmill as I push my way through my run has made me aware of how hard it is to burn off that extra serving of pasta.

It’s also a lot easier for me to resist the occasional temptation. When my entire office went out for Mexican food on Tuesday, I stayed at my desk and ate my Lean Cuisine. As much as I love unlimited chips and salsa, it’s not worth derailing my hard work.

I don’t know if it’s the 5K training or the extra push from the knowledge that I have to wear a bathing suit on our cruise in 2 weeks, but running has helped me accomplish my main objective: increasing my motivation.

In about 6 weeks, I’ll be running my first 5K. If I continue to train this hard, I should be able to run the whole race without stopping. Here’s hoping I can reach my goal.

Photo by cdm

Learning to jump right back on the wagon

This post originally ran on January 22, 2009. A year later, I’m still struggling to stay motivated, especially after temporary setbacks. Besides, I think we can all use a little encouragement as the novelty of New Year’s resolutions fades.

These days, I’m thinking as much about fitness as I am about finance. I’m still working on losing weight and living healthier, and I’m constantly fighting my vices — with overeating and overspending.

With the novelty and motivation of New Year’s resolutions wearing off, you may find yourself slipping up, too.

One thing I’ve learned is that it doesn’t matter how often you fall off the wagon. Everyone lapses. The real test for success is how quickly you rebound.

It seems that too often one little mistake can snowball into a catastrophe. In a moment of weakness you eat a donut or splurge on an expensive pair of shoes. Suddenly you’re thinking, “Well, my diet/budget is blown for today. I might as well make it count.”

That kind of logic led me to gain more weight and rack up more credit card debt in college than I care to admit.

This time I’m trying something new — forgiving myself and starting over. Not tomorrow or next week or after the weekend, but right now, right after I realize I’ve made a mistake.

After overeating or overspending, I used to bargain with myself. If I ate too many pieces of pizza on Friday night, then the weekend was shot, so I might as well wait until Monday to start over. In college, I used the same bargaining process when it came to my finances. “Starting next month I’m not going to use my credit card anymore,” or “After this weekend, no more eating out.”

The truth is, one mistake never really derails anyone. The real catastrophe comes from the self defeat that follows that one mistake. If you decide to give up for the rest of the day, week, or month, then you only make a bad situation worse. Your one mistake becomes a major derailment.

When you give up, even temporarily, after every little mistake, you find yourself feeling defeated a lot of the time.

Next time you find yourself straying from any goal, don’t put your efforts on hold. Don’t wait to start over. Do it right away.

Once you’ve eaten the donut or spent too much money, there’s nothing you can do to take it back. Don’t dwell on it and let one mistake derail you. Instead, wipe the slate clean, and move on.

I’m almost a real runner

My big New Year’s Resolution is to run a half marathon this year, but my first goal is a 5K in the middle of March. Last weekend I finished up week 3 of the Couch to 5K training plan.

Guys. Seriously. Running is HARD. I was hoping it would be a lot easier since I’ve been working out consistently for a year now, and it was … at first. But week 3 kind of kicked my butt, and I’m scared about tonight’s work out because I’m starting week 4.

It really shouldn’t be this hard. The longest stretch of running without stopping last week was only 3 minutes at 5 miles per hour. It should be much easier than it is. But like I said, I’ve never been a runner. I kind of hate it. But each week starts out much harder than it ends up, so at least I’m making progress.

I’m still afraid to weigh myself because I know I put on a few pounds over the holidays, and I don’t think I’m losing. My clothes aren’t fitting any better yet. But I’m sticking with it because I really want to run that 5K.

Here are some of the things I’ve learned that are making my training a little easier.

Couch to 5K iPhone app

This thing has been indispensable in my training. If you have an iPhone or an Android and you’re training for a 5K, I highly recommend it. I can listen to music and forget about the time, and a voice pops in when it’s time to change pace. If you don’t have a smart phone, there are many C25K podcasts that follow the same general idea. You could easily track your time with a stop-watch or on a treadmill timer, but something about forgetting about the time and focusing on my music makes it a lot easier for me to follow the program. Which leads me to my next tip …

Focus on anything but time.

I still catch myself staring at the clock, waiting for the run to end. But the more I focus on how much time I have left, the slower time seems to go. Instead, focus on the music, focus on how powerful you feel running, focus on why you’re doing this for yourself. Think about your to-do list or what you’re having for dinner. Honestly, if I’m thinking about other things, the time flies by, the run seems easier, and my time is better.

Remember that food is fuel.

I started training in December, and I learned the hard way that what you eat has a direct effect on how your workout will feel. The day after Christmas was torture, because I’d spent the day eating nothing but crap. Since I’m also trying to eat healthier, I’ve become very conscious about what’s on my plate, but I also consider how rough that run will be tonight if I spring for the french fries at lunch. Food is fuel, and if you eat healthy, you will feel healthier during your workout.

Listen to your body.

It’s okay to push yourself to increase your time and speed. It shouldn’t be easy. But you should always pay attention to your body’s limits. I try to bump up my speed a little bit with each workout, but if I slept poorly the night before or I’m not feeling at my best, there are times when I think I might die before I reach the end of a run. It’s okay to slow down a little if this happens to you. You’ll feel better at the end of the workout, and you’ll be less likely to skip working out the next day if you’re not dreading it.

Since I’m so new at this, now I want some tips from you. How do you stay motivated to run? And how do you improve your time and endurance?

Photo by lgh75

Should you join a gym? My thoughts after a full year of gym membership

One year ago today, I vowed to get back in shape for the New Year by committing to a one-year gym membership for $20 a month.

At the time, I was hesitant. It’s so common for people to join a gym, give up within a couple months, and end up stuck with a monthly bill for a membership they’re not using. Since it’s been a year, I thought it might be helpful for me to revisit my decision to join the gym in case some of you are considering the same decision now.

When I joined the gym, I had three goals: I wanted to get in better shape, work out more, and lose 10-15 pounds.

Weight loss

Unfortunately, after losing and gaining back about 10 pounds or so, I am pretty much back where I started last January. This could be due to the medication that I’m taking or my yo-yo eating habits. But the bottom line is, joining a gym did not help me lose weight.

Regular exercise

For the first time in my life, I have consistently adhered to a workout routine for almost all of 2009. There were a couple weeks here and there where I didn’t make it to the gym due to illness or travel, but for the most part, I exercised at least 2-3 times a week every week (usually more often than that).

Better health

Despite the fact that I haven’t lost weight, I’m in the best physical shape of my life. For the first time in a long time I can maintain a jog for about 30 minutes without stopping. I feel great physically. I’m sleeping better, eating better, and feeling better than I did before I started exercising regularly.

Natural treatment for anxiety & depression

Working out consistently has also done wonders to treat my anxiety and depression issues. I really noticed this during the month of December when my busy schedule and holiday laziness kept me out of the gym for almost 2 weeks (my longest time without working out since last January). I started to feel a relapse in my anxiety that has subsided since I started working out again.

No excuses

Is it possible to get these results without paying $20 a month to a gym? Absolutely. If you have the will power to get outside and run every day through rain, cold, and darkness, then you could certainly save the money by working out without a gym membership. You won’t have access to the same array of equipment and weights, but it’s absolutely possible to stay fit for free.

But what I’ve learned in the past 12 months is that my gym membership made exercise convenient. It’s hard enough to get out and get to the gym when it’s cold or rainy; there’s no way I would exercise if it meant running outside. With a gym membership, there are no excuses. It doesn’t matter if it’s dark before and after work, cold outside, or raining — I can work out when I want.

Invest in your health

I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating: paying $20 a month for the membership was a definite incentive for me. Because I’m a cheapskate who wants to be sure I get my money’s worth, I started feeling guilty every time I went a few days without using my membership.

Here’s the bottom line: if you’re considering a gym membership and you can work it into your budget, I say go for it. I can think of very few things more important or more worthy of investment than good health. This year I spent $240 to develop what I hope will be a lifelong commitment to fitness, and it’s the best investment I ever made.

Photo by yuan2003