28 Ways to Lose Weight on a Budget and Busy Schedule
Losing weight is hard and on top of that, losing weight can often be expensive or challenging to fit into a busy schedule. Because of this, it can be difficult to find ways in which losing weight and healthy eating fit your life and finances.
You may wonder, "How can I lose weight on a budget?" or "How can I lose weight on a busy schedule?"
Below you will find some of the ways in which I have managed to bring together weight loss, schedule constraints, and affordable healthy eating, and hope that some of these methods are useful for you in your weight loss journey.
1. Drink Lots of Water
Water is healthy for you and necessary for our bodies to survive. Our bodies are 50-70% water and the rest blood. You can survive up to eight weeks without food as long as you have water. I do not recommend trying this out unless your life is such that this is unavoidable but rather include this to highlight the importance of water. For many cultures, water is life or is associated with life.
You should be drinking water throughout the day, whenever you are hungry, whenever you are bored, whenever you remember, and before meals. In fact, you should be drinking water right now. Your body needs an average of 8-10 cups of water to replenish the water that our bodies lose each day and it takes more water to replenish our water stores when we are involved in activities, heat, etc. It also takes time for your body to absorb the water that you take in and your body cannot take in all the water that it needs in one sitting.
There are many health benefits to drinking water and losing weight healthily on a budget is just one of them.
When You Drink Water You:
- Stay hydrated
- Give enough time for the message to reach your brain that you're full=prevents over-eating
- Moisturize your skin
- Ensure proper circulation
- Cushion your joints
- Prevent constipation
- Strengthen your immune system
- Maintain body temperature
- Stay energized
Drink Water When You Are:
- About to eat/Beginning your meal
- Feeling fine
More Tips on Eating Slowly
2. Eat Slowly
Too often we eat quickly and in a hurry. On top of that, we often continue eating. This form of eating leads to over-eating.
It takes time for the message to get to your brain that you are full. In addition, the body is better able to make use of the food that we eat when we take the time to chew it thoroughly as opposed to eating it quickly and not chewing it thoroughly.
In order to avoid over-eating, to give time for your brain to receive the message that you are full, and in order for your body to make to the most out of what you eat, eat slowly.
Effects of Eating Beyond Bodily Nourishment
Words of Wisdom
"He[/she] who indulges, bulges."
3. Eat to Nourish
We eat for a lot of reasons. We eat because we are hungry. We eat because we are bored. We eat to cope with stressful emotions.
We also eat to get full. And when it is something that we like, we eat our share and then some.
All of these reasons for eating are a no-go! We should really only be eating to nourish our bodies. We should not be eating for our emotions and we should not be eating to the point that we are full and uncomfortable.
We should be eating to nourish our bodies. And if you eat to nourish your body, your body will be satisfied and you will be refueled.
Benefits of "If I don't pack it, I don't eat it":
- Save money by not spending it on food that is unhealthy and overpriced
- Save time that would be wasted commuting, wating in lines to get food, etc.
- Be ready to go and eat for lunch
- Ensure food preparation and selection safety
- Manage your time and finances
4. Only Eat What You Pack
I have a rule that I try not to break and that I break only on certain days during the week and on occasions when people bring food to the workplace or when there is an occasion for veering off of what I had planned and that rule is:
If I don't pack it, I don't eat it.
This rule is as healthy-eating based as it is financially-based. If I do not pack it, I should not be eating it. You have more control over what you eat when you pack it yourself. By packing food yourself you ensure that you are eating things that are healthy and within your means.
5. Actually Eat What You Pack
This relates to the previous "If I don't pack it, I don't eat it" rule but it adds to it in that if you do not eat the healthy food you pack, you are not doing yourself any favors financially or in terms of health. It also does not do you any favors if you opt out of eating what you brought and instead spend money on unhealthy and overpriced food.
Sometimes I pack food that I am not the most enthusiastic about but I still make myself eat it. When I am tempted to opt out of what I brought and buy chips or something that I did not bring, I remind myself of how it is a waste of money and food, and how overpriced the other food is. I try to remind myself of the fact that it is also healthy and better for me to eat what I brought but normally wasting money and resources is what keeps me in line for the times I do not feel like eating what I pack.
You will figure out what works for you but for anyone who is truly on a budget or who is truly in a constraint of resources, this should be manageable.
When you do not have the money to spend, you do not spend it. When you know what it takes to make resources work, you are more mindful and careful with them...even if they do not taste great!
Portion eating/rationing your portions has another benefit which is that while eating in this manner will not shrink your stomach it can reset the "appetite thermostat" which affects how hungry you feel and in turn how much you eat based on hunger.
Portion Tip: Eating Out
Are you eating out? Chances are that if you are eating everything that is served to you, you are eating enough meal portions for two and enough meal calories for three.
Get water to drink and divide everything you have in half. Share the other half with a friend to save calories and money, or save the other half to take home and have it as another meal.
6. Ration Your Portions
This one relates to eating to nourish as opposed to eating for other needs or to fulfill other functions but gives a way to go about doing it.
As a general rule, your stomach is the size of your closed fist and will expand to accommodate everything you eat. Opening your whole hand gives the size of your stomach when it is full. So as you keep eating, your stomach will keep expanding.
Chances are that you are eating more than the size of your closed fist and quite possibly that you are eating more than your open hand. Eating in portions controls what you are eating to ensure that you are eating the right amount and eating in rations/rationing what you eat ensures that you make your groceries last if you are on a budget.
Buying food and buying healthy food is expensive so in addition to wanting to eat healthy, it is important to make your resources last especially in these tough economic times. You will often find that "rationing your portions" as I am calling it, will allow you to eat in portions and eating in portions will make your food last longer than indulging in whatever you want/buy.
PLEASE NOTE: This suggestion is not a starvation approach. This is portion-eating and portion-planning (rationing) so that you eat according to what you should be eating in conjunction with the food that you have available and/or are able to afford and how long you need the food to last.
Benefits of Planning Your Meals:
- No worries about what you are going to have to cook
- Easier to plan for groceries
- Easier to stick to a plan if you made the plan with a goal in mind
- Easier to make groceries last
7. Plan Your Meals
Planning your meals takes away the stress of having to figure out what you are going to eat for breakfast/lunch/dinner.
Planning for meals also allows you to incorporate healthy eating within what you can afford. It is important to take into account your lifestyle/schedule/commitment. If you are not willing or do not have have time to make an elaborate healthy dish, then do not plan for that dish and buy groceries for that dish if it is unlikely or unrealistic for you to have or make that dish.
For example, I know that I have a busy life and that I do not always have time to make breakfast/lunch/dinner so I try to plan meals that are healthy and easy to make, but also affordable, durable, and that will last a certain amount of time, and and I only buy groceries that fit into this plan.
Benefits of Eating the Same Thing Every Day:
- Portions are controlled and maintained
- The body adjusts to these portions and quickly recognizes when you are eating out of proportion (but does not stop you from eating out of proportion)
- You spend less time thinking about what you are going to eat as you already know
- Grocery budget is maintained and controlled
- Provides structure in what you eat and in how you eat
- Makes you less likely to overeat as your eating has already been determined and you recognize what your food is supposed to be
- Allows for the occasional dietary "splurge" (assuming that you maintain a consistent healthy dietary structure)
8. Eat the Same Thing Everyday
I have not been able to convince my co-workers to jump on this bandwagon, but it really works and it helps to support all the other components of this hub.
Eating the same thing everyday for weight loss helps with portions and food planning. I do not have to think about what I am going to eat as I have already determined it and as it is more or less the same thing every week with some variations and modifications (and to be honest, with some cheating). Eating the same thing everyday also helps to control how much money is spent on food and also how much food is eaten and helps to eliminate food waste. It is mostly a win-win! The main downside is food-fatigue, and the lack of excitement in eating but otherwise it works pretty well.
Eating the same thing everyday is an effective method for weight loss that is supported by science. According to research, eating the same thing everyday causes "habituation" which is where the body has a decreasing response to repeated stimulus over time. Food fatigue and food boredom make you consume less calories. Boom!
9. Don't Buy Junk Food
If you do not buy junk food, you cannot eat it. It does not matter how much I am craving chips, ice cream, or something that I would feel guilty after eating, I cannot eat it if it is not physically in my house or within my reach. And if I do not pack it in my lunch, I have to make a significant effort to get it from elsewhere if I decide to buy it.
And so if your willpower ever gives out or if you feel yourself being lenient on your self-discipline, this one does not fail (unless you have decided that you are indeed going to eat what you should not be eating, that you are going to eat it no matter what, and that you are going to pay too much for it wherever you are going to buy it).
10. Use Fruits as Desserts
Fruits are a healthy and natural source of sugar and in so would be perfect for dessert. Another idea with this is to try your fruit frozen as dessert. It will be sweet and tasty!
Cheating Cookie says:
"If you're going to cheat with me, cheat sparingly and selectively."
11. Be Selective in Your Sins
We should not view eating in a "good/bad," "saint/sin" way, but the truth is we can and will eat badly. While this can be avoided with the will of steel, sometimes we will decide to give our wills of steel a day (or two? Or more?) off.
When this happens or when you decide to eat as you should not be eating, be selective in what you are eating and when you are eating it. A treat does not hurt every now and then, but it is a waste to eat a sweet or food item that we do not really care for just because we can.
If you are going to cheat, cheat sparingly and selectively. Do not waste your cheating opportunities on stuff that you do not really want to eat and are only eating because you are craving something sweet/salty/etc. or because it happens to be around.
To Track in Your Food-Weight-Exercise-Progress Journal:
1. Daily Weight*^
2. Days that you exercise (with amount of time that you exercised)
3. Days you ate well/healthily and/or days that you stuck to your plan (smiley face optional)
4. Days that you ate poorly/unhealthily and/or days that you did not stick to your plan (sad face optional)
5. What you ate that was unhealthy and context (i.e. stress eating-chocolate bar, social eating-workplace lunch, Ice cream-indulging, etc.)
*Only track weight daily if you are able to do so without becoming fixated and/or negatively impacted by this process, and only if you are able to do this as a weight-tracking tool and reference only. It should not be a measure of who you are or a number that should be obsessed upon until reached.
^Weight should be taken at the same time every day.
12. Keep a Food-Weight-Exercise-Progress Journal
I'm not really one to keep a calorie and food intake journal, but there is something to keeping general track of what goes into our bodies, how often we veer off the path/how often we stay on the path, the changes in our weight, how often we exercise, and how long we exercise. It terms of memory recall, it can be easy to forget how often we eat poorly or indulge and to think that we exercise and eat more healthily than we do.
Keeping a food-weight-exercise-progress journal helps for giving you a sense of the progress that you're making, without having to track everything that you're eating. When used in conjunction with the other weight loss tips on this page, it also should not be necessary to track everything that you're eating as it should be (for the most part) consistent (tip #s: 1, 3, 4, 5, 7, 8, 9, and 11) and portioned (tip #6). Keeping a food-weight-exercise-progress journal also gives you insight into your behaviors and eating patterns, and identifies areas that you can target for improvement so as to better support your efforts.
The food-weight-exercise-progress journal can be an actual journal or it can be a monthly agenda (or whatever works for you). I use a monthly planner that I purchased at a dollar store.
13. Ask Yourself if You Want It or If You REALLY Want It
This one aids with #11. I once read the weight loss advice that was something to the effect of "don't tell yourself you can't have it; tell yourself you don't want it." This was supposed to be a more empowering version that re-framed how the mind looks at the restriction (by no longer seeing it as a restriction) and places the control back to the individual and what he or she wants.
The trouble with this approach for me was that most times I did want it and to tell myself otherwise seemed like a lie that I had a hard time believing. So what helps me to re-frame how I view the desired item is to acknowledge: "Yes, I want it. But do I REALLY want it?" Most times I want the item, but don't REALLY want it. So it helps to delay gratification and to "cash in the calories" for something I REALLY want.
14. Maintain a Food Budget
Generally speaking, there are calories in one’s future (or at least in the futures of those who are reading this article). Calories are “expenses” and it’s important to stay within budget and to make sure that you “balance the budget.” There are daily expenses, weekend expenses, unexpected expenses, holiday expenses, etc. As I go forward in daily life and as I am approached with different foods vying for my caloric resources, I keep a mental food budget present of what I have to spend calories on (daily food calories, calories accounted for in normal and structured eating) and what I am likely to spend calories on (unexpected calories, calories related to special events and holidays, calories when I fall off the structured path, etc.).
Accounting for calories required in normal and structured eating, while being mindful of the calories to come in unstructured or unplanned eating helps me to balance the calories that I am taking in. Evaluating if the food is something I want or if it is something I really want (#13) helps me to balance the budget and to determine if the unstructured or unplanned eating is something I will be having, and if I am having it, how much I will be having. In the same way that one only has so much money available to pay bills and to account for all the other expenses without having to turn to debt or to alternative financial resources, one only has so many calories available to spend without going into a caloric debt that results in caloric excess/breaking the budget. Keeping future caloric expenses in mind helps to keep the present caloric expenses in check.
If you eat past the point of discomfort, you do so at your own risk because at that point your body is saying
15. Eat the Healthy Stuff First
This one is for when you have decided that you are going to allow yourself some indulgence but do not want to overdo it and know that it is likely that you will because your willpower and self-control might give.
Make yourself eat the healthy food first, eat slowly, and drink lots of water. Give your body time to fill up on the good stuff before you reach for the desserts and chips, that way it will be physically uncomfortable for you to overdo it. This is a good plan for when your willpower gives. Your body will give you an unpleasant reminder that you are full and that you should stop eating! And the good part is that you are full of healthy food and that you still allowed yourself to have a little somethin'-somethin' on the sweet side.
16. Decide What Your Indulgence Will Be Beforehand
Have you decided that you're going to allow yourself some indulgence? Is it Christmas? Or the office potluck? Or the never-ending month of birthdays? Never fear. You don't have to say "no" to everything (but be careful with saying "yes!").
As events come up, or as you decide that you will be allowing yourself some indulgence(s), it helps to decide and to know beforehand what you will be allowing yourself to have. One slice of cake? One scoop of ice cream with some toppings?
Decide before you go to the event, don't give it more thought after the decision is made, and stick to your decision when you go the event. Don't give the indulgence more time, thought, or energy than it deserves and save your willpower for more pressing things.
Eating something before you go is good for several things including (but not limited to):
- Being in a better mood
- Practicing better decision-making
- Practicing portion control when it's time to eat
- Eating mindfully when it's time to eat
- Actually appreciating what you eat (instead of inhaling it)
17. Don't Go Places Hungry
The truth is, we are not our ideal, best-thinking, balanced selves when we are hungry. We overestimate how much we need to eat ("eat with our eyes"), we overeat, we eat things we shouldn't eat, we say things we don't mean, etc. Our primal instinct and drive to eat takes over and nothing else really matters.
So it is good to not go places hungry, even if there will be food at the place you are going to. Generally, it takes time for food to arrive at the table, for people to decide what they want to eat, for hosts to have things ready to roll, for social and interpersonal activities to take place, etc. which means that going hungry to any place makes you more likely to be irritable and on a one-track mind to get your physiological needs met. Going to places hungry also doesn't support the best decision-making so it's good practice to eat something before you go.
18. Practice Thorough Mouth Hygiene After Eating
After you eat, practice thorough mouth hygiene. Rinse your mouth with pre-brush mouthwash, brush your teeth, floss, and then use post-brush mouthwash. Make your mouth super clean.
Doing this serves two purposes:
1. You practice good hygiene and keep bacteria from getting too comfortable in their new home.
2. You deter further eating because of all the effort you have put into cleaning your mouth and because anything you eat after doing such a thorough cleaning will be minty fresh.
19. Accept That Healthy Food Will Taste Like Healthy Food
I am sure that there are people out there who will tell you that their head of broccoli tastes just like a French fry and as you study this person's face, he or she might look like he or she actually believes it. Then there are people who have the time and money to put into diversifying and tastifying* their healthy food and so they do not feel that eating healthily is all that bad.
When financial resources and time are limited, healthy eating will not be that diverse and more likely than not, healthy eating will not be that tasty. Even when financial resources and time are not limited, healthy eating will still not taste like unhealthy eating.
This is a fact and in order to eat healthy and lose weight, you just have to accept it.
*=I just coined this word now.
It turns out that there is not really a way around this one; weight loss and healthy living require exercise. Your body needs it and your body will do more for you if you do more for your body.
The good news is that for the most part the mental mountain to get started on exercising is more difficult than the actual mountain to climb, and you will feel good after exercising and will have earned a break!
21. Exercise When You Don't Feel Like It
Even if you do not feel like working out, go do it. Just go. It does not even have to be a full blown workout. Walk that walk. Ride that bike. Lift those weights.
Something is better than nothing so do what you can, but DO IT.
22. Listen to Your Body
Your body is a communicative and guiding organ. If you talk to it, it will talk to you. If you listen to it, it will tell you what you need to know.
Your body will tell you when it is hungry. It will tell you when it is thirsty. It will tell you when it is full and satisfied. It will tell you it is overfull and uncomfortable. It will tell you when you have had a nice dose of dessert and it will tell you when you have overdone it.
Listen to your body and it will tell you what it needs and when it has its needs met. You do not have to only listen to your body when it tells you you have gone too far. You should be listening to your body long before that.
Make sure to heat your meals on the stove or in the oven as heating foods up in the microwave damages your food and takes away from its nutritional value.
23. Freeze Meals and Food
In conjunction with planning your meals, making healthy meals in advance and then freezing them is one way to have meals made for the times that you want to have something ready and healthy but that requires that it had been prepared at some point in time.
Another part to this is to buy healthy meats, fruits, etc. when they are on sale and to freeze them. Be sure that they are healthy and free of things we should not be eating (because these unhealthy meats or meats with unhealthy chemicals/content/etc. are often the meats that go on sale).
24. Accept that You Will Have to Say "No" When You Want to Say "Yes"
This one can be a hard one, especially around the holidays, festive days, celebratory days, or any days with food outside of your healthy eating plan, but the truth is that in order to lose weight and to maintain weight loss, you will have to say "no" to a lot of things that you want to say "yes" to.
The food will look great, smell great, and everyone around you will look happy as they eat the food that you too would like to be eating. It takes strength and willpower, but you have to implement the "no" and the self-control if you want to lose weight and maintain weight loss.
25. Accept that Weight Loss Parameters Are Not Equal
Our bodies are not all the same and while what our bodies require of us are fundamentally the same, they are not necessarily equal. Losing weight and maintaining weight is a lot of work. Working on yourself and meeting your needs (mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual) is a lot of work and requires a lot of us.
Two people eating the same foods, exercising the same way, and showing the same commitment will not necessarily yield the same results. There is more to weight loss and weight management than just exercising and eating healthily. Taking care of yourself and losing weight often means recognizing that you may have to work harder and be more disciplined in what you eat, how you eat, and how you exercise than someone else does for the same results and more often than not, for less visible results and for possibly less lasting results.
This is also worth considering when one takes into account "The Fat Trap" in which a weight-reduced body behaves differently than a body that has not dieted and does not continue to lose weight in the same way as it did before and can often revert back to gaining weight if one does not keep up with weight management.
- 14 Things No One Tells You About Losing Weight
Things no one tells you about losing weight. Truths about losing weight. Weight loss info.
26. Stick with It Even If You See/Don't See Results
Losing weight is a journey, not a destination. And as a journey, it involves a lot of ups and downs, a lot of "two steps forwards, and one step backs," and a lot of things that do not go quite as planned. The journey does not always show results, and it does not immediately show results. It will take you out of your comfort zone; it will place you in a vulnerable place; it will make you unhappy and uncomfortable long before it feels worthwhile or empowering. Sometimes you will feel it before you see it; sometimes you will see it and then it's gone.
Regardless of whether you see results, do not see results, or see results and then it changes, it is important to stay committed to yourself, your overall health, and putting your best food forward in the overall journey of life.
27. Realize that Losing Weight Sometimes Means Being Hungry
The reality is that our diets are inundated with too many calories that cannot be used and that do not nourish our bodies. Going from a place of caloric abundance (both calories that nourish our bodies and calories that do not), to a place of a caloric deficit (for weight loss) and a place of caloric limitations (for weight maintenance) does mean that sometimes you might still be hungry. Arguably, one could repeatedly answer the hunger between planned foods with healthy food (fruits and vegetables, landing more on the vegetable side) but sometimes even when doing this, one could still be hungry or have repeat occurrences of hunger.
This can be challenging and something of a struggle, especially when trying to lose weight and especially when coming from a place where one is used to being full and satisfied all the time but sometimes it ends up being part of the process and eventually one comes to recognize what is normal and true hunger, as opposed to what hunger is related to always wanting to be full.
28. Change How You View Food/Eating
How we view food is very much related to our eating patterns. Think of how much of our comments and thoughts regarding food are involved in a good-bad and all-or-nothing mentality. Think of how we throw around the word "diet." When we indulge or make poor food choices we are "bad," we have "sinned," and we need to "go on a diet."
Our value, moral or otherwise, does not lie in how much we have or have not eaten, being on a diet is not a path to redemption or cleansing, and once we have "sinned" we do not need to keep "sinning" because we have already ruined our healthy eating.
We should view healthy eating as a long-term thing and not as a temporary diet. In fact, get rid of the word diet in your conversations with yourself and others and replace it instead with "healthy eating" or if you must keep the word "diet" in your vocabulary, place an adjective in front of it such as "healthy diet" to emphasize that you are eating healthily as opposed to a short-term eating pattern designed to make you lose weight.
Once you make it clear to yourself and to others that you are in this for the long haul, the way in which you interact with food will change which will result in positive effects.