Doing all three sounds like nothing short of an impossible task. You must think I’m a superhero. But I assure you – it’s possible and a lot easier than you think. In fact, I am thinking of wearing a cape for Halloween...
Over the past month, very quietly and in the comfort of my own home, I’ve been conducting a little experiment. It’s occurring at the intersection of three goals that are so dear to many of us:
- Spending less on our grocery bills
- Eating more nutritious foods
- Losing excess body weight
Spending less money on better food sounds like a sick personal finance joke, while losing weight is hard just about any way you slice it. Am I crazy or do I seriously have a solution that can tackle all three?
How Did I Get Here?
Let me give you a short history. Ever since college, I have struggled with weight. It’s never passed the magical point of obesity, but by most accepted standards, I could use to lose a few pounds…or 30. I don’t like “new-age” exercise (what many would consider “traditional”) like treadmills and ellipticals, but love active sports like tennis and even softball. All things considered, successful weight loss for me is 90% food and 10% activity. I’ve proven it before. (Read last week’s post if you want to save money on exercise).
My motivation for weight control is two-fold. My excess indulgence has cut my performance in sports, which hurts especially because I’m a competitive person. Secondly, I’ve reached something close to my target weight a few years back, and saw the way it affected my energy level in a positive way. I’d love to get there again.
The heavens opened up for me after reading this post from Zen Habits, courtesy of Brad Pilon from Eat Stop Eat. You can read the entire post and be enlightened, but it really comes down to two words: eat less. The post argues that if you really want simplicity in weight control, that’s all you needed to remember. Everything else is useless fluff that may or may not be helpful.
I really took this advice to heart. It makes perfect sense, and it merges seamlessly with my drive to introduce principles and simplicity into my life.
The Way We Used to Eat
I’m not proud of the way grocery shopping has been handled at home. We’ve done the “wrong” thing for a very long time – shopping when hungry, going to the store without a list, buying a lot of novelties or not knowing what we would make for the rest of the week, and so on.
We would buy food infrequently, relying instead on eating with relatives and at local restaurants. We spent a lot of money on eating out. We purchased perishables without considering the finished product or our schedules, and much of our food would inevitably go to waste. It was frustrating, but we would repeat the cycle again and again.
Quite simply, we ate a lot, and we purchased even more – often foods that were neither high in quality or nutritional value.
There is a Better Way
Think back to the Zen Habits post. I took that “eat less” approach and, with more of Leo’s advice, and reviews from fellow bloggers of great books like In Defense of Food, added “better foods.” I was also determined to prove that I could save money doing it.
I’ve really focused on quality over quantity, targeting core foods (fruits, vegetables, lean cuts of meat), and selecting the best of the bunch. I buy organic and/or local whenever possible, and avoid foods with additives.
When making purchases at the store, I’m careful to pick out things in season and only selecting ripe and ready-to-eat produce. If it doesn’t turn me on, I skip it and move on to something else.
One of my strong side passions is great cooking. I love to try my hand at new dishes and serve things up, Top Chef style. Having worked with produce and other foods on a regular basis, I can vouch for the fact that organic and local foods have a significant difference in quality. Their colors are more vibrant, their taste is stronger and fuller, and they are easier to work with (in preparing, for example, potatoes are much easier to cut).
The end result is that foods that had little to no taste before (like many fruits and vegetables) because of the way they are picked and transported, were now filled with incredible flavors. Amazingly, it takes much less of something to satisfy you when it’s of a high quality. Think about it – fillet mignon, caviar, etc, etc…usually served in very small portions, right?
Most importantly, respecting the high quality of the produce we now purchase means that we haven’t wasted a single piece of food that’s entered our home.
I’m walking proof that you can make this work:
- In the last 30 days, I’ve lost weight consistently (but not rapidly, like most weight loss fads).
- We’ve only spent about 80% of our typical month’s grocery budget.
- Most of the foods we’ve eaten are natural or organic, and they’re frequently unusual (things we don’t normally eat), which has introduced a great deal of variety in our diet.
Above all else, I’ve been more satisfied and impressed with my diet than any other point in my life. Quite simply, I love what I’m eating, and it makes me feel great.
Tips for Making It Work
If you want pure grocery tips, check out either of the following: 13 grocery-saving tips, and how to shop for loss leaders. I’ve also written about going vegetarian as a great way to lose weight and save money at the same time. But if you want to use the ‘eat better and buy less’ strategy, I suggest the following tips that have worked for us in the last month:
- Don’t be afraid of organic stores and farmer’s markets. Visit every local market and store (like Whole Foods) in your area and take mental notes on the best value (not necessarily the cheapest – take stock of the quality of the produce).
- Shop at the grocery store about twice as often as usual (this is about every 3-4 days for us).
- To start, try to shave 20-30% off your total existing budget. Divide your monthly grocery budget by the number of trips you expect to take, and use that as your target/limit for each trip to the store.
- Focus on buying less with each trip – if you normally buy five peaches, get three instead. The idea is to purchase fresh foods frequently and focus on quality.
- Monitor how food is consumed at home. Get rid of all of your fresh ingredients before making the next trip to the store.
Get With the Program
It’s okay if you don’t think you can revamp your entire grocery experience in one fell swoop. Your family might not be willing to make the change even if you’re immediately motivated. If there’s one thing you take away from this post, just remember to ‘eat less.’ Everything follows that one simple mantra.
If you can commit to eating less food, you’ll pave your own way to better health. You’ll figure out your own unique way to accomplish the goal. As you start to eat less, you’ll naturally desire better-quality foods, and you’ll search out the best nutrition you can find. After all, it’s natural.
If you’ve had experience with natural foods and/or eating less food, I’d love to hear about it!