Healthy eating and exercise habits often come with an extreme price tag—gym membership, mail-order diets—rendering them impractical for new parents who are struggling to pay for diapers. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Losing weight can be an affordable, even financially beneficial process. It’s actually pretty simple to lose weight while accumulating cash.
“A healthy diet and regular exercise do not have to be expensive,” Lisa Doggett, an Austin-based family physician and nutrition expert, told Fatherly. “The benefits, both short and long-term, are well worth the effort and a little extra planning that may be involved.” Here’s how Doggett and other experts suggest you body pick up some of that slack—while also picking up the bill.
Always Order Water
Ordering tap water is one simple rule for anyone who wants to lose weight and save money, Doggett says. Not only is it free, but it’s also healthier than any other beverage on the menu. “Drinking a gallon of water a day helps us realize whether we are truly hungry or just socially and emotionally hungry,” author and personal trainer KJ Landis explains. She recommends that people gradually increase their water intake to a gallon a day over the course of three to four weeks, depending on how much water they’re used to drinking. Adding lemon and salt can make water more appealing, while keeping it cheap. And when you drink a lot of water, you eat less—not just because you’re busy peeing, but because you were never that hungry in the first place.
Eat Like a Kid
Young children who refuse to sit down for meals may not be trying to maintain their figures, but they’re on to something. Eating small meals more frequently throughout the day, while on the go, has consistently been linked with more significant and sustainable weight loss. Small, healthy snacks, rather than periodic sit-down meals, can reduce the risk of both overeating and food waste. “Since snacks make up nearly 25 percent of our daily energy, a healthy, protein-packed bite can jump-start weight loss by reducing hunger and boosting your metabolism,” registered dietitian Katherine Brooking says. She recommends spreading small snacks of cottage cheese, hard-boiled eggs, seeds, nuts, and lean protein like turkey, throughout the day.
Exercise Should be Free, or At Least Close to It
Working out as much as possible at home or outside is key for a healthy body and budget, experts agree. Long walks, light jogs, and utilizing the incline from hills and stairs can go along way in terms of burning calories and cutting gym membership costs. Working out at home does not require expensive weights or machines, and people do not need any more equipment than a decent pair of shoes. There are plenty of free fitness apps and YouTube videos available, to help you get started.
“Exercise is free,” Doggett says. “You do not need to join a gym or get fancy equipment to work out and to get in shape.” But if exercising at home or outside simply isn’t practical and you need a separate space to go, many gyms and fitness studios offer trial specials for a fraction of the cost, and showering in the locker room can help cut back on water and heat utility costs.
Write Everything Down
One of the best ways to lose weight on a budget is to start writing everything down, according to Keri Danielski, a consumer finance expert and spokesperson for Mint, a budgeting app. Tracking consumption with simultaneous food and finance logs help people make more concrete adjustments, see where their blind spots might be, and plan for them more effectively.
“Personal finance apps help you see your finances in one place and track money coming in and money going out,” Danielski (who, admittedly, works for a personal finance app) told Fatherly. “Keeping a food log helps you understand if you need to cut back or change.” But you don’t even need an app for this—spreadsheets and good old notebooks do the trick, too.
Be Willing to Change for the Boring
It’s easy to miss many of the most effective weight loss and budgeting tips because they’re so damn dull. Expert tips, like eating the darker leafy greens because they contain more nutrients per dollar, or buying frozen vegetables and fruit in bulk, or meal planning weekly, or not going out to eat, or eating the same snacks every damn day, or cooking a shit load of soup, are all valid. And yet such suggestion hide in plain sight because they make most people want to fall asleep.
But don’t mistake simplicity for ease, experts warn. Change can be challenging, no matter how small. “We are creatures of habit, and most of us are not well-supported to improve our health,” Doggett says. “Though we may make excuses that we don’t have the money to join the gym or buy fresh produce, the real barrier is our own resistance and reluctance to change.”