The secret to weight loss is not more exercise. The secret to weight loss is eating less. In the process of eating less, you’ll also save more money. I wrote this post on July 25, 2009, and wanted to revisit it 11 years later. I was 165 – 167 lbs back then. Today I’m 168 – 170 lbs with two young kids.
At the beginning of every year, I tell myself that I’m going to eat better and exercise more. Yet, every December, I look and weigh exactly the same and get frustrated until the New Year, when the cycle starts anew.
My theory on weight is simply that we all have a weight range we fluctuate in, and every 5 years that band increases towards the heavier side! That was my excuse for my lack of improvement.
I used to also think that our weight was 70% hereditary and 30% diet and exercise until I saw the show “The Biggest Loser!” Now I think the ratios are the complete opposite. If you really want to get motivated and cry at the same time, you’ve got to watch the show.
The show’s concept is simple. After 3 months of boot camp, whoever loses the most weight wins gobs of money! The results are astonishing. Season 7’s winner, Helen lost an amazing 140lbs from her original 255lbs start weight. Go Helen!
The Biggest Loser show demonstrates that with enough motivation and discipline we can lose a lot of undesired weight. In fact, for 7 seasons in a row each of the winners have lost over 100lbs!
The Secret To Losing Weight: Tracking Food Expenses
On average, I spend about $20 a weekday for food and $100 per weekend for a total weekly cost of $200 and a total monthly cost of around $800! I had no idea how much I was spending until I decided to write everything down for two weeks and annualize accordingly. $800 was clearly overkill, especially since it accounts for over 65% of my then, discretionary spending.
When the downturn hit, I decided to do an experiment partly to bring down my food expenses by 30%, and partly because I was inspired by The Biggest Loser, to shed 15lbs and get down to my college fighting weight of 160. At 160 lbs, my Body Mass Index would be 23 (18.5-24.9 is normal weight) from slightly overweight at 25.5. If Helen can lose 140 pounds, why can’t I lose a lousy 15?!
Let’s look at two experiments for my secret to weight loss.
Experiment #1: Work Out More For 90 Days
The first experiment was to exercise 3X a week from my normal 1X a week for three months. Each work out would consist of weights and cardio for 1 to 1.5 hours. My diet would stay exactly the same for the past 8 years, essentially eating anything until I was full.
I admit I was sloth-like during last year’s pummeling, and part of my once a week work out was playing golf! Furthermore, half the time, I’d ride a cart :) Come on, Tiger Woods doesn’t have to lug a 40 pound bag around for 3.6 miles, why should I? Besides, I’m horrible at golf, and finding my balls would result in double the mileage.
After three months of boring free weights and tedious treadmills I lost an AMAZING………. drum roll please…. ONE POUND! The scale said 174lbs and as soon as I had a bottle of Gatorade, I was back to 175! GOSH DARNIT! After locking myself in a cave for 35 hours, I made absolutely nada progress. Zilch, zipo, zero! I was incredibly annoyed.
The secret to weight loss gets real with experiment #2.
Experiment #2: Eat Less And More Healthy Food For 90 Days
At this point in time, I’m exasperated and cursing the waste of time. The only saving grace is that I actually began utilizing the $150/month club membership. I decided to banish working out completely. Who has time, especially when the sky was falling as financial firms around the world disappeared? Instead, I decided to eat healthy.
Breakfast burritos were replaced with an apple and a banana, Indian curry lunches were replaced with a salad with minimal dressing and some chicken, and at dinner I just ate slower and 65% of normal.
Did you know that it takes 10-20 minutes for your body to register you’re fullness? No more pizzas, juicy ribeyes, sugar drinks, sodas and juices. I focused on raw foods and eating leftovers every day for three months.
A couple things happened. By eating better, including incorporating Subway’s foot long sandwiches for $5 bucks and only eating half for lunch, I did indeed reduce my average monthly food expense from $800 to ~$500. Second, I lost 14 lbs! I didn’t work out at all. All I did was eat healthy and eat less than normal. HALLELUJAH! Subway, shoot me an e-mail and we’ll talk.
Related: A Weight Loss Tip To Die For
The Secret To Weight Loss Conclusion
Most of us are too busy with our lives to bother working out AND eat healthy at the same time. I know I am. As a result, many do neither. Yet, if we could choose one or the other, my absolute recommendation is to just eat less and eat healthier. Not having to work out at all should be incentive enough to keep yourself eating right.
Not only will you lose more weight, you’ll save money and your vital cartilage by not working out. Once you get the eating right part down, you can gradually ease your way towards physical activity! If it’s no fun, you’ll never do it, so I recommend picking up a sport. I can play play basketball for 2 hours nonstop, but I can only jog for 1.5 miles before I’m out of breathe!
Studies show that 1/3rd of Americans are obese, costing the country $100-140 billion in annual medical bills. Studies also show that 65% of Americans are overweight, defined as 10-30 pounds over healthy weight.
Can this be true? I don’t really notice, only when I’m on a 10 hour flight to Europe in a middle economy class seat, and someone sits next to me and takes my armrest! :) Even smoking only costs $74 billion in medical bills per a government funded study!
If 90 million Americans are obese, given the current US population of 350 million, the annual cost comes out to $1,100-1,400 per person. Hence, if I continued on my 10 pound creep every 5 years, I may be spending literally $3,000+/year more than necessary given the medical costs and necessary gym membership.
Weight Loss Updates
A year later, I’m doing ok, hovering around 162-165 lbs as I’ve incorporated healthier eating into my lifestyle, and my self imposed “Going Broke Budget” doesn’t allow me to eat dry-aged ribeye steak with a twice baked potato and creamed spinach once a week anymore!
Furthermore, I’ve rediscovered my love for basketball, softball, and tennis which is a bonus, based on my study above.
I keep telling myself that if Helen can do it, so can I. We generally always look better than what we think, so don’t sweat it. How many times have you looked at pictures of your younger self and said, “Wow, I look pretty good!” And how many times did you tell yourself when you were younger, “Gosh, i need to get in better shape.” The mind constantly plays tricks on us, and we should cherish our youth before it’s gone.
On July 12, 2020, I’ve creeped up to about 168-170 lbs. Ideally, I’d love to lose 5-10 lbs, but I’ve been saying this for the past 15 years now!
It did help that I was able to retire in 2012 at age 34 and build up my passive income streams so I don’t have to stress too much. If I hadn’t retired early and built up alternative income streams, I’m pretty sure I would have ballooned to 180+ lbs at 5’10”.
Tips For Saving Money On Food & Losing Weight
* Order for one and share between two. With portion sizes so big nowadays, why not just order one salad and a steak and split it? If you’re still hungry, you can always order more. If not, just eat a lot of bread and water. Yum!
* Eat slower. It takes the brain around 10-20 minutes to register whether you have food in your tummy and are full. If you give your brain some time to think and satiate, you’ll eat less.
* Don’t buy in bulk, just buy what you need. I really think the trick is to eat variably. If there’s a big jar of cookies in front of you, you’re going to eat them, and probably more than just one. If there’s only one individually wrapped cookie, like the Japanese do it, you’ll eat it, but then there’s nothing left. During that gap, you can’t eat anything until you’re forced to go to the store again. Since we’re naturally lazy, our laziness is saving ourselves from overeating!
* Go to your weekend farmers market after a morning jog and eat all the free fruit, cheese, and sauce samples for lunch! One free meal a week saves you $520 a year if you average a $10 lunch!
* Tell yourself you will die young if you don’t get fit now. Now that there’s this coronavirus global pandemic, we need to be more conscience about our weight than ever before. It seems a disproportionate number of people who are dying from COVID-19 are overweight or obese.
Related: The Ideal Weight Pisses Me Off
Readers, any simple tips or epiphanies you have for saving money on food and staying in shape? Please feel free to send the post around and discuss!
Related Post: “The Book That Changed My Life & Made Me Rich Again”
Financial Samurai – “Slicing Through Money’s Mysteries”
Studies actually show that given the two options – A) eating healthy and working out or B) just eating healthy – people lose more weight when they simply eat healthy. Of course, in most studies, researchers found that people who go to the gym move around less at home because they think, “Oh, I exercised today. I should take it easy.” Or they treat themselves to high-calories snacks more often because they think, “I work out! I deserve this!”
Personally, I like the energy high that working out gives me. And I like how quickly my body tones up because of the muscle I’m gaining by lifting weights. My mother, who is an exercise fiend, says that she’d rather work out three times a week and not stringently watch what she eats (though she doesn’t go overboard with fast food every day or high-calorie snacks).
Going with either option is a step in the right direction. However, some physical activity is necessary for heart health. And being at a normal weight doesn’t indicate health, like a commenter above said. My friend A weighs 110 pounds (at 5’4), and I used to be so jealous of her – until we went to the gym together. She was so weak in the arms that she couldn’t pull down the crunch bar, even after we took all the weight off the bar. She made it through 15 minutes of cardio before having to stop, completely out of breath. So, yes, if you’re trying to lose weight, changing your eating habits should be the first step. But if you’re trying to be healthy, doing something that gets your blood pumping is necessary too.
Thanks for pointing me to this post! :)
.-= Red´s last blog ..Running to my wedding =-.
Evolution Of Wealth says
I have to ask…When you worked out for the 3 months, you said you just ate what you wanted until you were full, right? So do you think that you might have eaten more during those 3 months than you previously did when not working out? When you exercise especially over a period of time your metabolism will speed up and you become hungrier more often. On top of that muscle weighs more than fat so you as you are putting on muscle and losing fat your weight might not fluctuate. I’m just guessing that the reason for a lack of results with exercise was too many other variables. Not that exercise doesn’t work.
I couldn’t agree more though that the best place to start is to watch what you eat. Even things as simple as cutting back on soda, candy and fast food can cause a huge difference not only in your health but also in your wallet.
.-= Evolution Of Wealth´s last blog ..Gift Cards: Don’t Do It! =-.
EVO – Good question, and something I was cognizant about when working out (that exercise gets me a little more hungry). Hence, I consciously tried to eat how I have always eaten and not more. I wasn’t gorging on steak a couple x more a week, or eating more often in between meals for example.
I really don’t think I saw a difference in muscle sinew over the 3 months. I wasn’t more cut, or bulky, and my pants still fit the same.
The results between working out and eating were SO drastic, it was incredible. Yes, ideally we should do both, but from this experiment, I conclude that 80-90% of weighing right is through healthy eating. Sugar is the big killer!
Are you a exercise buff, or have any dramas with weight loss like me?
acai berry elite blast says
good readings here really enjoyed your website :) *thumbs up*
A love of instant-satisfaction food (think Burger King, kebabs, KFC) and huge gut-busting portions. Oh, and inaction in the exercise department. A thorough change in both areas and the weight just fell off, but I suspect my age played a helping hand there.
Wow, well done for changing your life style. I have about an internal warning clock which starts alarming after i gain 10lbs… at 15lbs over, it really knocks me over so i try and get back in shape.
Congrats on your loss!
In 2007 I decided I’d finally had enough of weighing close to 300lbs. With a lot of hard work and a complete lifestyle change, fast forward to 2008 and I’d got down to 139lbs and I’ve stayed there since with a fluctuation of around 3lbs in either direction on average.
I’ve likened “getting out of debt” to “going on a diet”. Unless you completely change your lifestyle, then any result will be entirely temporary. You get to your target weight, stop the diet and put all the weight back on again. If you change your spending habits and outlook however, you will hopefully be set for a frugal life.
I’ve managed to get my food spending down to £50 a month (~$85). I’d like to eat out once in a while, but my budget won’t let me at the moment. One day!
Wow Lee! You went from 300lbs to 140lbs in under a couple years? That’s incredible! May I ask what lead you to get to 300lbs in the first place?
Hey there Thriftygal, good to hear from you! “Skinny fat” is a new one to me, but I empathize with the belly aspect. The last time I had a flat belly was…. never! Back in the 9th grade, I did have a nice line down the center though. But, the stomach always remained a one pack.
I’m in my early 30’s, and have worked for 10 consecutive years out of graduate school. They say that “the unaimed arrow never misses”… well I think that’s just boring. I feel “rich” by 30 because I’m grateful for what I have. For example, it is a pleasure to hear from you and respond to you right now. That’s rich to me.
Whether I can retire by 40 is another matter. Two years ago, I would have said with 85% certainty, “Yes”! I don’t require much at all, and lead a pretty simple life, despite the stereotypes of the industry I’m in. After the downturn, the likelihood is probably only 50%, and I’ve resolved to extend that age to 42. Either way, I believe it is better to have this “see if I can do it” goal, and cross that bridge when the time comes, than never have a goal at all. What’s the fun of being retired by 60 anyway?
I’ve got at least 8 more years to get there. It’ll be fun to see if I do. Hope you can join the journey with me, and be a regular. Best, FS
Great blog you’ve got here. And a very good post. Unlike most people, I am not overweight. But don’t hate please, as I’m what I describe as ‘skinny fat’. i.e. I’ve always carried fat around my tummy and I’m the perfect apple with skinny legs and arms attached to a round belly!!! I believe this is an even worse state to be in than being obese as that belly fat is really hard to get rid of. I’ve only gotten rid of it once my entire life, and i believe that was through a combination of eating right/portion control/cardio+weights/major stress. Anyway I digress. What I really wanted to ask you is how old you are, if you don’t mind me asking and if you think you can truly achieve your goal of ‘financial freedom by 45’?
Skinny fat = sarcopenia. It used to be a term applied to seniors who lost muscle tone, but with our sedentary lifestyle, more and more people get sarcopenia.
.-= Mneiae´s last blog ..Being Rich and/or Being Happy =-.
Hello Lovingkind! Great alias by the way :) Fresh fruit, vegetable and juices are definitely on the top of my list! I agree with what you say about eating raw too. I like a fruit or vegetable shake in the morning for breakfast, so it doesn't weight me down and get me sleepy. Sometimes I crave that big fat breakfast sausage burrito, but it's less and less now.
Welcome to Financial Samurai, hope you can share more of your thoughts on health and food for great wealth going forward!
FS, Thank you so much for sharing your experiences. I found this site very useful and at times, enlightening!
In addition to the health information you shared above, may I share some of what I learned, too? I majored in Botany a long time ago, but I didn't know until recent years that the best food one should eat or drink is fresh fruit, vegetable and their juices, freshly juiced of course. Cooked food loses its nutrients and enzymes to the heat. Artificial seasoning or sugar in food and sauces makes one addicted to certain food. I always say to friends, if I know any one who has cancer, I will advise him/her to go all RAW! Lovingkind
Financial Samurai says
Gen Y – I have another problem, and that is I don't know how to cook! Ha! Well, I can boil a mean pot of spaghetti, but that's about it. Freeze meal-sized portions….. hmmmm donno about that. The thing is, after countless client lunches and dinners, my taste buds probably have turned quite snobbish. I need to go on a boiled potatoes and water diet for like a week and cleanse my palate.
I hear you on cycling. I can't run much due to the impact on my knees. Cycling is awesome as you can lose yourself in the journey. Congrats on getting down to normal weight!
Gen Y Investor says
Hey RB – I agree cooking from scratch is a pain in the ass. Sometimes to make it easier I cook in big batches and freeze meal-sized portions so I can just grab them when I need them. I usually do this on sundays when I'm watching sports or tv.
I had a weight issue in high school due to inactivity and a poor diet. I started eating better gradually and working out. I also started cycling which is a great exercise b/c it gets you outside and it is low impact on your bones and joints. Eventually I got back down to a normal weight.
-Gen Y Investor
Financial Samurai says
Teemu – Thnx for stopping by from Singapore! If i was there, I'd eat all the chili crab, nasi lemak, roti canai, and murtabak I could! :)
FB / Gen Y- Always cooking from scratch and bringing lunch to work takes discipline. Sometimes I wish I didn't need to eat, b/c i'm so busy, or the food just tastes kinda bad. I can't eat that many sandwiches a day you know what i'm saying?
Have you guys ever had a weight issue?
Gen Y Investor says
Nice post… there some good tips in it. I'm a big believer in brown bagging lunches with leftovers. It's healthier and cheaper than ordering takeout.
-Gen Y Investor
I have to really watch what I eat. I love fruits, vegetables, and curries going in, but they really hurt me during the digestion process! I'm always packing leftovers, no matter how small to eat at a later time. My mother always told me from a young age not to waste food, not even a kernal of rice!
FB @ FabulouslyBroke.com says
I just eat half of what I'd normally eat.
I also don't snack during the day on chips or chocolate (er.. if I eat chocolate, I eat the entire bar and am done with it)
I don't drink pop or juice (empty calories without much filling)
I hate to exercise, but I like to bike, so we go for 20km rides
And I ALWAYS cook from scratch, and bring my lunches to work.
Greetings from Singapore and thanks for visiting my blog!
Interesting thread you have here.
I've been doing the same, writing down my expenses lately. It's amazing how much money I can burn on a single on food. I think my problem is that I do groceries every day.
Resort At Squaw Creek says
It's funny, but today I worked nonstop from 8am to 12noon and forgot about breakfast, save for the half glass of water and apricot I had. I try not to eat too much at work because it gets me sleepy and less productive during the afternoon. Eating leftovers over a couple meals is great way to eat less by rationing and save money.
I bring my lunch to work whenever I can. It helps me avoid temptations and saves money. I also try to order take out when I can instead of getting delivery or dining at a restaurant to save money on tips. Rachel