10 Tips for Eating Healthy When You Don’t Make Much Money
Yes, you can overcome obstacles to feeling and looking great – even if you’re on a low income! Here’s how to eat healthy when you don’t make much money, plus motivation to follow through with what you already know.
This article was originally called “How to Eat Healthy on a Low Income”, but as I wrote it I realized that most of us already know lots of tips and tricks. What we don’t pay attention to, however, are the obstacles that stop us from healthy eating. We need more encouragement and motivation, not more information. So…
Blossoming on a Low Income
I’ve always been on a low income. Growing up, we were on welfare most of the time (my mom struggles with schizophrenia, so holding down a teaching job wasn’t easy). As an adult I chose to go to university for three different degrees, none of which were money makers.
So low income is old hat to me. What is new is learning how to eat healthy. My mom was on a diet my whole life, but dieting isn’t the same as eating healthy. She avoided all types of fat except margarine, potato chips, and quick, easy processed foods such as Captain Crunch and Kraft Dinner and hot dogs. This – and her bouts with schizophrenia – set me up for a long battle with out of control binge eating and bulimia.
When I was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis at 29 years old, I realized that I had to learn how to eat healthy or my guts would flare. When my gall bladder was removed a couple years later I realized I had to learn how to eat healthy or I’d get incredibly painful stomachaches (gall bladders store bile, which helps break down the fats in food).
And voila! That’s how I overcame the obstacles that stopped me from eating healthy: I was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis and cholecystitis. Easy peasy. That was all the motivation I needed to learn how to eat healthy on a low income.
Don’t wait for a poor health diagnosis to motivate you to learn how to eat healthy on a low income…
5 Ways to Overcome Obstacles to Eating Healthy
Hey – I forgot to mention the best part: I’ve lost about 20 pounds since I learned about healthy eating! I’ve never been fitter or stronger. I’m 46 years old and I feel a million times better than I have at any other point in my life.
That, my dear friends, is the magic of eating healthy.
1. Learn the difference between information and motivation
You can learn everything you’ll ever need to know about how to read food labels and which weight loss plans are trending. In fact, you could be a trained dietitian or nutritionist and still eat unhealthy and be overweight!
The problem is that you don’t know yourself. You don’t know what motivates you – or you let your stronger unhealthy motivations override your healthy motivation to eat healthy. You let your depression, apathy, and lack of passion in life stop you from making choices that will make you feel good and strong.
Get to know yourself. Learn why you can’t stop eating.
2. Pay attention to how food affects your energy levels and mood
My husband and I have very different body shapes. He’s tall and lean; I’m short and round (but not fat anymore!). He needs to eat meat. If he doesn’t eat foods such as hamburgers, steaks, and pork chops, he feels constantly hungry. And then he gets cranky. I, on the other hand, can’t eat those heavy meals because they make me tired. They drag me down, and my body takes forever to digest them. I feel gross when I eat cheeseburgers and fries, or hot fudge sundaes and hotdogs. That was all the motivation I needed to learn how to eat healthy.
Your second step for healthy eating – low income or not – is to know how different types of food affects your body. Pay attention to how you feel when you eat hamburgers and french fries, chocolate milkshakes and cream-filled donuts. Listen to what your body tells you after you eat those foods. Use this information to help you get and stay motivated.
3. Learn how food affects your health issues
If you’re close to my age, you’ve probably had some sort of experience with some sort of illness, surgery, or disease. Learn as much as you can about how your health is affected by the foods you eat. This will make learning how to eat healthy on a low income easier because you have something serious at stake: your quality of life.
For example, I had to create a whole new diet because of my ulcerative colitis. I describe my meals and snacks in A Simple, No-Cook Ulcerative Colitis Diet Plan. If you don’t like what your doctor or nutritionist told you about the diet you “should” be on, then do your research. You’ll find a variety of tips from people who have the same health issues you – and you’ll learn how to adapt their food and diet solutions into your low income budget.
4. Get motivated to learn about your emotional health
Why do you eat? Probably not because you’re hungry. Hunger isn’t the primary reason we North Americans eat.
We eat because we’re sad, scared, lonely, depressed, angry, and hurt. And we eat because we’ve developed bad habits. Some of our bad habits have morphed into unhealthy coping mechanisms to help us cope with deep pains in our lives. We don’t know how to get motivated and take care of ourselves.
You didn’t expect this on an article about how to eat healthy on a low income, did you? But maybe this is just what you need. I struggled with bulimia (which is ironic because binging and purging is such a waste of food for a student on a low income!). I was bulimic for so many years, too many years. I knew how to eat healthy but it didn’t matter because I was in pain. I was sad, insecure, scared. I had too many emotions that I couldn’t deal with.
5. Become aware of how powerful your thoughts are
Ok, so we’ve determined that there is a world – a galaxy – of difference between knowing how to eat healthy versus being motivated to choose to eat healthy. We have enough information and facts. What we need is motivation to do what we know is in our own best interests.
We need to figure out what’s holding us back…and we need to learn how to get motivated and get out of our own way. For instance, I’ve learned through painful experience that when I allow myself to think about something – such as how much I want to sit and eat the whole container of Black Jack Cherry Chocolate Ice Cream in my freezer, then I’m more likely to eat it. Binge. Purge, maybe.
But if I refocus my thoughts on something good and healthy, then I won’t grab the spoon and open the freezer. It often helps me to remember how awful I feel after I binge, how much I regret it, and what I wish I would’ve done instead.
What about you – have you identified thoughts that lead you to make bad food choices? This has nothing to do with low income. It’s about Blossoming into the woman God created you to be.
5 Quick Tips for Eating Healthy on a Low Income
Ok, enough psychology! Here’s what I do (except for #5):
1. Buy $1 bags of fruits and veggies. Many produce stores put an assortment of ripe fruit and vegetables in a plastic bag and sell it for a dollar. I love this because I get to eat mangoes, pineapples, expensive imported apples, and all sorts of exotic fruits and veggies that I’ve never heard of!
2. Freeze your ripe produce. Don’t throw a wrinkled red pepper or wizened carrot in the trash. Wash it, chop it up, and freeze it for a sauce or smoothie.
3. Find out when your grocery store discounts dairy and other products. Make a point of going to the store when you know their discounted stuff is coming out. At Superstore, the bread and dairy products get discounted towards the end of the evening.
4. Don’t spend money on organic food. I think this is one of the biggest mistakes we make when we’re trying to eat healthy – especially on a low income. At the very least, research the latest scientific studies on organic versus pesticide-laden food.
5. Grow your own food – that’s one of the best tips for healthy eating on a low income! I don’t have a garden, but I found an article called Eating Healthfully on a Budget on HealthyWomen.org. “You can grow food in your yard, on your patio or in a window without fancy gardening supplies,” says Holly Hirshberg, who was associated with a nonprofit organization called The Dinner Garden that distributed free vegetable and fruit seeds throughout the United States (the website appears to be abandoned).
Take it one step at a time. There are millions of tips on how to eat healthy on a low income. If you feel motivated to overcome the obstacles to eating healthy, incorporate one or two tips a month into your weekly routine. Don’t try to do everything at once – especially if you’re working on your emotional health at the same time.
What to Do Next
Write down three things that prevent you from eating healthy. Don’t just say “I’m on a low income” or “I don’t have time.” Instead, dig down for the emotional reasons you eat high fat processed foods that make you feel heavy and gross.
Talk with your friends about healthy eating, emotional obstacles, and Blossoming. Ask what helps them get and stay healthy, and if low income is an obstacle for them, too. Be honest about your struggles.
While I can’t offer advice, I do read every comment. I encourage you to respond to other readers’ comments if you feel led, and to share what you know about how to eat healthy on a low income. Writing often brings clarity and insight, and can help you process your feelings.