Last week my fitness coach, Sam Page, issued a challenge:
“FOR ONE WEEK, I want you to shop for your food every day with a budget of $10 — more or less — and ONLY buy what you will eat that day… and chocolate is required.“
He allowed me one modification — that I shop for each day’s dinner and the next day’s breakfast (since I have a night job and don’t always follow normal eating habits anyway). Intriguing, particularly since he asked me to blog about it, which makes it all the more real an experience for me.
DAY #1: MONDAY
I realize I didn’t plan ahead all that well, so I don’t have Monday’s breakfast lined up. That’s OK. I will start that evening. I don’t have an immediate goal in mind, so I do what I normally do – stay in the vicinity of work, and shop at Ralph’s. Right away, I am more aware of what things cost. If you only have 10 bucks to spend, you are going to make it count. When Sam explained a very Zen way of eating excruciatingly slowly, savoring every bite, I said, “Well I can’t waste all that effort on a Snickers.” Same concept. I need to make sure I favor quality over quantity. Maybe I should have gone to Whole Foods I think to myself. Besides being relatively healthier, it’s probably easier to get more single servings of things. But I’ll find something.
I end up with two breakfast oatmeal bars for Tuesday morning and head to the deli to see what’s prepackaged for dinner. Even though a mozzarella roll looks (very) tempting and (sigh) expensive at $7, I settle on a turkey-cheese wheat sandwich (cheaper) and two bottles of aloe juice (2 for $4!), one for tonight and one for tomorrow morning. I’ve always wanted to try them, please let them be good (they are)! I then realize that (yikes) I didn’t even think about my coffee addiction. It’s such a given, I never even bother trying to budget it. Though I do limit Starbucks to OK, once a week, I know that I can indulge in some frothy Flavia concoction at work, without a second thought. But now that I am at my limit, I see that coffee will not happen tomorrow. At least not for breakfast. I once gave up caffeine for Lent and it wasn’t THAT hard. So maybe this toning down will remind me of that um, sacrifice.
The best part of the deal is that Sam REQUIRED me to add chocolate to every purchase, so that one addiction can be fed at least. I get a thick diety-type chocolate brownie bar from Stay Healthy(?) with not a lot of sugar. That’s the other thing – in hovering over a can of Starbucks coffee, I saw it had 26 grams of sugar instead of the much cheaper and lower 4 grams of the Aloe Vera (Aloe Glow natural aloe water to be exact). Go figure. And now that I think about it, I’ been craving green water (really!) just the other day.
I probably won’t drink the sugary SB canned coffee anymore now that I have a favorite new drink. But I’ll need to find coffee somewhere. Keeping that in mind for Tuesday. At least I have all my usual vitamin supplements handy. Also, I might want to give fresh foods a try. After all, that’s one of the points – not to waste food. And if you shop at a market every day, you can buy fruits/vegetables that won’t spoil. Huzzah!
At work, I’m surprised not to feel so hungry… Yet. The portion/budget control thing forces you to really think about what you are eating. So far, so good. Will this method help me lose 20-30 pounds? Who knows. More importantly, it will center and focus me so maybe I will start working out again.
Day One Total: $11.86
DAY #2: TUESDAY
Tuesday. I haven’t been all that hungry so far. But the lack of caffeine is a problem. Had my ready-to-go breakfast from last night’s shopping. Decided to go to Whole Foods and be healthier and end up with packaged again (it’s just easier!) Pasta with meatballs. But still made fresh that day. Leaving me only a few bucks for tomorrow’s breakfast so I get a Greek yogurt parfait. It only ends up being nine-something which means I have a few dollars for coffee! There is a Starbucks nearby, but what can you get there for a dollar or two? I swing by McDonald’s on the way to work. They have yummy coffee but it’s kind of out of my price range too. Darn. I get a small hot chocolate (I later realize that their regular plain coffee is even cheaper, oh well) and then remember I forgot the daily chocolate! You can get three McDonald’s chocolate chip cookies for a dollar (yeah, I did!) so that brings me to:
Day Two Total: $13.13
I am starting to feel similar to the restlessness I get on those two day juice fasts I try once in a while. Uh oh. That means I will cheat. I curb that by just eating a handful of almonds and a tiny bit of juice. Not in my budget, but better than stealing some pizza from the kitchen. Right? I do consume a pastry someone gave me, but it’s higher quality bakery stuff so, fine.
I vow to get down to more fruits and vegetables next time!
DAY #3: WEDNESDAY
Back to Whole Foods, determined to be healthy again. The choices are getting to be more overwhelming and since I am now trying to stay away from packaged food, I go to the food bar. A meal of roasted chicken, collard greens, fresh veggies and yellow rice weighs in at about eight bucks. Sweet. I grab non-Starbucks bottled coffee (not skipping today!) and a small orange juice. For breakfast, I get a small container of granola cereal but didn’t see the price correctly. I thought it was $2.99 when it was really $7.99 (wow those numbers are small!) Oh well. It will be more than one breakfast then, so tomorrow I’ll just buy dinner.
Day Three Total (ran over, but I’m OK with it): $18.02
P.S. Damn it, I forgot my chocolate allowance again! So I grab a candy bar from the candy bucket at work and you know what? It doesn’t taste all that satisfying and neither did the McDonald’s cookies yesterday.
Hmmm… am I changing some body chemistry somehow? Or just my brain?
DAY #4: THURSDAY
I am still not all that hungry, but I have an extra dollar in my pocket, so I get a slice of pizza for a snack (wheat crust) to tide me over until work dinner (which will be later than I usually eat). I spent most of my budget last night so today I’ll just get carrot/orange/mango juice and a skinny vanilla latte (yes, I went to Starbucks after all). At work we get free Subway sandwiches so I pick tuna on wheat with spinach, tomatoes, olives, green peppers and mayo.
And a small Twix. The idea was to budget in chocolate, but quality chocolate. But that proved too expensive, so I end up foraging at work, only I don’t go for seconds anymore AND it’s not as satisfying. I feel like I am eating to nourish, not eating to feel. So that’s a big change.
Day Four Total: $9.95 (oh, more than I thought, oops)
DAY #5: FRIDAY
I have the day off today and feel more lax about food since I’m not in a hurry. However, I have a doctor’s appointment so get up (relatively) early and drink the juice from yesterday on the way to the doctor. Afterwards, I go to a neighborhood deli and have them make me a turkey sandwich on rye. Lettuce, tomatoes, onions, mayo. It’s about five bucks so I figure that’s my allotment today. Financially anyway.
At home for dinner, there are leftovers — a pasta chicken dish (I spoon a smaller helping than normal since it looks thick with sauce and I am conscious of how food looks and feels now, in addition to how it tastes), coffee (at last!!!) and later still, some snacks. Instead of my usual thoughtless binging, I think about what snack I want and go for some wheat crisps (generic wheat thins) since they have low sugar. (I read labels now!) Oh and there is leftover birthday cake too, but the rich chocolate kind, so I let myself have a slice of that and though it’s good, it feels really really heavy. Seems my body is already adjusting to burning smaller meals more efficiently. I feel more focused too, so I walk the dogs a little further than usual. And my pace is faster. I have more energy! Then again, that could be the caffeine.
I reflect on the week at some of my “lapses” (pastry/pizza) and rather than torture myself with guilt, I am OK with being human. I allow myself to give in to a craving, as long as I steer toward either something healthy or at least smaller portions of whatever devil food I ingest. I can’t psych myself into eating my feelings again.
Day FIVE Total: $5+
FINAL REFLECTIONS & LESSONS LEARNED
The best part of the week is that my body craves healthy. I never got a handle on how to shop correctly for fruits and vegetables — the fresh ones anyway. But I know I can do it. That whole planning for the week, reading recipes, freezing for later thing that people do. And I know that now that I don’t have that specific budget anymore, I can relax a little and throw in an apple or two without worrying about the balance. And – I WANT to.
This exercise was about portion control and mindful eating, but also something a little more spiritual:
I learned to honor myself by feeding my body more thoughtful things—food for nutrition, instead of food for stress.
I realize I deserve to be good to myself: mind, body and soul, and as a result, I will (hopefully) end up being good to others. And (hopefully) live one lesson I keep learning over and over: staying in the present. Enjoying the now. Focusing on the sights, sounds, smells, tastes and thoughts right in front of me.
It’s the easiest thing in the world, but we make it hard. I can’t control the universe, or other people, but I can control what I put into my body by making healthier choices. I can control those creeping negative thoughts by gently sweeping them away, since there is no room for them when you are being truly aware. And awake and alive. Thanks Sam!
By the way, the doctor told me I lost three pounds.
Kate West is a Los Angeles film, TV & theater critic. And a marathon runner. Find Kate West on her website, KateWestReviews.com.