The Easiest Way To Eat Healthy On The Cheap

Illustrated by Elliot Salazar.
There is exactly one thing I miss about dieting: It's predictable. 

When you're on a diet, you know exactly what you're going to eat every day and how much of it you'll be eating (if you're being good, that is). I miss writing out meal plans and calculating the cost. I miss cooking up cheap pots of low-fat, low-carb, high-fiber chili, then breaking it into lunch and dinner portions so I could eat it all week and be THE SKINNIEST EVER BY FRIDAY.

When I first started Intuitive Eating, I was secretly terrified that I would gain 200 pounds and go broke doing it. If I was allowed to eat whatever I wanted, surely I'd just order all the pizza in New York City, charge it to my Visa, and then my friends would have to do a Kickstarter just to pay for the piano they'd bury me in. 

It's been over a year, though, and neither of those things has happened. My body and my bank account are doing just fine, thanks. But, many readers have asked, and so I'll answer: Yes, Intuitive Eating on a budget is doable. In fact, it streamlines the process, urging you to pay even closer attention to your body's needs and cravings. If you think you can't do it because you're a student, on a fixed income, or desperately trying to save up for a beach trip to escape this frozen hellscape, then this one goes out to you, pal. 
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Illustrated by Elliot Salazar.
1. Set aside some extra food cash for the first month.
Permission to eat is the primary step in Intuitive Eating, and therefore it's really important to give yourself the space to explore, right at the start. I guarantee your brain will temporarily flip out and order a bunch of Pad Thai, and you'll start to worry about your own piano-burial, but this phase passes quickly if you really, really let yourself do it. The sooner your brain knows Pad Thai isn't forbidden anymore, it'll stop getting so excited about Pad Thai. It will stop getting so excited over food, in general. This is the beginning of food neutrality. 

2. Learn and respect your taste preferences and eating patterns.
Use that time of exploration to really get to know yourself around food: What kind of breakfast food do you usually gravitate towards? Do you prefer a light lunch or something more substantial? Around what time do you get hungry for dinner? Once you know these things, planning meals ahead of time becomes easier. With Intuitive Eating, meal-planning is based on your own lifestyle — not a diet plan's rules. Those planned-ahead meals will be so much more satisfying, because you'll make something you like in a portion that will satisfy you. 

3. Know your leftover limits. 
Often, I'm tempted to do the Big Pot Of Something trick that worked so well in my dieting days. But, when I think about it, it didn't always work so well. I shudder to think of the gallons of that low-fat, high-bullshit chili I threw out, simply because I would have preferred to set myself on fire rather than eating another bowl. Now, I know there are some things I can eat almost every day (eggs, salmon, that roasted-tomato breakfast sandwich at Pret A Manger). But, when it comes to chili and most other meals, I can do it two days in a row, max. So, now I just make Slightly Smaller Pots Of Something once or twice a week. It's far more budget-friendly, considering I don't wind up tossing half the food and ordering something on Seamless mid-week. Best of all, I'm no longer wasting an unconscionable amount of food. Instead, I'm enjoying it. 

4. Always have your favorites  on hand.
For the same reason I don't make Big Pots, I don't usually buy in bulk. Almonds are the exception. I am almost never without almonds — dry roasted, specifically. I keep a bag at work, one at home, and always bring some on a flight. That’s because I like them, they have a long shelf life, and they're a decently filling snack if I'm hungry and dinner's a long way off. Food security is vital to Intuitive Eating, so go ahead and stock up on the things you routinely reach for. At home, I always have eggs and some kind of fruit. At the office, it's nuts and some kind of chocolate. If I don't have those things, that's when I start popping out to Starbucks, and that is a slippery, expensive slope, friends.
Illustrated by Elliot Salazar.
5. Recognize the craving within the craving. 
Look, sometimes you just want a burger. Cravings can comes for a variety of reasons, and you don’t need an excuse ("I’m PMSing!") to satisfy them. But, it never hurts to get curious about a craving, particularly if it’s intense or unusual. If that burger yen hit hard and fast, take a second to check in with your body and what you’ve put into it recently. (Remember, it's not just about satisfying taste; it's about satisfying your body, too.) Is your body asking for protein? Are you a little hungover, looking to refuel with carbs and sodium? Maybe you had yogurt for breakfast and now you just want something you can chew.

Or, maybe you just want a good burger. If that’s the case and you have the time and funds to go out for one, great! If not, find a way to satisfy the desire as best you can. Make yourself something substantial, with protein, carbs, and enough savory flavor to fulfill your needs. Life's not perfect, and sometimes dinner isn't, either. But, that's okay, because...

6. Sometimes you have more important needs.
Dieting makes your life all about food — good food, bad food, cheat days, splurges. The entire point of Intuitive Eating is to make your life be all about your life and to let food just be food. A few months ago, I was running late to work and didn't have time to run down the block for the egg sandwich I wanted for breakfast. I wound up grabbing a bagel at the place close to my office. Later, I reported this to my eating coach, feeling like a criminal for not eating EXACTLY what my body wanted at that moment. She did that slow-nod-smiling thing and said, "Oh, so you had a more important need." Eating well is important. But, sometimes there are more important things in life than what you had for breakfast.


The Anti-Diet Project runs on Mondays twice a month. If you're digging it, you can follow my journey on Twitter and Instagram at @mskelseymiller or #antidietproject. Hashtag your own Anti-Diet moments, if thats your jam! And, if you're new to the column, welcome! You can check out the rest of the series here.
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