A Frugal and Sensible Diet & Weight Loss Mindset

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This is a motivational post written to deliver the personal secrets of how my wife & I have successfully trimmed our grocery budget along with our waistlines!

Above is a picture of me at my new weight.  I know, it’s a terrible picture, but the best I could do with a self portrait on a cell phone!

**UPDATE 7/22/2009 – I have now lost 38 pounds and have finally reached my desired body weight of 175 pounds.  I decided I’m going to lose 5 more and see how I feel.  If it’s to much, I plan to gain the 5 pounds back.**

Over the course of the last 10 months I have lost 30 pounds, and my wife has lost 20.  It sounds silly to say, but prior to losing nearly 15% of our body weight, few people would have classified us as “overweight”.   Looking back now…we have a different perspective!  Though I’m pretty skinny these days but the truth is, I’m 7lbs away from my goal weight of 175lbs and could use a “kick-in-the-pants” to help carry my momentum to the finish line…enter the PF Blogger Weight Loss Challenge (BWLC).

Despite the fact that he is moving half way around the world in a few days, Baker @ ManVsDebt.com has graciously given of his time to form this competition that will undoubtedly be a blessing to so many fellow Personal Finance Bloggers.  The BWLC consists of 30 bloggers and has been broken down into six teams of five people each.  The teams names are Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta, Epsilon, & Zeta.  I have been named to the Beta Team and am a proud member!

Here are my fellow Beta Teammates (and me):

As one who has been at this weight loss & budget trimming game for nearly a year, I felt compelled to share how my wife & I have shed excess pounds from our frames while simultaneously trimming excess fat from our grocery budget.

Change your mindset…

A mindset is a terrible thing to waste! A change in the way you thing about food & health is paramount to a change in behavior.  I recently wrote an article on FiveCentNickel about how changing my financial mindset was the best thing that ever happened to my finances; health, diet, & weight are no different.

  • CHANGE your diet, don’t “go on a diet – In his original 1828 dictionary Noah Webster defined diet as, “a manner of living or mode of life”.  A diet is meant to be a way of life, not just a 2-week starvation binge, then back to the same-ole-same-ole.
  • Food for fuel not pleasure – Please do not misunderstand this point, there is a careful balance that needs to be struck here.  I love food and find much pleasure in preparing & eating it.  However, the longer I eat healthy the more I see food as fuel, and less for pleasure.  This increases my awareness and helps me to more carefully consider what I put into my body.
  • Find joy in health – Just as you have found joy in McDonald’s french fries, cheesecake, Doritos, & hot pockets in the past; begin learning the joy of healthy, life building, foods and habits.  Be creative and involve the whole family when purchasing & preparing food.  It’s amazing how fun it is to reinvent the family diet & discover your hidden culinary creativity.

Stop gorging…

One of my first & most useful steps to success was the realization that I did not need nearly the amount of food I had been consuming!  It never failed, whether eating at home or dining out…we were both eating way too much.  I believe this stemmed from eating out too much, the portions they serve are ridiculously huge.  The trend seemed to carry over into every dining experience.

Here are some tactics to combat becoming a self-blotation device:

  • Start with smaller portions – when dishing up your meals consciously give yourself a smaller portion.
  • Drink more waterchoosing water is frugal, it’s healthy, & drinking it during meals will lead to less over-eating.
  • Wait 5 minutes – Once half your portion is gone, STOP!  Now drink your full glass of water (not soda!).  This will make you feel more full and is a great way to end the meal time.
  • Split meals & get to know the “doggy bag” again – Restaurants serve HUGE portions so when eating out, split meals with your spouse or simply take half of your meal home and have it for lunch the next day.  For more pointers on eating out, see this guest post I wrote on BibleMoneyMatters.com entitled “The Frugal Guide to Eating Out

Properly size each meal of the day…

Contrary to popular American culture, you should eat large early and tail off food intake as the day grows old.  Your body’s metabolic rate (aka “fast metabolism”) will increase in speed and efficiency when proper food intake patterns are introduced.

Also, my wife & I plan out our weekly meals and hit the grocery store only once per week.  Since it is currently just the two of us (please pray for a healthy baby soon!) we normally just make one or two meals each week and feast on leftovers often.

  • A big healthy breakfast – Every weekday my wife & I have vanilla yogurt parfaits mixed with blueberries & granola.  It is a healthy, quick, & delicious breakfast & a great way to start the day
  • Mid-morning snack – I take a snack to work every day and eat half of it around 10am.  It usually consists of some fruit, nuts, or healthy crackers like Tricuits.
  • A big healthy lunch – I am lucky enough to have lunch provided for me every day.  My employer created a cafe in our office and we have a free selection of hot lunch, salad bar, & sandwich bar each day!  I usually have a HUGE salad complete with a protein source (beans, cheese, eggs, chicken, etc.)  & lots of veggies.
  • Mid-afternoon snack – Around 3pm I will have the other half of my daily snack.
  • A smaller supper – Like I mentioned above, we plan out  & prepare 1 or 2 meals each week and eat off the leftovers.  Follow this plan and just take smaller portions for dinner.
  • Evening snack – Heaven’s to Betsy!!  Did you endorse eating a snack after dinner??  Yes…indeed I did.  As long as you exercise self-control, there is no reason why you cannot have a SMALL bowl of ice cream, some Triscuits, or some air-popped popcorn (no oil, but with a little real butter, YUM).  I invented this ultimate healthy chocolate chip cookie recipe that my wife & I make a batch of & freeze so we always have some on hand.

Choose whole foods over commercially processed foods…

I don’t think I have to go into detail here, but suffice to say if you eat a lot of Hamburger Helper, you may want to pay particularly close attention.  This is a lot easier than it sounds, you just need to choose simple ingredients over man-made ingredients.  Tip:  choose what God has provided in natural state over chemical laden, man-made creations.

  • White sugar – We use raw honey or natural unbleached sugar
  • White flour – Replace this with whole wheat flour, or whole rye flour
  • Breads – We started using the bread-maker that was just collecting dust in our basement and now make a fresh loaf of homemade bread once a week.  We both love it!  The cost is about a dollar a loaf for whole wheat bread, compared to around $3 – $5/loaf at the grocery store.
  • BeansEAT MORE BEANS, they’re really healthy, really cheap, & really good!
  • Hydrogenated oils – Avoid these like the plague.  We do things like, make our own homemade salad dressing.  It’s incredibly simple & delicious, especially if you use fresh herbs from your garden.
  • High fructose corn syrup (HFCS) – I call this “Satan’s syrup”.  Again, avoid products containing HFCS.  Once you start looking for it, you’ll be amazed just how many products it is added to.  I attribute this to the lobbying efforts of the corn industry, but this post is neither the time nor place for that discussion!
  • Prepackaged meals – Any meal or ingredient that is “ready-made” is also going to contain a ton of preservatives due to commercial processing.  Instead of using these ingredients, do most of your shopping in the fruit, vegetable, & whole grains sections of your local grocery mart.

Eat at home more…

We stopped going out to eat, and will save $5,000+ this year alone.  Not only is this been a HUGE financial blessing, it has also been a huge part of our weight loss success.  Here are some tricks & tips to help you ease into the process of staying

  • This is a blessing – Not only are we saving thousands of dollars, we are so much happier now that we eat over 90% of our meals at home.  We always get to prepare what we want, with the ingredients we want, and use the exact level of spice that we want!  Believe it or not, the kitchen is also a great place to spend quality time together.  Eating at home more often has without a doubt brought my wife & I closer together!
  • Make a weekly menu -Each weekend my wife & I sit down for about 15 minutes to discuss what we meals we need to prepare for the upcoming week.  We ALWAYS focus on using up any soon-to-expire ingredients in our refrigerator or pantry.  Most of the time, based on what you already have & need to use up, planning the menu is easy.
  • Eat before you go grocery shopping – This is not a new concept, but definitely worth mentioning.  It helps you stick to your list…speaking of lists…
  • Preplan grocery shopping – My wife & I make a list based on what we need for our weekly menu and we stick to this list!

Give yourself a break…

We’ve all heard the old adage, “Everything in moderation.” This holds very true regarding a healthy diet.

  • Take a day off per week – When just starting out it is a good idea to take a break one day a week, usually on the weekends.  Just don’t binge eat & you’ll be fine.
  • Just take a break whenever – If you’re disciplined, you can just treat yourself once in awhile, then return to your normal diet.  This is the route I take because I do not like regiment, I prefer spontaneity; especially regarding my diet!
  • Things get progressively easier – The longer you eat healthy, the less you crave bad foods.

Well, there you have it folks.  By following the above tips my wife & I have both been able to shed 15% of our body weight!  I’m sure I have forgotten a few things so please make sure & list your ideas in the comments.

As for team BETA & the PF Blogger Weight Loss Challenge…I hope this helps us win!  GO BETA!

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1 MoneyEnergy

Great summary – you’ve got a lot of the basics in there! Food addictions are a real problem. We know the answers, we know what’s good, but we’re addicted to bad habits.

2 Matt Jabs

Very true ME…

It truly is a mindset! Just as we need to change our Financial Mindset before we can succeed financially, we need to enlighten our Diet Mindset and begin to live deliberately in matters of health as well.

3 Jeff@StretchyDollar

Yeah! I’m all motivated to get up and exercise and eat healthy now. I like the theme throughout – moderation and “smartness” – it’s a good philosophy to live by.

4 Jessica W

Jessica from Pennywise Family, aka @Jessc098 here.
Way to go Team Beta! Looks like you’ve already got a prooven start Matt!

My story is this… I’d picked up a few pounds post college, but gained a whopping sixty more than that after having heart/lung troubles that resulted in open heart surgery a few years ago. That left me with a chronic fear of exercise and a new bigger, slower body to get moving. I’m finally sick of it, and I’m starting on the journey to loose the 80 pounds I gained since college.

My secret is using sparkpeople.com (I’m Jessc098 there too), high-fiber breakfasts, fruit and lots of water.

My kids and my hubby have me getting out and exercising every day. My husband is teaching me about strength training, which is really helping me to do the cardio because I’m building up the worn out muscles around my joints–so I notice progress a lot faster! Also, he got me biking before running, for the same reason.

I’m working out 1 hour 4-5 days per week wtih moderate exercise at least all the other days (today was an “off” day and I did a bike ride with my toddler in the trailer for 30 minutes, and then I washed/waxed the car)

I am noticing some side effects to this challenge… I’ve hardly had any time for blogging!


5 Matt Jabs

Thanks for sharing your story Jessica. I look forward to seeing you succeed, so make sure you keep us updated!!

This will help…when you do slip, make sure you simply pick yourself back up and continue to push toward your goal. Having tangible goals is a key factor in being able to follow through & accomplish anything!

6 Kevin@OutOfYourRut

This is an excellent common sense alternative to a formal diet and I’d like to work it into my routine.

I’ve been trying to achieve weight reduction mainly through exercise, walking/jogging 5-6 miles per day, but once you reach a certain age the exercise only method will mostly help to maintain weight, not so much to lose it. The diet side is crucial.

7 Matt Jabs

Thanks for stopping by Kevin.

It seems I took the exact opposite route as you. Over the last winter I worked hard (as you read) to change my relationship with food. It was not until the last few months that I began exercising more, and it does make a huge difference (who knew??!!)

The two together are the only true recipe for success! I hope come back & let us know how your Diet Mindset is changing.

8 guinness416

Excellent post and great approach. We incorporate a lot of the same things. Well except beans; I hate beans. Cumulatively they definitely make a difference. We’ve also learned to love the egg-white omelette for breakfast (with toast for carbs and butter for fat), it’s healthy & hard to get bored of when you change up the veggies and spices you use. And we shop the farmers markets – great fresh food and we feel good about supporting local farmers. The other big one for me is booze – I love beer as my moniker hints, but I’m a 5’3″ woman so it shows; when I quit for a few months, as I do periodically, I definitely notice the difference.

9 Matt Jabs

Yeah, it’s amazing how many times you can eat the same foods, but turn them into totally different meals just by switching up spices, veggies added, and or cooking methods!

Nice work, keep it up!

10 Heath

I’ve been telling you most of these things for years…yes I am causing a slight fracture of my proximal humerus while gratuitously patting myself on my proverbial back. This is most certainly a commonsense approach to one aspect of healthy living, thank you for sharing it with us to help, in some small way, to balance out the never-ending stream of tabloid “latest miracle diets” or the most recent “6 secrets to a flat belly” articles. As far as your comment regarding “the longer you eat healthy, the less you crave bad foods”, I find that if you can make it through the first couple of weeks, in that short period of time your body begins to make the shift toward what I like to call a “clean fuel burner”. Following this your “cheat” days serve not just as a break from your new disciplined routine, but also as a reminder to your body as well as your brain that “hey we now prefer the new approach because we feel better”. As you go on into your second and third months you can actually feel your metabolism shifting into high gear (especially if you are also exercising moderately 3-5 days per week), and at this point even if you do over-indulge in a non-planned way your body usually makes up the difference. In fact, an occasional “shock” to the system like this can actually help your cause, but it needs to be occasional, and well-timed (ie. at a time when you really do feel that your body, not your brain is in a state of caloric deprivation). Anyway, I digress. It is not a complicated formula, thank you for presenting it in such a manner.

11 Matt Jabs

Thank you for the encouragement & systematical backing bro, I know you’re the expert!

Yeah folks, read the above comment. It is from my brother who is a licensed physical therapist, cyclist, triathlete, runner, & all around exercise & diet enthusiast.

Good info!

12 Land Refinancing

Another tip: Eat slooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooow. This is probably THE greatest tip you can follow.

One thing I noticed about over-weight people is they eat fast. Take your time to enjoy a meal. Start with little bits of food and chew slow while savoring the taste. Close your eyes so you can’t see the food in front of you and feel the texture and taste of your food.

You may want to have a count down timer to get the feel down.

13 Matt Jabs

This is good advice & would fall under “Stop Gorging”. Thanks.

14 bart

People should change their eating habit, not keep going on diets, what do you do when you finish your diet, you’re back to your eating habit which got you into trouble in the first place.

15 Matt Jabs

Well said Bart, that is the exact philosophy my wife & I have adopted and the advice we give to others.

16 werner

Hey great article! you know how it goes, change your life by changing your mindset! I specialize in weight loss for men and woman and for woman after giving birth, I always tell people your diet is only temporary, its the way you live your new life with your new weight that counts.
keep up the great work
kind regards,

17 Mark Moran

Great site, as an insurance health broker i see education as the way forward the weight loss and diet industry is full of rubbish designed just to releave people of there money great site.

Well done

Mark Moran

18 sco

I’ve also changed my diet (without being overweight) and the results are similar to yours. However, I think some of your items are not healthy:
– cheese, butter -> these are full of trans-fats. Just check the labels. I’ve replaced these with 4% cheese or dry cottage cheese and trans-fat free olive-oil based margarine.
– eggs -> too much cholesterol in egg yolks. I only eat 1-2 egg yolks a week and replaced the rest with egg whites (including in my home-made muffins/cookies)
– sugar -> as “Satan” as high fructose corn syrup. I’ve replaced it with sucralose (Splenda – even if it’s not God made, lol) and stevia.
– ice cream – no, frozen yogurt with 0% fat would be slightly better.
– popcorn with butter – this is almost like high fructose corn syrup, just not in liquid form

19 Matt Jabs

Butter, cheese, eggs, popcorn, and ice creame are only bad if eaten from cows and chickens that are raised improperly.

We acquire all these items (along with most other products) from local organic farms, and actually pay less than we used to for the “regular” choice from the grocery store.

Also, it is not wise to eat any “low-fat” or “fat-free” items. The natural fats are stripped out and replaced with man made chemicals… no thanks.


20 April

Just an FYI–cheese and butter contain saturated fat, not trans fats. Whether you believe in God, or mother nature, or evolution, or whatever, eggs, cheese, butter, etc. were made that way. If we were only meant to eat the white of the egg, God wouldn’t have given us the yolk! Check out the Weston A. Price foundation (www.westonaprice.org). They explain much better than I could why saturated fat is not what is making us fat and causing heart disease–it’s all the sugar and fake food we eat.

*Steps off soapbox*

21 Matt Jabs

Yeah, that pretty much backs up exactly what I say in the post. Thanks April. 🙂

22 Steve in W MA

For the last two months, during work hours, I have been drinking only water from my Nalgene water bottle. No more trips to the cafe for coffee, or even to the back room to prepare tea with milk and sugar.

Once I’m home I’ll have other things like a beer or milk or tea…but when I’m out of the house it’s water that I’m carrying with me.

I think it’s a great habit. And drinking it out of one container all the time (instead of just using whatever cups or mugs are around) has helped me reinforce the habit visually and tactilely. It’s also been reminding me of the founder of the company I work at, who always used to drink water at work, always out of the same reused Poland Springs water bottle that looked like he had been using for 5 years straight.

23 Matt Jabs

That’s sweet. I’ve been drinking several liters of water a day for nearly a few years now… and I’ll never go back. I recently started using a quart sized mason jar because it’s cheap and it’s glass – totally inert.

24 Payton

My mouth is already watering just from reading this post. Continue these awesome posts.

25 Steve in W MA

You’re a lean, mean, debt-fighting machine!

26 Matt Jabs

Ha ha… you got it!

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