I definitely feel the pain of a facebook friend who recently posted a grievance about the cost of eating healthy and fun forms of exercise. Specifically, the complaint was that a McDonald's burger is cheap and a salad is expensive, and sitting on the couch is free but playing in sports costs a bundle, therefore no wonder our society struggles with obesity. I think we can all relate to this feeling, and the notion that of course our kids and our society as a whole are fat! I have definitely found this oddity in my own struggle to lose weight, but I've also found some solutions, which I feel compelled to share in hopes of inspiring others.
Lucky for me, my region is full of awesome mountains to climb with decent hiking paths, and access to most are free, others charge a small fee. While hiking can be brutal when unmotivated or in the wrong mood, it can also be very rewarding. One thing I discovered (or re-discovered) recently was that having my dog along helped distract me from the annoyance and burn of hiking uphill. She really pulled me along, but she also took my mind off the difficult activity. I don't think it would be the same if it was someone else holding the leash for their dog, I think it works best for me if I'm in charge of encouraging her and holding her back. One of the best parts about hiking as a form of exercise, as opposed to riding a stationary bike or dancing at home, is that there's a definitive goal and end point; you can't exactly decide you're done in the middle of a hike and sit down to watch TV for the rest of the day.
Just Make It - but make it simple
I enjoy a good salad, but I'm a bit finicky in the kinds of veggies and fruits I'm willing to eat on a regular basis. There are few places that make a good salad, in my opinion, and realistically, there are none to my knowledge that do it at a decent price in a healthy way. Caesar Salads taste great at most places, but the dressing is far from healthy, and the salad often costs more than something full of carbs and fried goodness. Defeated by my salad woes, I, the woman who turns on her oven only a few times a year and never does anything resembling cooking besides warming up leftovers or frozen foods in the microwave, caved in to making my own salads. But I cheat a little, and this is why it works for me. From the grocery store, I buy mostly everything sliced and diced and cut already, which greatly reduces the amount of time I spend preparing my salad. A typical salad for me consists of shredded lettuce, shredded carrots, baby tomatoes (whatever those are called), slices of bell pepper or mini bell peppers, shredded cheese (but not too much) or crumbles of feta, diced ham or chunks of pepperoni. I've found a number of things to use as "dressing" that are also rather healthy: lime juice, red wine vinegar, chili garlic sauce (the last of which also helps me consume more water - spicy!). I know my tastes are a little unique, so I don't expect my readers to go out and reproduce this exact thing, but that's the point: find what works for you, and make it delicious and healthy. Then when you go to the store, you know the items you need to throw together. I also usually make two or three salads at a time when I make them, so I don't have to pull everything out of the fridge three times.
Drink Water Rules
The more water I drink, the better I feel. Without drinking a lot of water, I tend to look tired, get migraines, and sometimes get so nauseous I throw up. But water is always a good thing to drink, so I don't know why I do this to myself. My solution: make rules about my life that involve water. There are times when I find a craving that I think is for ice cream or cheese or chocolate, but really I was just thirsty. So I try to always drink water before doing something indulgent. It also helps you feel fuller faster, so you eat less of a large meal (in theory). Carrying your own refillable bottle is one of the best ways to ensure you always have water on hand to help fight misplaced cravings.
Water Rules:Before eating a dessert or candy, drink 8 oz of water.Before opening a can of soda, drink 8 oz of water.When I want to play my game on my phone, I need to drink 8 oz of water.Before prepping or going to lunch, drink 8 oz of water.
Like my drink water rules, I also have rules about watching TV, although I admittedly don't always obey them. But here's the concept: one episode of anything is a freebie per day. For every additional episode of a show, I have to do 50 crunches and 32 leg lifts on each leg. I picked those two exercises because those are the areas of my body I want to work on most, and that are not serviced much by my dancing and hiking activities.
Replace Caffeine with Peppers
No joke, I often tell people that I get a high on eating spicy peppers like jalapenos, but it is a legitimate way to increase metabolism, get a boost of energy, and yes, even get a little natural high. I eat them straight, but if you don't have that kind of tolerance, try putting diced jalapenos (also available in the grocery store) in your salad or put slices (available at the store) on your pasta. If jalapenos are too much, try pepperocinis or banana peppers to start. The seeds are the spiciest part, so be aware of that as you prepare to eat peppers. Another tip for eating spice: don't suck in air while you're eating, its insinctual because its "hot" but its not temperature hot, and oxygen only makes the spice work harder. Instead, keep your mouth closed until the pepper or spicy food has been swallowed, then take a glug of cold water and hold it in your mouth before swallowing. If it gets too hot, grab some bread or cheese or milk to cool it down, but keep trying to cool it off with water, otherwise you'll fill up on not-so-lean stuff. Contrary to popular belief, hot peppers do not eat at your stomach lining, they actually improve your metabolism and help your digestion system. Eating them also encourages consumption of water, which we all could use more of, and clears out sinuses.
When I think about dancing at home, I always picture the scene from Mrs. Doubtfire where Robin Williams, dressed as a woman, slides across the floor, broom in hand. But seriously, dancing at home is a fantastic way to work out for free. If you don't know exactly what to do, look up videos on YouTube that teach dancing. I did some belly dancing that way, and I also use YouTube a lot to practice the few choreographed swing dances, like the Shim Sham, Tranky Doo and Big Apple. There are lots of videos for each of those dances, all moving at slightly different paces from beginner to advanced. So browse around a little, find what you want to do, make a playlist of it, and get off your butt and dance! The best part is, unlike a workout video, if you get bored of a certain routine, you can swap it out for something else in your playlist. A dancer friend of my posted a study that showed swing dancing burned more calories per minute than any sport or something like that, and even if I didn't get it exactly right, the idea that swing dancing is a rigorous, full body aerobic exercise really jives with me.
So there you have it - those are my ideas on how to get and stay fit on the cheap. Obviously, these are easier said than done; but paying for a gym membership also doesn't automatically make you healthy. Exercising and eating well are disciplines, and require commitment, perseverance and maybe accountability. One last time I will add is, when I'm not in the mood to workout or when I know I'm not drinking enough water on a particular day, I ask myself this question: "What do I have to do tonight that is MORE important than getting healthy?" If I answer it honestly, I usually end up in the gym gulping down water as I sweat through a solid workout.