How do I make a lifestyle change on little cash, time and energy?
May 4, 2007 3:34 PM   Subscribe

Major lifestyle change needed but there are a few curve balls to make this situation more challenging. I'm a full-time college student majoring in art, I work part-time, I'm poor enough to be on a state health plan, and I just learned I have high blood pressure. How do I make the changes necessary to lower my bp?

I wouldn't have a problem eating better if it weren't for the fact that I have little money to spend on food each month (I make about $750/month in Seattle, so after bills and rent, I have about $100-$150 to spend on food) and little time to find healthy, low-sodium recipes and make the food. I would like to exercise, and have access to my University's gym for free, but I'm always so tired that I can never get up the motivation to go. In case it matters, I'm 24 and a female. So, hive mind, tell me how I can find the motivation to exercise despite being tired (or tell me how to not be so tired), and tell me how to make good, low sodium food on a small budget. Please.
posted by pontouf to Health & Fitness (28 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Eating healthy is not as expensive as it may seem, nor is it really all that time consuming. There are many places where you can buy staples like pasta, rice, legumes, etc... in bulk. Shop for fresh dairy and produce once a week and you're all set. If time to cook is an issue then take some time on the weekend (or your day off) and prep the food for the week. You can make tons of pasta sauce and freeze it, pre-cut veggies, etc...
Fresh wholesome food is really not expensive at all. The expense comes when you go to places like Wholefoods and start buying fancy organic snacks and pre-prepared foods. When was the last time you went broke buying fruits and vegetables?

As for the Bloodpressure and energy issue, well I think the diet issue should fix all that by itself. Eating right really does affect your mind and body in a profound way.
posted by ISeemToBeAVerb at 4:02 PM on May 4, 2007

What do you eat now?

What do you like to eat?

A few general tips:
1. Eat less processed, packaged, pre-made food. It's almost always FULL of sodium. For example, canned soups and sauces = terrible. Delicious, healthy soup is easy to make on your own; you can freeze it and thaw as much as you need for a meal.
2. Eat more veggies and fruit. Prepare veggies by steaming and maybe putting lemon juice on them, don't salt them. Veggies don't have to be expensive, either - see what's on sale at the grocery store. Don't get salty chips and crackers - get apples and carrots, and cut them into slices and put them in the fridge so they're easy to grab a handful of.
3. Eat rice-based dishes. Rice is cheap and can be topped with almost anything -- and as you make the topping you can see how much salt you're adding.
4. Try recording your meals for a week, and writing down the sodium contents from the labels. See where you're taking in the most sodium and cut that out first.
5. Make popcorn -- NOT microwave popcorn, real popcorn -- if you want a snacky snack. You can control how much salt you add.

About exercising:
Make a date with a friend to go to the gym twice a week. Plan it in advance. Then you don't have to decide, on a given day, whether you feel energetic enough -- it's already decided, today is gym day, you have to go.
posted by LobsterMitten at 4:08 PM on May 4, 2007

FWIW, I lived in Seattle for awhile and I recall that fruits and vegetables were actually quite ridiculously pricey. I don't know if it's still that way or not . . .

I was able to find some cheaper veggies in the more open markets of the "little Saigon" area, though.
posted by treepour at 4:09 PM on May 4, 2007

I have never been a morning person, but I realized that the only way I would work out is if I stole the time from my sleep. I try (TRY) to get to bed by 10, read for an hour, then get up at 5:45 and go right to the gym. It helps when I tell myself in the morning " no excuses." It doesn't always work, but it's better than nothing.
posted by GaelFC at 4:10 PM on May 4, 2007

Tell yourself to exercise after a certain class, every time that class meets. Consider it part of class. You may have to do this with multiple classes in order to coerce yourself to going 3x or more weekly. I found that exercising in the morning forced me to wake up.

This is something you may not want to hear, but if you're on the Pill, you need to go off it. I was 22 when I suddenly developed hypertension; they took me off because of the risk of stroke, and six months later, I was back to normal. Yes, it sucks in some ways, but health-wise, it's important.

As for salt, it's useless. That's what spices are for. Spices, beans, and oatmeal, my staples, are all relatively cheap in the bins at the healthfood store, at least here on the East Coast. That way you only get as much as you need, and pound-for-pound it's usually pretty good, as long as you're not getting organic, wild-crafted saffron harvested by virgins.

Like the others have said, dump the processed foods. If you have to conserve time during the week, cook a lot on the weekend and load up the freezer. For example, get dried beans, and get used to soaking them overnight. Once you've hydrated them, any you aren't going to use that day used can be tossed in the freezer and cooked with later. As for oatmeal, I do not advocate the consumption of the mucilaginous paste they sell in packets. Get steel-cut oats from the bins, or the Irish oats at the supermarket. They take longer to cook (10 minutes or 30, depending on how little they are ground), but they are much more filling and better for you because of the fiber.
posted by cobaltnine at 4:13 PM on May 4, 2007

Oh, I meant to add -- you might try The World's Healthiest Foods for ideas on recipes.

If you're used to eating meals, you might also consider eating several smaller portions throughout the day rather than 1 or 2 large meals -- for the simple reason that small "snacks" are generally easier and cheaper to prepare than traditional meals.
posted by treepour at 4:16 PM on May 4, 2007

Since I've started planning out all healthy meals, I've gone from spending $60 per week to $30 per week on food -- for myself and my husband. That's $15 each. Every Sunday, I map out every meal - breakfast, lunch, dinner and a snack. I make sure to eat at least two or three servings of veggies per day, at least two fruits per day, at least one or two proteins (mostly eggs or canned beans), and a bunch of grains (oatmeal, pasta, brown rice, quinoa, bread). For flavor, I buy large quantities of salsa, peanut butter, jam, sour cream, parmesan and marinara sauce (those canned spaghetti sauces are a lot better than you think). I also buy smaller quantities of really good cheese. And once a month or so I spend another $20 to replenish the bulk stuff.

HOWEVER. If all this frugality is really too much, look in to student loans. This is what they're for.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 4:24 PM on May 4, 2007

Actually, see if your university's gym offers a consultation with a personal trainer - they would be able to give suggestions about workouts that will lower your bp.

And see if you university runs weekly classes like yoga etc. Sign up for a class, then you have a "date" in advance to make it to the gym. (Yoga can be really great, a gentle way to start exercising - don't be put off by stereotype - it's not flaky, in most places. You may want to sit out the upside-down poses, though.)

One previous related question

Try giving yourself artificial motivations for the first month. (Rules like: Must go to gym at least twice a week. Must eat at least 4 fruits and veggies a day. No salty snacks at all. Under a certain amount of sodium intake each day, etc. You may find that a calendar where you can check off meeting these goals each day helps.) After a month of eating well and exercising, I bet your energy level will rise, and the good habits will be even easier to keep up.
posted by LobsterMitten at 4:26 PM on May 4, 2007

And yes- beans are great for you and cheap -- but if you're going to eat beans, get dry ones. The canned ones are FULL of sodium.
posted by LobsterMitten at 4:30 PM on May 4, 2007

You can live quite well on that. Here are some suggestions:

1. Cook a chicken at the beginning of the week. Eat the meat for dinner, then for lunch (or in salads). Then take the chicken body and put in a pot with celery, leeks, dill, garlic, onions, and boil until it falls apart. Strain the broth. Add veggies (more celery, carrots, broccoli, califlower) of choice, a starch (potatoes or rice or barley is also nice).

Thats like 8 or 9 meals.

2. Everyone says buy bulk. Bulk what? Brown rice, lentils, pintos, black or aduki beans. Soak beans over night before cooking (except for lentils which you can cook right away). Add flavoriing - some of the broth from the soup or a boulon cube (check to make sure the sodium is not out of control), garlic, cumin, sesame oil, etc. Then leave simmering on the stove for couple hours while you do your homework.

Another 3-5 meals! You can freeze it up too, for later!

3. Go to the local farmers market or chinatown or latino area in your city. I can always get super cheap veggies and fruits there. Buy broccoli, kale, collards, salad greens, tomatos, and fruits.

Leafy textured greens are very nice when sauteed in olive oil (get a big can $20-30, you'll use maybe $1 per week) with garlic. If they too textured, add a bit of water, broth or a bouillon cube with water and cover, it will steam them in a very flavorful way.

4. Buy a nice peace of meat - lamb, beef or pork. Make a stew. I suggest you brown the meat before put it in the oven and adding veggies.

It may seem a little overwhelming, but all of these receipes require about 30 minutes prep and then can be left to cook while you do your homework.
posted by zia at 4:30 PM on May 4, 2007 [3 favorites]

Oh! one more thing. If you don't have time for the gym, get a bike and bike everywhere. Or put your car into retirement and take public transit. If that overwhelming, drive to walkable distance and walk - try to add excercise into your existing daily routine.
posted by zia at 4:33 PM on May 4, 2007

Now is the season to join a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) program. You pay a certain amount of money and a farm will regularly deliver a box of fresh veggies/fruits to your door every month or so, YMMV. Most of them have flexible payment plans as well.

It's a lot more convenient than going grocery shopping where you'll be tempted to buy delicious ice cream. Probably cheaper in the long run too.

There's nothing like grabbing an apple on your way to studio and snacking on that instead of having a questionable hamburger from the Student Union.
posted by idiotfactory at 4:41 PM on May 4, 2007

Here, have a link.
CSA info and locations:
posted by idiotfactory at 4:42 PM on May 4, 2007

1) Don't know anything about you besides your age and your gender, but just make sure whoever made the hypertension diagnosis ruled out other causes of hypertension. It's less common in the young. While even in the young, most hypertension is "essential hypertension" (we don't know what's causing it) there are a number of causes of "secondary hypertension" (things that can cause hypertension) like drugs, narrowing of the kidney's arteries, narrowing of the aorta, kidney disease, thyroid problems, sleep apnea, obesity, etc.

2) Alcohol, nicotine, and caffeine can definitely be implicated, so you should cut those out.

3) Diet and exercise, like other posters have mentioned. The first two weeks of going to the gym will be painful--you'll be very tired--but at some point it'll kick in and you'll have MORE energy than before. Get some good books from the local library and just read while you're doing cardio.
posted by gramcracker at 4:42 PM on May 4, 2007

Also: I think foods with a lot of potassium are extra-good for controlling blood pressure. Bananas and oranges/orange juice are the first that come to mind.
posted by LobsterMitten at 4:58 PM on May 4, 2007

There is a great saturday market at 50th & University Way where you can get nice reasonably priced vegetables. Also, in general, vegetables are a lot cheaper when they are sold with the intention of being used within a day or two. Most ethnic markets fall into this category.

Treat meat as more of a flavoring than a main course. Meat and legume soups and stews are a great was to do this.

As others have suggested, try making walking part of your routine by making it the way you get around (at least sometimes).
posted by Good Brain at 5:21 PM on May 4, 2007

Please, please, please DO NOT try to control your hypertension by making radical lifestyle changes alone. There are drugs, most of them are dirt cheap by prescription-drug standards (e.g., my meds are about $7/month retail), and there are very few side effects. I'm all for making changes, but get the pressure under control first and then work on eating better and exercising more.

At least according to my last few doctors, the connection between sodium and hypertension is murky and complex, and all have said that losing weight and exercising is a much higher priority hypertension-wise (for me, at least) than cutting out salt. So, unless your doc is specifically telling you that you should make eliminating salt a priority, you may want to just focus on exercise for now.

Otherwise...I eat a lot of frozen veggies as something of a baby step towards a healthier lifestyle. While they're not as good for you or tasty as fresh, they're quick, easy, usually low in sodium (but read labels!), cheap (especially if you watch for sales), and much better for you than other quick-microwave-type options. I find that having vegetables and cheap meat in the freezer serves as both a prod to buy more-interesting fresh stuff and a ready replacement for desperation meals like ramen and fast food.

Of course, another pillar of my pantry is a stack of canned vegetarian soups that, were it not for their breathtaking sodium content, would be nutritionally perfect. Another is the six-month supply of All Bran that I bought when it was on sale that actually is nutritionally perfect but tastes like sawdust. And then there's the Triscuits, which claim to be healthy but, really...maybe I shouldn't be answering nutrition questions.
posted by backupjesus at 6:10 PM on May 4, 2007 [1 favorite]

I would like to second the CSA idea. Not just for all the hippy-crunchy reasons, but because getting vegetables delivered forces you to eat them. While it might seem expensive, see if you can start with a small box every other week or something. We've been getting a grab-bag of local veggies delivered for several months and we eat SO much healthier now--particularly when you have to be frugal, you will be motivated to cook and eat the veggies since you've already socked away money for them.
posted by kelseyq at 6:50 PM on May 4, 2007

Response by poster: Thanks for all the great responses!

I signed up for a CSA so we'll see how that goes.

As for trying to control this only with lifestyle changes - that's what my doctor recommended for the next month. If it isn't effective enough, then I get put on drugs.

As for the birth control, yes I'm on it, but it is also the most effective medication for something called PCOS, which I have. So if I go off the pill, I would have to find some other form of birth control plus take a bunch of other drugs to control it.

I'm definitely going to try some of the suggestions for exercising as I realize that is really something I need to do. I'll probably set a regular date to go swimming with my sister.
posted by pontouf at 6:50 PM on May 4, 2007

Vinegar is also a great ingredient to cut the use of salt -- adds a bite to foods without increasing sodium count. (Lemon juice and other acids work similarly.)
I'm also on sodium restriction, and I make my own tomato sauce with very very low sodium. Prego has 580 mg/serving -- more than a quarter of your daily recommended allowance. I use Pomi crushed tomatoes, garlic, olive oil, onion, sugar, oregano, basil, and only as much salt as is absolutely necessary (plus sometimes balsamic vinegar). I end up with around 75 mg for the same sized serving, and enough sauce to last me a month or so. I stick it in the fridge and, when I'm hungry, boil some pasta, then spoon the sauce over the pasta in the dish -- it's hot enough to warm up the sauce, and I have a yummy, healthy meal with very little effort.
Talk to your doctor about potassium-based sodium substitutes; they can be really useful, but they can be problematic for some people.
posted by katemonster at 8:36 PM on May 4, 2007

Find two interesting-looking bean recipes and two interesting rice (pilaf?) recipes. Consider substituting quinoa for rice. Don't spend more than an hour on this part.

Look for a bean recipe with lots of cumin, perhaps. Also consider looking for a low-salt chili recipe.

Shop for ingredients and interesting vinaigrettes. Allocate enough time to find good ingredients, especially seasonings that will be interesting, good for you, and not boring. Maybe another hour. These will last you a while, and if you find something good, it will take very little time to restock since you'll have done the initial research.

Buy a garlic press if you like garlic. Garlic is yummy and isn't salt. I recommend Good Grips brand (if they make one).

Cook a bunch of rice and beans. More beans than rice, because you can have it with bread sometimes. Freeze some for quick reheating later. Allow 1.5 hours of work for this, plus study in the next room while the actual cooking is going on. Make huge batches of something really delicious so you won't resent the time spent. Get a friend to help if you have a friend who is better at cooking this kind of thing than you are.

Eat beans and rice a lot for dinner, and even breakfast sometimes. Season with different vinaigrettes (check ingredients) & lemon juice sometimes.

Buy fresh & frozen vegetables to go with your otherwise somewhat boring beans & [rice or bread]. Also fruit slices (including tomatos). This should transport well to work, too, if you can pack & heat a container full of rice&beans and throw in a salad.

Have lunch out at a restaurant with extremely fresh, wonderful, organic salads at least once a week. Be sure to get dessert if you want it.

Whole thing - very quick, healthy, not too boring, and pretty cheap.
posted by amtho at 9:15 PM on May 4, 2007

Check out - I know it looks like an appallingly cutesy site aimed at disorganized homemakers, but really it is the best time-management tutorial you'll ever find. Everything is free, and she will teach you how to develop healthy habits in all areas of life. Basically, eating well and exercising are all about time management and motivation and flylady is excellent at those two things.
posted by selfmedicating at 5:43 AM on May 5, 2007

I didn't believe people when they told me this, but it's true. Once you get used to exercising, it gives you more energy and you feel pretty lethargic if you don't get enough exercise. I somehow became a runner and lost over 30 pounds and have brought my blood pressure down without a thought to the food end of the equation. Who knew?!
posted by advicepig at 7:25 AM on May 5, 2007

the trick with with getting motivated to exercise is that you schedule your day so that you don't need to get motivated...

the only time you need motivation is when you either need to get up earlier than you have to for class/work or have to get up and leave the house after you've got home...not going to happen!

the way to go then is to take your gym kit with you when you leave the house to go to school/work and exercise on the way home...or during a natural break in your schedule e.g hour to kill between classes or between classes and work....if you try to get up an hour early chances are the extra hour in bed will win every time - at least with me it does :)

you'll find that unprocessed food is much cheaper than processed food. make use of promotions in your produce section. don't overdo white pasta/bread/rice - if fills you up but has nil nutritional benefit and won't get up your energy levels - in fact it will send you straight to sleep. fill up on veg whenever possible. root veg and squashes are cheap, tasty and filling is green leafy veg with a bit of protein - both can be batch cooked and used during the week.

eggs are your friend - you will never be without a meal if you have eggs in the house - omlette is great with a salad. takes no time at all and very cheap.
posted by koahiatamadl at 8:23 AM on May 5, 2007

I don't think anyone's mentioned this yet, but one fantastic side effect of regular exercise is more energy. I know it's really, really hard to force yourself to go to the gym when you're already feeling tired but honestly, once you get there and get moving you will find the energy and all the endorphins you'll be releasing will make you feel more energetic for the rest of the day too. It's tough to take that first step, but it does pay off.
posted by nerdcore at 10:19 AM on May 5, 2007

As for the birth control, yes I'm on it, but it is also the most effective medication for something called PCOS, which I have. So if I go off the pill, I would have to find some other form of birth control plus take a bunch of other drugs to control it.

Actually, birth control pills just cover the symptoms, they do not treat PCOS, alone. Metformin is the medication most women with PCOS are given as it treats the insulin resistance, which then helps your body to regulate the hormones better. Byetta is another option many women with PCOS are now being prescribed.

Hypertension is one of the effects of PCOS. I'm on HCTZ and a low sodium diet for mine (which is PCOS related) and that keeps it down at normal levels. Make sure your doctor knows what they are doing with the PCOS. So many doctors just toss a BCP prescription at you and leave it at that. PCOS is a much more serious disease than that, as it can cause everything from diabetes to uterine cancer to heart disease.

I'm lucky my GYN is connected with a medical college and teaching hospital that has done a lot of research on PCOS and they know there stuff. I wouldn't trust anyone else with it.
posted by SuzySmith at 10:39 AM on May 5, 2007

local food banks in Seattle

If there is one near your school or home, a food bank can really help. also, if you are on a state health plan, you might qualify for food stamps also.
posted by anitar at 11:05 AM on May 5, 2007

More fruits and vegetables and more exercise.
posted by trii at 6:44 PM on May 5, 2007

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