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5 Things to Do to Stay Fit on a Budget in NYC

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It’s easy to see why people think you need to be rich in order to be healthy. Whole Foods is more expensive than McDonald’s. Bally’s Total Fitness costs a hell of a lot more than say, sitting on the couch and shoveling potato chips in your mouth. And those cheap-ass sweatpants from Costco allow your ever-expanding waistline to remain comfortably complacent.

Your budget may be tight, but your pants don’t have to be, too. Follow these simple guidelines for staying fit for (practically) free.

1. Plan healthy meals ahead of time.

Before you go shopping, mentally map out what you’re going to eat for the next few days. You can find healthy, inexpensive recipes at websites like Cooking Light or Food Network. Buy your vegetables and fruit whole. The pre-cut versions are more convenient, but double the price. Ditto for chicken; skip the pricey packaged slices and buy the cutlets in bulk when they’re on sale. You can use what you need and freeze the rest. Nobody hates chopping food more than me–believe me–but I can’t justify the increase in price just for the luxury.

Make a good old-fashioned shopping list before you head out. This way, you can check and see what you already have before you buy something you don’t need. This may sound obvious, but I can’t tell you how many times I’ve come home from the grocery store with a can of breadcrumbs only to find out I already had three in the cupboard. This is especially annoying if your recipe calls for something obscure, like ground cumin, and you buy it not realizing you already had it. Now you have two of something you’ll probably use once every three years.

2. Only buy what you actually want in the house.

I have an unnatural obsession with Doritos. Nacho cheese, cool ranch, buffalo wing and blue cheese, you name the flavor. I don’t discriminate. But I never have Doritos in my house, because I know it’s physically impossible for me to open a bag without inhaling the whole thing. Do I get cravings for Doritos? Of course. But if I know they’re not available, the cravings quickly wane.

Speaking of cravings, here’s a little trick I learned. When you find yourself pining for unhealthy foods, identify what it is about that food that seems so appealing in the moment, and find a suitable substitute. Is it the crunch of the Doritos? Try some baby carrots dipped in hummus instead (trust me, they’re not that bad). Is it the saltiness of the potato chips? A few pretzels will satisfy that craving with a lot less fat.

3. Control your portions.

Until fairly recently, I had a post-dinner habit of grabbing a bag of something I considered a “healthy” snack (pretzels, or maybe Goldfish…hey, the jingle says Mom’s okay with me eating them every day) and plopping down on the couch, munching away while visions of Teen Mom marathons and Yankee games danced across my TV. I paid no attention to how much food crossed my mouth; I figured because what I was eating was “healthy,” it was okay. I did this practically every night, and wondered why I could never lose a few pounds when my clothes got tight.

I  began to realize that I was probably consuming three times the recommended serving size, which meant three times the amount of calories listed on the label. A supposed hundred-calorie snack became…well, you can do the math. Apparently so could my hips.

If you’re hungry and want to snack a little, don’t deny yourself. But do realize that’s why God gave us humans a little something called the bowl. Use it. Dish out the recommended serving size in the kitchen, but tie the bag back up and leave it there. Put it in a locked safe deposit box if you have to.

Bonus: controlling your portions will work wonders on your wallet as well as your waistline. You’ll only have to buy Goldfish a third as much as you had been.

4. News flash: Exercise can be free.

You already pay a shitload for rent in New York City, so why break the bank on your monthly gym payment? I’ll admit, I’m the kind of person who needs to know I’m paying for the opportunity to exercise, otherwise I won’t. But I was none too pleased when they charged me a $40 “convenience” fee in January for the privilege of keeping my monthly fee “down” to $39.95. Apparently it was in the contract, the one that contained more words than War and Peace. Must’ve missed that part.

If your level of motivation is higher than mine, there are plenty of opportunities to exercise for free. Besides the obvious “nature’s treadmill” notion of running in the park, the city offers a host of free exercise classes at Shape Up NYC, and they’re listed by borough. (Even Staten Island.) Classes include aerobics, yoga, Pilates, Zumba, and boot camp.

5. Sacrifice, but not too much.

If you want to shape up, you need to look at your current lifestyle and decide what you’re willing to change. I was willing to give up my evening snack-fest, but I’m not willing to forgo a Friday night happy hour beer binge after a tough week. I’m totally fine if I never set foot in another Burger King for the rest of my life, but expect to lose a limb if you come between me and the buffalo wings during a big game.

Keep your expectations realistic. Your scale (and your bank account) will thank you.

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Elizabeth DiPietro - The Sporty Spendthrift

Elizabeth DiPietro - The Sporty Spendthrift

Liz is born and raised in Queens and dedicates her life to proving that everything you need is right here in New York. A die-hard Yankee fan, Liz spends most of her spare time frequenting bars that offer cheap craft beer and an unobstructed view of a flat screen TV. By day, she passes her admittedly rudimentary knowledge of what it means to be a writer onto her sixth grade students in Bushwick, Brooklyn. Liz now lives with her husband Dave and Siberian husky Sam in Staten Island, strictly for the property value and not the culture. She is currently seeking help for her excessive use of semicolons.