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Final Thoughts on #SurviveOn35

by Meghann on July 25, 2012

Last week Anytime Fitness kicked-off the #SurviveOn35 challenge with the question “Could you survive on a grocery budget of $35 a week?”

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Ten FitFluential bloggers accepted the challenge (myself included) with the guidelines that we had $35 to spend per person, per household, to create healthy meals for the week, and we couldn’t utilize any items from our pantry (spices and oils were ok). We would all be competing for a chance to win a $1,000 donation to a food shelf of our choice. The winners would be selected based on healthiness, taste, creativity, and community interaction.

I started the #SurviveOn35 challenge with $70 and a simple meal plan.

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Here’s how I did.

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$70 (for 2 people!)

21 healthy meals

7 days

Done!

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It took me an hour to create my meal plan and grocery list. Planning 21 meals (+snacks) for 2 people was a challenge just in itself. As I’ve mentioned before, I am not typically a meal planner and I bow down to those who are. Families with kids and picky eaters? You are my heros.

My goal for the week was to keep it simple. Short ingredient meals with lots of fruit and vegetables that were easy to prep. I also went the vegetarian route for most meals, replacing meat with budget-friendly simple proteins such as legumes or eggs.

All of my budget went towards the main meals, meaning there wasn’t much added “junk” or snacks – no money for it. For snacks, I had to get creative, trading in my usual granola bars or pricey handfuls of nuts with simple mini quesadillas, leftover fruit or vegetables, or variations of oats. Oats seemed to be one of the most versatile ingredients I purchased. There also were no desserts. I was able to appease my nightly sweet tooth with granola or fruit, while Derek stuck with granola and milk.

Because of the limited amount of food, I was in constant fear that we would run out. There were times I found myself grabbing simple items such as eggs, bread, or certain vegetables for meals, only putting them back when I remembered those items were needed for meals later in the week. Last night’s final meal was supposed to be a frittata, but the 18 eggs I had purchased were gone before that meal came up in the rotation. It was eye opening to realize how much I take for granted the ability to use what ever I want, knowing we can easily go to the store to grab more.

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You can probably tell from the meals listed that Derek is not a big eater. He usually leaves for work at 8:30 and has coffee at the office. Sometimes he’ll have breakfast before he leaves, but usually doesn’t (this is typical, not just for the challenge). For lunch, he packs two sandwiches (again, typical for any week, not just the challenge) or he’ll have leftovers. He gets home around 6:30ish on most nights, and by then I’ve usually started dinner. He’ll eat what-ever I make, then typically has a bowl of cereal before bed. The only difference for the challenge was I made him portion out his bowl of cereal to make the granola last, otherwise the box would have been gone in three days.

Also, his portions are typically larger than mine, which isn’t always stated in the numbers above. All of the price-per-portion numbers are very rough.

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I had a few comments asking whether this challenge has had any impact on my weight. Since I don’t weigh myself regularly, I honestly do not know. This was probably my “cleanest” week of eats in a long time – and I use the term “cleanest” loosely, as in not a lot of junk, desserts, or dining out, not saying it was all clean, un-processed food.

I did feel my energy levels dip, especially during workouts. The “mini quesadilla” I made before my swim workout on Wednesday night was not enough fuel to get me through the workout. I was complaining of hunger before the swim started and ended up cutting my workout short so I could go home and make dinner. I also found myself eating my lunches earlier (like yesterday), because my breakfast didn’t have enough sticking power to keep me full. I’m not sure what I could have done this challenge if I was training for a major event. Fueling for workouts is tricky, especially when you take nut butters away.

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This challenge was an experiment, and just like any experiment, you can learn and grow from them. I learned that I didn’t buy enough protein. I should have bought a bag of beans in bulk and had larger portions of it through my meals. I learned that I can live without dessert, though I do miss it. I learned that Derek and I rely on eating out way more than I thought we did. I learned I’ve taken for granted my haphazardly way of grocery shopping. Food has always been plentiful in this house, a fact I didn’t appreciate as much as I do now.

I also learned that it is possible to eat healthy on a budget, though it does take extra effort and time – luxuries I know not everyone has.

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The idea behind the #SurviveOn35 challenge developed from Anytime Fitness‘ co-founders’ joint experience on the show, Secret Millionaire. When they appeared on the show last year, they were each handed $35 for food for the week based on an average of what most individuals receive on government assistance (obviously that amount varies all over the country). Their goal was to continue creating healthy – albeit simple – meals through the week with the limited funds. During the show they realized it was indeed a challenge, but not an impossible one.

Once the #Surviveon35 challenge was born, the intentions behind it were noble. Challenge bloggers to create healthy meals on a food stamp budget, and in the end two would win a $1000 donation to a food shelf of their choice. While Anytime Fitness was hoping to simply show that healthy meals are doable on a tight budget, I’m not sure they realized it would do something so much bigger – start a conversation.

If you haven’t already – check out the comments in my kick-off post. Lots of interesting things be said there.

You guys were right. I’m lucky to have the things that I do and there is no escaping those privileges. I live in a great area of town where, no matter which turn you make out of my neighborhood, you are bound to run into a grocery store within two miles. I also have a car full of gas that will take me where I want to be, and a very flexible job that allows me the opportunity to grocery shop whenever I need to.

Even if I give myself a “food stamp” budget, I can’t generalize that it’s the same thing as living off of food stamps. It’s not, and I’ll be the first to admit that. I’ve never had to rely on government assistance for food, and hope  I never do. If you want to check out a #SurviveOn35 challenger that has had to rely on government assistance in the past, check out Mama Dweeb’s post, it puts a few things in perspective.

And while I can sit here and say it is possible to eat healthy on a limited budget, I also have the education and knowledge to do so. I have years of experience of cooking with healthy foods and know how to prep and store them, as well as flavor them to make combos work. I can eat healthy on a budget because I already know how.

The hard truth is that one in seven Americans are on food stamps(source) and if we want them to thrive on the healthy foods out there, we need to give them the tools they need to do so.

That’s why I love that Anytime Fitness has partnered with Cooking Matters, an organization which teaches low-income families how to prepare healthy, affordable meals.

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I might not have the knowledge or resources to understand what it’s really like to cook on a food stamp budget, but these people do. This organization is set-up to teach low-income families how to work healthy meals into their busy schedules, and that’s a cause I can get behind.

I’ve already donated the $50 Derek and I saved this week by not going out to eat. It’s not much, but it’s a start.

Click here to learn more how you can help.

{ 44 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Wendi July 25, 2012 at 5:43 pm

I enjoyed your recap and your honest thoughts on this challenge, Meghann. Very truthful.

Also, I agree when you say Derek isn’t a big eater… that seems like such a small amount of food for a guy.

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2 Anne July 25, 2012 at 5:44 pm

I know you mentioned a lack in protein over the week, but I’d like to add that your fat intake seemed disturbingly low too.

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3 Dana July 25, 2012 at 5:46 pm

I really enjoyed your recap! I want to put myself on a budget but that’s easier said than done. Sigh. One day!
Dana recently posted..A New Galaxy

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4 Molly July 25, 2012 at 5:48 pm

Nice job with the recap post. I like how you showed specific meals for each day. It would have been interesting if you took it one step further by including portions for each. That would allow you to determine if you got the recommended calories/protein/fat/etc each day (though I know you don’t typically track these), as your meals seemed significantly smaller than normal.

Also I think your link to Mama Dweebs post is wrong.

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5 Meghann July 25, 2012 at 5:52 pm
6 Jules July 25, 2012 at 5:54 pm

Kudos for this thoughtful recap… I’m admittedly not always the biggest fan of your posts, but this was well-articulated and both thoughtful and thought-provoking. I’d love to see more posts like this!

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7 Christie July 26, 2012 at 7:26 am

I agree. I thought this post was thoughtful, well-written, and mature. And, quite frankly, a lot more of interesting read than a paragraph about lunch and some pictures of it (which I know is a key part of your blog, but just sayin’…) I want this to come across in a positive, constructive way, so I hope that you read it as such… I think posts like this do a lot to further your blog and make you into an adult writer and blogger. While it can be interesting to read about someone’s daily eats (for awhile- it does get old, IMO), it’s far more interesting to read about someone’s opinions and thoughts and how their daily eats relate to broader issues (like you discuss here). I think these types of posts give your blog greater longevity and help retain audience members who may be growing older and getting a little less interested in pictures of daily eats and exercise…

Keep ‘em coming!

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8 Lauren @ Sassy Molassy July 25, 2012 at 6:04 pm

Great work on the challenge! It definitely sounds tough to do. I often end up running to the store once or twice mid week to pick up things I either want for dinner or to supplement what we already have. Interesting to me how much people are commenting directly on your intake of certain things. I guess opening up the details of each meal lend themselves to such a situation, but wow. And blogging in general.
Lauren @ Sassy Molassy recently posted..Surprise!

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9 Annette @FitnessPerks July 25, 2012 at 6:13 pm

I really liked your thoughts on this post! It would be tough to live like that -because I am not a meal planner, and neither is my husband. It looks like it COULD be possible–but I did like your points that you have grocery stores nearby stocked with the stuff, and you have the knowledge.

Totally love this initiative that they are working with Cooking Matters! SO cool!
Annette @FitnessPerks recently posted..Change Your Thoughts-Change Your Body

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10 Hellonheelshon July 25, 2012 at 6:16 pm

Great way to wrap up the challenge! I enjoyed reading about your creative and affordable meals over the last week. Congrats on finishing successfully! :) What a great cause…
Hellonheelshon recently posted..The Roadrunner Advantage

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11 Silvia @ skinny jeans food July 25, 2012 at 6:20 pm

$5/day is really not a lot of money to feed someone…..
Silvia @ skinny jeans food recently posted..Revisiting baked quinoa zucchini cakes.

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12 Katie @ Peace Love and Oats July 25, 2012 at 6:31 pm

That’s one thing I was thinking during this challenge, that you have the knowledge on how to cook healthy when so many people don’t. It also reminded me of how lucky I am! I don’t think I could fuel my marathon training well on that kind of budget so I am very thankful for all the blessings I have. Thank you for your thoughts on this and for participating! It was great to watch you go through this challenge.
Katie @ Peace Love and Oats recently posted..WIAW–Race Day

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13 Ashley @ Sweat for Sweets July 25, 2012 at 6:39 pm

Looks like you’ve covered off all the bases! I love that you noted the importance of education. Though it may seem possible for you to eat healthy on a limited budget, if someone doesn’t have the knowledge or the tools to prepare meals, it would be much more difficult! Very thoughtful overview of the challenge! :)
Ashley @ Sweat for Sweets recently posted..Birthday Fun

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14 Sonia the Mexigarian July 25, 2012 at 6:42 pm

Very interesting post. I’ll go back and read the previous entries but this is good to know. I really need to meal plan and budget myself for groceries and this would be an good introspective experiment to try. Thanks :)
Sonia the Mexigarian recently posted..The Days Fly By

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15 Kayla Moothart July 25, 2012 at 6:55 pm

I think it is incredibly awesome that you did this! Way to get the word out to help others who are struggling!
Kayla Moothart recently posted..Wednesday Workout

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16 Angela @ Happy Fit Mama July 25, 2012 at 7:13 pm

I would think this challenge was eye opening for anyone involved as well as the readers. Eating healthy on $35/week can be done but there are sacrifices and limitations. Great job on challenge and a well written review.
Angela @ Happy Fit Mama recently posted..Meal Planning

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17 melissa (fitnessnyc) July 25, 2012 at 7:27 pm

Huge congrats on completing the challenge, no matter what resource you have, that has to be so hard. Even just resisting grabbing froyo or meeting a friend for a drink! One of my friends tried to only spend $35 a day on food and couldn’t do it! These posts definitely made me think about how much I spend on food!
melissa (fitnessnyc) recently posted..Madrid Day 2: Palaces, Tapas and Flamenco

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18 Anne July 26, 2012 at 1:29 am

$35 A DAY!?
I hope that’s a typo…

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19 Cait's Plate July 25, 2012 at 7:31 pm

Loved this recap!
Cait’s Plate recently posted..Whipped Chocolate Biscoff Milkshakes

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20 Fridick July 25, 2012 at 7:35 pm

I just added up Tuesday’s calories with two different calorie calculators, and generous estimates (like 1/2 c. hummus and full fat yogurt) and you came in under 1000 calories.
With your level of activity, your maintenance level alone has got to be close to double that.
Most people would eventually starve to death on that diet.
How is this thriving, or informative on how people “should” eat on a budget?

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21 Meghann July 29, 2012 at 10:39 pm

Tuesday was the last day of the challenge. I admitted to running out of food, and not having enough to make what I originally planned. This was my first time attempting a challenge of this sort and I admitted to not being perfect at it. I even admitted to making my dinner early because I was hungry. I never said this is how people “should” eat on a budget. It was merely an example, an example that has flaws. Even if the calories were low for that particular day, I still had food to eat and stick by the majority of the meals for the remainder of the week. Again, this was not perfect, but I never said it was.

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22 Nina July 25, 2012 at 7:55 pm

Congrats on completing the challenge! I’m not sure if this was on purpose but it was hilarious, “Lots of interesting things be said there.” :-)

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23 Nicole of Raspberry Stethoscope July 25, 2012 at 7:57 pm

I think spending less on food is kind of dumb. People need to focus on spending more for high quality, clean food, and cut back on other aspects of life.
Nicole of Raspberry Stethoscope recently posted.."Angie" and 6 months CrossFit

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24 Ali July 26, 2012 at 11:49 am

What you seem to be forgetting is that a lot of people are on such a tight budget they can’t afford to “cut back on other aspects of their life” in order to spend more money on high quality food. For a lot of people there is simply no where to cut back from as they live on such small salaries. It is not “dumb” to spend less on food, it is an unfortunate reality for some people.

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25 Stephanie July 25, 2012 at 8:09 pm

This challenge seems difficult. Not only to try and live off that budget, but to eat healthy- food and calories. I think the greatest thing to come from this is, I can’t believe people do it. I can’t imagine how hard it would be to have to go to school, or to work hungry and have to find the energy to do what is being asked. Great review.
Stephanie recently posted..Ramey’s meat…oh the goodness

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26 Sara@RunningInPinkProject July 25, 2012 at 8:17 pm

This was a great recap and I really enjoyed reading your posts this week. It is amazing how much we all take for granted in terms of grocery buying and dining out. Welcome back to the world of nut butters! :D
Sara@RunningInPinkProject recently posted..The Million Dollar Question

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27 Katie @ Talk Less, Say More July 25, 2012 at 8:25 pm

I really found this challenge interesting and I love how each blogger took it on in a different way and made it work for their lives (to the best of their abilities). I love how each of them made note of how lucky they are to live and eat the ways that they do. And I absolutely love how you and Derek donated the money you would have spent on groceries to a good cause. So inspiring. Thank you for sharing!
Katie @ Talk Less, Say More recently posted..What I Ate Wednesday

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28 Sam @ Better With Sprinkles July 25, 2012 at 8:34 pm

You did great with the challenge – it certainly did not look easy. And it was incredibly eye-opening as to how difficult it is to live on that sort of budget. This is a great way to get the word about the cause – all the participants did fantastic!
Sam @ Better With Sprinkles recently posted..Last Supper

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29 Misty @ The Family Math July 25, 2012 at 8:46 pm

I’m admittedly not a huge fan of the concept of this challenge, but I’ve enjoyed reading along to see what you have learned. I think it’s great that this made you think about the things you take for granted and the challenges poor people face.

One thing in this post I would question (and someone else mentioned this in the comments): Would you necessarily consider having an amount of food that didn’t really fuel your regular daily activities to be “eating healthy?” The average person on food stamps might not have the workout routine you follow but would be more likely to have a job that involves heavy labor or standing for long periods.

Just some more insight into why some people who are on this type of food budget may go for cheaper processed foods with more calories.
Misty @ The Family Math recently posted..When it’s time to change …

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30 Kelsie July 25, 2012 at 9:14 pm

I had an interesting time following a few of you doing the challenge. It seems as though it is possible to purchase healthy foods for 35 dollars, but I don’t see a single day where you had the recommended amount of calories given your exercise habits. A humbling experience, perhaps. Healthy, not so sure.

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31 Claire July 25, 2012 at 9:56 pm

I have to say that while I’ve definitely challenged you in the comments a few times and don’t always agree with you, I really, really respect you for doing this challenge and writing this post. Y0u’ve obviously weighed the pros and cons of the challenge and understand its limitations; you also have some insightful thoughts about living on a budget. Very impressive and informative – thank you! I also want to thank you for leaving your comments open and encouraging dialogue. Doing so makes your blog interesting!

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32 Anne P July 25, 2012 at 10:28 pm

Great post and recap of the experience. I’m impressed that you were able to make it work for $35/week! Great discussion of resources/knowledge that you have that others might not, as well. Thanks for sharing!

xo
Anne P recently posted..Lululemon Run Club & Georgetown Boot Camp

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33 Stephanie July 25, 2012 at 10:37 pm

Another blog that I read regularly did a fantastic job on a similar challenge – seems like she was able to buy everything she needed for healthy, well rounded meals and only ended up spending less then $60 to feed her and her husband for a week. I was so amazed by it to be honest, to think that eating on such a small budget but still staying healthy really is possible even though I know so many people advocate that it is not. So awesome :) Oh, she also posted nutritional stats on their eats too, would be interesting to see yours as well. Great job!
http://anutritionisteats.com/thoughts-on-the-snap-challenge/

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34 Sloane @ Life Food and Beer July 25, 2012 at 10:59 pm

I make a meal list and roughly follow it each week. Me and my fiance have a food budget of $100 each week total. I do not have a problem staying under my budget, but I also wait to buy meats when they are on sale. Budgeting takes time and I think that is the problem for most people. I, also, think some people use the excuse eating healthy is to expensive but really they do not want to put forth the effort. Awesome post!!
Sloane @ Life Food and Beer recently posted..What I ate Tuesday on Wednesday

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35 Jessica July 25, 2012 at 11:31 pm

I just feel I need to throw my 2 cents in..Food Stamps in the States of Florida, Georgia and North Carolina, for a family of five (two adults and three children), I received roughly $770 a month, roughly $40 per person per week. I made three healthy, well-balanced meals, plus snacks, for my family every day and had money to spare at the end of each month. You do not have to have a formal education, just some common sense, to do this. It can be done. Where there’s a will, there’s a way.

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36 Khushboo July 26, 2012 at 12:31 am

Great job on the challenge rounded up by an interesting, well-written recap :)!
Khushboo recently posted..Hey It’s Okay: Hashtag Editon

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37 Army Amy* July 26, 2012 at 12:43 am

I would be curious to know if you could sustain this diet for a few more weeks, months, a year. Over time, you would probably learn more and get the hang of it, but would the challenges of eating like that long term impact your health (physical, mental, emotional) overall?*
Army Amy* recently posted..Living Outside The (Healthy) Zone

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38 Elisabeth July 26, 2012 at 2:14 am

This post basically agrees with what I said in my comment on the original post – that if the bloggers (and maybe some of their readers) gain some new appreciation for the lifestyle they’re privileged to have, the challenge was worth it. I know some of the comments did not agree with the challenge, but it sounds to me like you definitely got ‘something’ out of it – a new perspective, a new appreciation for your situation, whatever you want to call it. It also sounds like you definitely realized how difficult (and time consuming) it can be to eat on a low budget & that it’s not just about the money for the food (it’s knowledge about healthy foods, healthy cooking & baking abilities, availability of grocery stores/markets, transportation, time to plan & shop, etc). Way to go for doing this challenge & sharing everything involved/what you learned! :)

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39 Tiff @ Love Sweat and Beers July 26, 2012 at 7:46 am

Good for you! It sounds rewarding, but it also sounds like a lot of work!
Tiff @ Love Sweat and Beers recently posted..What I Didn’t Eat Thursday

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40 Becky @ runfundone July 26, 2012 at 9:38 am

I’m not going to lie…I found the challenge to be offensive. I grew up in the inner city, and find nothing more offensive than rich kids trying to understand what it’s “like” to be poor by doing things like this for a week. Beyond that, I feel like the project almost says, “Oh hey, look! Stop complaining about being poor! You can eat healthy on nothing!” Which is just not a) true or b) kind. Quite frankly, the families that I know who are on food stamps are typically single-parent families where the parent works 2 minimum-waged job. They don’t have time to plan out a grocery list or prep meals. Plus, they have to do this for more than a week. They can’t reduce their calories for 1 week with the plan to have more calories the next. It doesn’t work that way.

That being said, I appreciate your thoughts on how difficult it was for you…hopefully it gets the message out that “Hey, it’s possible to eat healthy with minimal $$, but it’s really, really hard.” Anytime Fitness could have just donated the $$ without having this silly challenge. So I’m hoping that somehow economically disadvantaged people benefited from this game. Right now I just can’t figure out how it benefited people who actually have to survive on food stamps…and that’s probably what I find most disappointing about the entire project.
Becky @ runfundone recently posted..Try Something New Thursday: My First Running Relay

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41 Angela @living badass July 26, 2012 at 10:03 am

I am sorry to say that most of the people that have been commenting on your challenge are ignorant. I feed my whole household (three adults, two of them being very hungry physically active corpsmen) on my “meager” $200 allotment of food stamps which is what they usually give to one person. It is difficult to even spend the entire $200. Our meals do not lack in calories; we are far from starving. They also happen to be healthy. Shopping smart really is not that time consuming. Are you telling me that someone can’t take an hour out of their day to look at the weekly grocery ads? I refuse to buy something unless it is on sale for a good price. I understand that doing the challenge for a week was difficult because you couldn’t use pantry items, but its also unrealistic in that aspect because you acquire food over time. I swear your readers up in their ivory towers are always looking for a fight and think they know about these things because they read about it on the internet.

Anyways, Meggy, I thought you did a great job on the challenge even if the haters say otherwise.

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42 amyt July 26, 2012 at 1:58 pm

Nicely done – thank you for sharing!!
amyt recently posted..Buffalo Chicken Wraps

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43 CaitlinHTP July 26, 2012 at 2:54 pm

I think you did a great job with this post and challenge. Obviously this is a controversial topic but I think you tackled it with maturity!

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44 lauren July 26, 2012 at 4:48 pm

Wow, great job sticking with the challenge! I really appreciate your well written recap, it is clear you put a lot of thought into it. You really covered all the bases and showed an awareness of this issues that many face, while also acknowledging how lucky you are. You really got me to think a bit, and I like that. Keep it up!

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