There are two barriers which come up often, when people are looking to lose weight. It’s how to lose weight on a budget and busy schedule.
Being a broke student in London, I can say I have done this well.
Around 2/3 of students gain 1-6kg (2.2-13.2lbs) in their first year. (1)
This is usually down to stress, lack of time and poor food choices. The university environment is primed for weight gain. (2)
But if I’m able to lose a significant amount of weight, during my time and not break the bank, it goes to show it is possible.
There’s this perception that it’s more expensive to eat healthy, which can be true to an extent.
People also claim not to have the time to exercise either.
Both these points are fair points. But with a little planning, eating healthy can be a lot cheaper. With a little creativity you don’t need much time to exercise. In fact exercise is not needed for losing weight.
This isn’t just students, anyone can learn how to lose weight on a budget and busy schedule.
In this post, il go over all the small changes you can do to learn how to lose weight on a budget and busy schedule.
Health food myths
This has to be the biggest barrier I know to eating healthy on a budget. Or when people are looking at how to lose weight on a budget and busy schedule.
One problem being, people think they need to stop eating their favourite foods to lose weight.
Influencers and celebrities like to go on about the latest superfoods they’re eating or how all their food is grass-fed and organic.
Im not saying these foods are bad, but they’re not better than conventional foods.
I worry most people look at these health fad foods and think they can’t justify spending the money on them, so won’t bother at all trying to eat healthy.
I call it the “Why should I bother at all” feeling.
Health fad foods
Il talk about the origin of these health foods, the benefits and if they are worth pursuing.
Different parts of the world have different definitions of organic. But in essence it’s food grown without or less fertilisers and chemicals etc.
From a nutritional standpoint, there is very little evidence to suggest you would benefit from switching from conventional to organic. (3)
As for taste a lot of people that go organic, say it tastes better. But when people are blind tested, the results usually show people can’t tell the difference. (4)
In my nutrition degree, our lecturer had us do blind tasting of organic and non organic. Not a single one if us could tell the difference.
Even if there were a slight benefit in organic fruits and veg, by having slightly more vitamins. In the bigger picture, it’s going to be so minuscule, it’s not worth worrying about.
So, if you want to buy organic and have the money, knock yourself out. But if you’re looking to stick to a budget, save your money and not bother.
Im not saying either is right or wrong, im saying you should never feel bad for not opting for organic.
A little caveat, I am a fan of supporting small local business. So by all means support your local farmer if they grow organic goods. But you need to fill your vessel first. So if that’s not an option, conventional is just as good.
Grass fed/free range
Nutrtionally wise they aren’t much different.
Grass-fed might have a little more omega 3. But nobody should be trying to get their omega 3 from beef or butter.
You’re far better off getting it from oily fish or fish oil. You’d have to eat a tonne of beef for it to make much of a difference.
Grass fed beef might also have a little less fat. But you can go for skinless chicken instead, which will also save a lot more money. (5)
Trying to get omega 3 from beef and butter is like trying to get your fruit intake from drinking wine. It misses the wood from the trees.
Regular meat is just fine, nutritionally. Id much rather you used the money you saved on eating more fruit and veg.
Like with organic food, I think supporting local farmers is great. So if you have the money to buy grass fed beef from them then do it. But if not don’t worry.
Superfoods are a made up term. They don’t exist. No food is inherently good or bad. If you ask me, its a genius marketing term.
Avocado’s, Quinoa, Gogi berries and Extra virgin coconut oil. You know the foods I mean.
The foods that end up in an Instagram Influencers smoothie bowl.
It’s this idea they can beat cancer, lose you weight and prevent illness. Food can’t do that. Food is food, food is not medicene.
Again these foods aren’t bad. But you don’t need these overpriced foods to have a healthy diet.
Food is comprised of vitamins and minerals. Different foods have them in different amounts. For optimum health, we need to get enough of these vitamins and minerals per day. This doesn’t happen from eating one food. This happens from having a rich dietary variety. (6)
Peanut butter, pasta, strawberries and olive, can be just as good if not better, for a fraction of the cost. Compared to buying foods which have pretentious names.
Instead of blowing money on fancy ingredients to be healthy or lose weight, these alternatives will do just as good a job, if not better in some cases.
Frozen fruit and veg
Frozen fruit and veg are amazing. They are cheaper, they require little to no prep at all. They last forever, so you don’t have to worry about them going off. They are super versatile too. Whats not to love?
Unfortunately they get looked down on, because they’re not promoted by influencers and seen as bad, because they come from the frozen aisle.
Whats even more interesting study after study shows, frozen holds more nutrients compared to fresh. So you might get a small benefit from going frozen. (7)
Fresh vegetables get transported and stored in warehouses, so lose a bit of that nutritonal content. Whereas frozen gets frozen very soon after picking, so hold its nutrients for longer.
If your fruit or veg comes from the garden or allotment, that’s a different story but from shops, frozen might have a small advantage.
Timewise they are also great. Instead of chopping and boiling etc.
You can get a microwavable steamer and burn them in their for 5-10 minutes and have nutrias steamed veg.
When making curries, Bolognese or srifries, you can through them straight in the pan. This saves so much time, waste and cleaning up.
With fruits, they can get chucked into desserts or added to smoothies instantly.
Just because it’s from the frozen department doesn’t make it bad. If anything I think its the smart choice to make.
The only downside is, some vegetables might taste better fresher. I personally don’t care, I only eat veg for the benefits. Otherwise, you might need to experiment and see which you prefer and have a mix.
Eat what you prefer, that way you’d eat more. Eating any vegabtales is better than eating no vegetables.
Tins and cans
Tins and cans also get frowned upon some reason.
Like frozen food, they also keep in more nutrition than fresh and also last forever.
I’m a big fan of canned fish. We should all be looking to consume two portions of oily fish per week (unless allergic). Oily fish can be expensive and a faff to cook. Luckily you can get all kinds of fish in cans. Tuna, Salmon, Mackerel and sardines to name a few.
I am also a big fan of tinned fruits. Pears, peaches and pineapple are my favourites. Try opt for fruit in juice instead of syrup if you can.
Beans and pulses are full of nutrients, especially fibre. The best thing is you don’t need to soak them. If their baked beans you can microwave them in 2 minutes. Other types of beans and pulses can be chucked in stews and curries, alongside frozen veg of course.
Frozen meat and fish
You can get big bags of frozen chicken really cheap. All you need to do is let it sit in the fridge and defrost overnight. Same with fish, salmon and tuna once defrosted taste great.
The only word of caution when buying frozen chicken, make sure it is 100% chicken n the back of the package and not chicken injected with water to make it look bigger. To be honest it still tastes okay, but there’s no point paying for extra water.
So do check the package.
Packet foods, such as rice, pasta, couscous are super cheap. You can buy enough to last you a month for very little. Same with bags of potatoes, something I lived on at University.
Obviously going for the wholemeal options will give you more fibre. But lets be honest brown rice is hideously disgusting. I mix and match, I buy white and wholemeal pasta, the same with bread.
The days I have the white versions, I have a little more vegetables to make up for the fibre. Pretty simple.
Go to the supermarket
The first mistake lots of people make is buying the majority of their food from the local convenience store. It may be more convenient distance and time-wise, but not for your wallet. Following these tips will allow you to save money and eat well.
This especially for students. At university our large supermarket was a 20 minute walk away, the convenience store was next door.
Most students would always opt for the convenience store. A lot of the products in the convenient store would be double the price.
If you have no plan for the week and buying on impulse, you could easily burn through twice as much as you would in a larger supermarket.
What if I cannot get to the supermarket?
I understand not everyone is able to get to the supermarket for whatever reason.
If that’s the case, I recommend doing an online shop.
If anything I have found shopping online to be cheaper for me. The reason being I can add up how much im spending as I add it into the online cart.
When shopping in person, first I am estimating how much im spending. The second issue I have is that I’m a sucker for impulse purchases, which do add up.
Shopping online kills two bird with one stone in that respect.
Another benefit is I can spend more time deciding what I want, checking the nutritional content too. In supermarkets, I feel rushed, especially when it’s busy. Also, any excuse not to drive and find a parking space is a winner for me.
What if I’m a student who doesn’t buy enough to justify the minimum price of an online shop?
These are two other things I used to do.
- Find a flatmate you can split the cost with. This is self explanatory and saves on delivery cost. Make sure its someone reliable and that you can trust.
- Get a granny trolley. I used to laugh at my flatmate who shopped with her granny trolley. But I decided to get one and wow. They carry so much shopping and its so much easier to cart on wheels, compared to carrying it all on a backpack. If you enjoy the walk 10/10 would recommend.
Have a plan
Failing to plan is planning to fail, or something like that. It’s kinda true though. If you go in with a plan instead of shooting from the hip, you’ll save time and money.
Before you head out, or log on. Go check your cupboard, check the fridge and check the freezer.
Have a rough plan of what you’re going to eat that week.
Trust me, this will save you a lot of time and money. It will definitely save you making lots of just incase purchases, only for you to realise you had the stuff at home.
Meals don’t need to be extravagant, the simpler the better in my opinion.
Buy in bulk
One thing I see students do wrong (wrong might be the wrong word), but where they waste a lot of money. This is buying foods individually or in small packs.
Buying foods in bulk may cost more in the short run, but will save you more in the long run.
Buying multiple cartons of milk for example, usually is cheaper per unit. You can use one and freeze the other. Larger bags of rice, oats and pasta are cheaper in bulk. This will serve as the base of most your meals throughout the week.
When it comes to meat. I tend to avoid red meat and stick with poultry.
Do I think red meat is bad? No. But poultry is far cheaper, has a lot less calories and saturated fat. So for me it’s a no brainer.
When buying poultry, don’t go for the small packages of chicken breast, unless they are on offer, then buy as many as you like. If they are not on offer they are very expensive.
Either buy it frozen, like I said earlier. Or buy large containers of chicken breasts or skinless thighs and freeze a load. The other option is buy whole chickens. They are a lot cheaper, all you need to do is throw on some seasoning and roast a few at once and that should last the week.
If you want to supplement with protein powder, this is definitely cheaper in bulk. Also all sites that sell powder always have some discount code, so take advantage of that.
When it comes to learning how to lose weight on a budget and busy schedule. Learning how to cook and prep your food is vital. Not only for taste, but cooking can be very time consuming and any shortcuts will be helpful.
Basic cooking skills
I heard some stat that a lot of people my age lack basic cooking skills. If you want to learn how to lose weight on a budget and busy schedule. This will be helpful, like really helpful.
You don’t need to be Gordon Ramsay, but mastering some basics will make the world of difference. Small things like slicing and sautéing onions helps a lot. Once you’ve mastered these, the rest falls into place.
I plan to upload some videos on here in the future, showing the basics of what you need to be able to cook and eat anywhere.
But in the meantime the BBC Goodfood website, has a list of basics, which I believe will make cooking a lot easier.
Don’t get me wrong, ready meals have their place. There’s also some really amazing food prep companies that will prop deliver nutritious food for you. These options are a little pricier however. If you got money to burn, choose them.
But I do think the basic skills are good to have and you never know when you might need them.
Basic cooking utensils
You don’t need to kit your kitchen out with the latest gear. You just need a few basics so you’re able to eat nutritious food, without fuss and breaking the bank.
Here’s a list of kitchen utensils that’ll make you’re life easier.
- Knives -Self-explanatory.
- Knife sharpener – The one thing worse than no knives, is blunt knives. Keep them sharp.
- Frying pan and saucepan – Saucepans to boil pasta, rice, eggs and veg. Frying pan to brown meat and fry eggs to make omelettes.
- Wok – Strifries is a godsend. They taste great and are nutritious. The best thing is, you brown your meat, add veg, then rice or noodles. I can’t think of anything easier. They are also great for making curries.
- Microwavable steam pots– These are amazing. You can steam veg, fresh or frozen in minutes. You can steam potatoes. You can even steam chicken fish and rice in these things.
- Smoothie blender – It doesn’t need to be a fancy one. But smoothies are a great way to add lots of neutron into your diet. You can add veggies like spinach to up your fibre and a protein powder to boost your protein intake, without the hassle of cooking a full meal.
These are the main things, I’m sure there’s others, but these will be enough to get you started.
They’re a few ways batch cooking can help when looking at how to lose weight on a budget and busy schedule.
Im not talking about the old school, chicken, rice and broccoli in Tupperware 7 days a week for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
But having some pre prepped food is very useful.
It can something simple as making five lots of stirfry so you have enough lunches throughout the week.
Making a large stew or casserole to see you through the week.
The more you can make in advance the less cooking ir work you’ll beed to do throughout the week.
Also saves on washing and water.
I know this may sound obvious to some, but this can make life so much easier.
A little something I used to do when I was at uni, was always make double portion dinners.
The other half would go straight into a container and be my lunch.
This worked well with foods such as pasta and rice etc.
Store cupboard essentials
To make all this stuff easy, you’re going to need some various essentials in your cupboard. These are what I would always have at hand.
- Tins of fish (Tuna)
- Cans of beans
- Various seasonings
- Stock cubes
- Porridge oats
- Peanut butter
- Chocolate spread
- Olive oil (1 calorie oil spray is also great)
- Tinned fruit
- Pasta sauces
- Skimmed milk
- Low fat, high protein yogurt
- Protein powder
- Frozen fruit
- Frozen vegetables
- Ketchup, Light mayo, Barbecue sauce & Chilli sauce
These are foods you’ll always find in my cupboard and what I believe to be a great base to work from. Nothing is pretentious or breaks the bank. There’s no need for fancy a meal plan or specific diet plan. Healthy food can be simple.
As I said these are foods I always have. It doesn’t have to be these foods. I’m showing these as they form a solid base, showing that healthy eating and healthy foods do not need to be complicating.
Now we have the nutrition myths out the way. We also have the basics of how to shop on a budget covered too.
We can now get into how we can manipulate our nutrition to lose weight.
When it comes to losing weight or learning how to lose weight on a budget and busy schedule. This is the only thing that fundamentally matters.
If you can get yourself in a negative energy balance, you will lose weight. (8)
Your body needs to consume fewer calorie than you burn. It sounds simple, but it’s not easy.
This doesn’t require fancy or magic foods, the list of foods I listed above are more than adequate.
You will feel hungry, you’ll feel sluggish, you’ll probably get irritable at times. That’s why it’s important to have a strategy, to help combat these feelings. IK wrote an article about how dieting flexibly, will get you the best results.
99% of people diet rigidly and fail. Dieting flexibly has been proven to give superior results. So I recommend you open that article in the next tab ready to read.
First of all you’ll want to use my calorie calculator. This will give you a rough estimate of the calories you burn.
Then you want to reduce that number by 10-25% and eat at that for 2 weeks. If you lose weight, great. If not reassess and try again.
After energy balance you want to be getting enough protein.
This prevents muscle being lost. When losing weight, you only want to lose fat.
I wrote about the difference between weight loss and fat loss, and why you want to be focusing purely on fat loss.
To prevent muscle loss, you want to be aiming for 1.6g of protein per kg of target bodyweight. So if you’re aiming to weigh 80kg, you want to aim for 128g of protein per day. (9)
Preferably this would be split evenly throughout the day.
How do I track this?
I think it’s a good idea to track your nutrition for a period of time. Most people don’t realise how much they eat. Even dieticians underestimate how much they eat. I definitely do too.
I don’t think its healthy to track your nutrition for the rest of your life, but its definitely a good educational process.
For at least a month, preferably three. I recommend you use an app to track your calorie and protein intake, so you know how much you need to hit your goal.
I recommend Myfitnesspal, as the database has practically every food known to earth. But there are other apps out there.
I wouldn’t over think your eating patterns or anything like that.
If you want six meals a day have six. If two meals is easier have two.
Technically exercise isn’t needed to lose weight. Actually relying on exercise alone to lose weight, is inefficient and pretty much useless. (10)
Exercise does come with other lots of other benefits though.
When losing weight, the most important reason to exercise is to sustain and build muscle. Thats done through resistance training. If you don’t use your muscles, your body will burn them.
The nice things is when looking how to lose weight on a budget and busy schedule, you don’t need a fancy gym membership.
If you can do only 1 exercise, this would be it. Resistance training, is what you need to keep and build your muscles.
If you want to look good and be in shape, resistance training is the most important exercise you can do. (11)
Do you need gym access? Don’t get me wrong if you want the best access to equipment, it helps.
But you don’t need it.
You can get amazing results if you bought a set of kettlebells. I wrote an article on how to lose weight with kettlebells.
I also wrote an article on how to get the best out of using resistance bands.
When it comes to resistance training don’t over think it. Theres no magic formula, doing something his better than nothing.
At home you can do two resistance training sessions per week, in your home in under half an hour. Which is great for those on a busy schedule.
NEAT stands for Non Exercise Activity Themogensis. This is all the unconscious movements you doing which are not exercise.
This accounts for walking, fidgeting and cleaning for example.
Looking at ways to increase your NEAT, can allow you to burn a significant amount more calories per day. (11)
People focus on cardio. But you can only do cardio for so long. But most of us are awake for 18 hours per day. It makes more sense to find ways to burn calories throughout the whole 18 hours you’re awake.
You don’t need cardio to lose weight. In fact I didn’t do much cardio when I lost weight.
If you focus on resistance training and NEAT, cardio will be the icing on the cake.
But if for whatever reason, you don’t want to resistance train and you can’t increase your NEAT. I do believe any exercise is better than no exercise.
So if you want to go running or do some fitness video on YouTube for exercise, that’s fine too.
But I would focus on the other 2 first if I had the choice.
When people look how to lose weight on a budget and busy schedule. They tend to overcomplicate things.
I know it’s easier said than done. But the simpler you can keep things the easier it is.
There’s no need for superfoods or going organic. Or fancy exercise routines. The less oily things you can think about the better.
A caloric deficit, adequate protein, working your muscles consistently. Do this for a long boring amount of times and you will get the results you want.
I know it’s not sexy, but these are the secrets on how to lose weight on a budget and busy schedule.
Josh is a Registered Associate Nutritionist, with the Association for Nutrition (AFN). He completed his degree in Nutrition at the University of Roehampton in 2021. He passed with a First Class with Honours.
Josh is also a tutor for up-and-coming Personal Trainers, where he teaches a Level 4 Advanced Nutrition course. This is for Personal Trainers looking to upskill their nutrition knowledge. This is done at Norfolk Health & Fitness.