Fitness and food on a dime. Or Two.

Keeping fit doesn’t have to be expensive.

I once had a student in a cooking class who lost 120 pounds in 8 months never counting a calorie, ever being hungry and she loved the vegan food. She couldn’t work out because she had multiple myeloma, one of the more fatal forms of cancer. It is a kind of bone cancer and her bones were very fragile from the start. (Why don’t more docs recommend a vegan diet for weight loss??)

While it is possible to lose weight on a vegan diet without exercising, my experience as a personal trainer, running coach and runner is that exercising can really help fast track weight loss.

In these tought economic times, exercising on a budget can be a challenge. Here are some ideas.

If you belong to a gym, inquire about existing fitness center discounts.
Some of the biggest gym membership deals come from corporate accounts. Many companies, even small ones, make deals with local gyms.
Insurance companies also often offer discounts or some, like Humana, even pay for entire gym memberships. Companies understand that healthy employees cost a lot less in insurance claims and have less absenteeism.
Another option is part-time gym memberships. If you have a flexible schedule and are willing to avoid the peak times of early mornings and evenings, you might find full gym access at a fraction of the cost. In Florida, it’s common to find discounts during the non-peak season when snowbirds are not here.
A home gym is another possibility. When I moved to Florida, I couldn’t take my gym with me and sold it for a song on E-Bay. I was amazed how quickly the buyer came and disassembled it. Craig’s List and garage sales are other great sources of used equipment…whether it’s from simple bar bells to a stacking weight set.

Other options include a TRX training system. It is a portable gym made out of strong nylon straps. It is geared toward all training levels and costs about $200. Because I’ve always been a fitness freak, I ordered one of these, but returned it. I didn’t feel completely secure with the way it attached to our somewhat loosely hinged doors. But some people swear by them. It is very portable and can be attached to playground equipment or other similar structures.

For the best deal on the block, free weights are always great. All the big box and sporting goods stores sell them. Or check Amazon and Overstock for good deals. You might even pick up a DVD to go along with them. There are many, but my favorite, effective weight training DVD’s are Joyce Vidral’s. I was amazed to find how similar her DVD’s were to the personal training certification books and instruction I received. A bench to do the exercises on can be obtained for $20, but a mat on the floor, or a plush carpet will suffice for the basics.

Another great resource is Play It Again Sports. I bought a new elliptical machine there. But they are best known for selling used or discounted new equipment. It’s very hit or miss depending on the season and what they have in stock. If you get tired of your elliptical, it’s a great place to trade it in for something different.
While we’re talking cheap, a food tip. I have lots of great tips in my book, but one is buying in bulk. My favorite aisle is beans and grains. The largest bag of beans I could find in Bradenton is a 20 pounder. But even if you don’t get that size (lifting it will give you a great workout!), the larger bags provide a fourth cup of beans for just a dime! Compare that to 4 ounces of hamburger meat at $.70-$.80 a serving (and that’s for the 30% fat variety). Even if you’re not vegetarian, this is a great way to substitute a few meals a week to save money.

My recent blood work came back. Cholesterol: 160 as it usually is on a plant-based diet. The nurse probed, “Remind me again, what are you on? You’re on Lipitor, right? You must be taking something. What supplements/meds are you taking?” When I told her I was “on” plants, she asked if I’d bring in my book. I highly recommend you say that you’re “on” plants too…one blood work result at a time. wink
Finally, because I’ve been challenged by vegan Austin firefighter and author of “The Engine 2 Diet,” Rip Essystyn, to a plank-holding contest, I’m now trying to get back up to my 6-minute planks. I wowed the kids and adults with some of those at the Manatee High (Bradenton, FL) cross-country team practice last year where I’m an assistant volunteer coach. Rip told me that longest he has ever held a plank was 5 minutes…for the fire department.
Rip wrote “The Engine 2 Diet” after he successfully got his about-to-be-fired high cholesterol scoring fellow firefighters to lower their levels on a plant-based diet. I don’t know if we’ll really get a chance to make good on the challenge when our paths cross at VegFest food events where we’re both scheduled to speak. But it is fun trying.
Need restaurant tips? I’m fond of saying I live between 2 fishing piers…so if I can do it, anyone can. wink Generally, I stick with salads and order sides. If it is a place that has no clue what “vegan” or “vegetarian” means, I say, “I have an allergy to dairy and I don’t eat meat.” I learned that at Disney once when I said that for the first time and the head chef came out with a clipboard reading a statement about that their equipment comes in contact with meat etc. I figured that “please-don’t-sue-us” approach really got through. So that’s why I still use it if I don’t want to launch into defining vegan for the wait staff. Though I often do. wink Also, there are some great sites like Happy Cow where you can enter your zip code and they’ll come up with restaurants. Feel free to post your favorite vegan restaurant recommendation sites here.

Ellen Jaffe Jones is the author of  “Eat Vegan on $4 a Day.” She is a nationally certified AFAA personal trainer and RRCA running coach. She can be reached at on this site or at