Guest blog: Trying to maintain active lifestyle with only $4.56/day (SNAP Challenge)

Roughly 72 hours earlier (from the date I started this blog), I began Day 1 of the SNAP Challenge (aka Food Stamp Challenge).

Let’s be clear: I’m not trying act as if I’d understand what it’s really like to live a life of poverty where living on food stamps is only part of the struggle. I chose to test the challenges of poverty and nutrition. This wasn’t about ‘surviving’ a week; this was about getting the most nutritional bang for my buck, seeing what I could do, and learning from that.

The rules were simple:

  • Live on $4.56 per day for 7 days, including beverages
  • Eat only what you pay for (no freebies)
  • No dining out because food stamps aren’t accepted

This was primarily a self-experiment to achieve greater self-awareness and empathy, while maintaining my regular workout schedule.

The Meal Plan:

With $31.92 for the week, I decided to spend roughly $29 (receipt here) and keep close to a 10% cushion in case something unplanned occurred. Hey, I am an investment advisor.OatmealPB_Omelete-215x161

  • Pre-Workout: 100% whole grain bread and 1 tbsp Skippy Natural honey flavored creamy peanut butter
  • Post-Workout Breakfast: 2 medium white egg omelet with salt and pepper and ½ cup oatmeal with water, mixed in 1 tbsp peanut butter
  • Snacks at 10am and 3pm: ½ cup oatmeal with water, ½ banana, ½ tbsp peanut butter
  • Lunch and Dinner: 4 oz chicken breast (frozen, raw) seared and baked, seasoned with salt and pepper; 2/3 cup frozen green beans or spinach, salt and pepper to taste; 1 cup canned black beans, rinsed to reduce    sodium
  • Beverages: 10 cups minimum of water per day, 1 green tea packet for morning caffeine, 1 to-go packet of pink lemonade light for low calorie sugar water

Some Notes from My Week:

Monday: Day 1, and I woke up with a migraine and I hadn’t even started the challenge yet. I slept from 11:30am – 12:30pm and then again from 4pm–8pm. I realized how difficult it was for me to get rid of a migraine while eating this way. Normally, it goes away in a couple hours.

Tuesday: I love creative work and problem solving and given an extra hour in a day, that’s what you’ll find me focused on. Today, I lacked the energy to think creatively and found myself gravitating to work that I knew I could do easily (e.g. analysis, planning, emails).

Wednesday: 3 days in, and I hit the wall. My body was having a difficult time adapting to the changes and the morning workout sucked. Creativity was at its all time low for the week.

Sunday: Was trying not to remind myself that this was the last day because people in poverty don’t have a set timeframe. I ended up planning my meals for the upcoming week with my newly built cooking habits and went grocery shopping. You’re not supposed to do that hungry, I can vouch for that. With the last $3 still on-hand, I spent it on a stir fry meal for dinner and added a little extra nutrition knowing that the next morning, I would begin to transition to a normal meal plan.


The results are obvious: there is no way to sustain an active lifestyle eating this way without sacrificing something meaningful like nutrition, variety, or freshness. I lost 7 pounds of fat in as many days and could only consume 1452 calories per day, substantially less than my target of 1900.

Inside my body fared just as bad: I went from a somewhat acidic environment at 6.25 to an unhealthy acidic body at 5.5. Cancer thrives in an acidic body, but I didn’t have enough money to eat more greens. My energy during workouts went from 8/10 on day 1 down to a 2/10 on day 3. If I were a laborer trying to eat healthy, I would not have enough energy to do my job.

Finally, my sleep quality declined from 70% to 55%. Less time in REM means waking up with less energy. Less energy means pumping yourself with empty carbs to get an energy boost. This is a vicious cycle – no wonder poverty cycles through generations.

Thanks to…

First, my incredibly supportive wife Natasha. She helped me daily to make sure that I had all the love, motivation, and tools I needed during the challenge. And my dog Mazaa, whose butt wiggled no matter how low my energy went.


Andy Seth is the co-founder of LotusGroup Advisors as well as president of Minds Matter of Denver and KIPP Colorado Schools’ Advisory Board. Read his original blog post about the SNAP Challenge.

Learn more about Hunger Free Colorado and its initiatives to end hunger in Colorado.



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2 Responses to “Guest blog: Trying to maintain active lifestyle with only $4.56/day (SNAP Challenge)”

  1. K Brady April 25, 2013 3:21 pm

    I applaud efforts to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes, but have problems with the distorted presentation this challenge presents. SNAP benefits aren’t supposed to be the only source of nutrition. They are supposed to supplement one’s food budget, not replace it.

    • Regan Byrd April 30, 2013 3:01 pm

      Thank you for your comment, K Brady. It is true the primary intent of SNAP is to act as supplemental nutrition income to those who do not make enough money to purchase adequate amounts of food. However, the reality is that many individuals and families may have to rely upon SNAP as their sole means to buy food – at least for a while. Often, this is due to having most or all other income go to paying other things like rent, utilities, medical bills, or childcare. The SNAP challenge is designed to give people a first-hand experience of what it’s like to have a very limited food budget, as well as to create a dialogue about food security and access to healthy foods in Colorado.