2017 has been an exciting year of travel for me. I’ve been to Tulum, Mexico City, Todos Santos, Barcelona, and June marked my first ever trip to Italy. While never unpacking your suitcase offers it’s own off-the-rails kind of fun, it tends to go hand-in-hand with never buying groceries, overspending, and forgetting that the concept of working out even exists. The more I traveled, the more eating out became my default mode (even when I was at home). By the time July rolled around, I had favored and room serviced my way to a 10 pound weight gain — and I won’t even mention the state of my bank account.

Clearly something needed to be done, but I’ve never identified as someone who “cooks.” I’d often wondered what would happen if I just stopped “eating out” for a while. Would I automatically lose weight? Save money? No longer have a social life? On July 17th I looked at my calendar and saw that I didn’t have a single dinner date (or big trip) on the books for the foreseeable future and decided to strike while the iron was hot. I pledged myself to five weeks of “eating in” — nothing from a restaurant of any sort for 35 days. The experience that followed was nothing short of revolutionary for me. Read on to discover what happened:

featured image by lovers and drifters

1. I lost weight.

While I made a conscious effort to not buy junk food groceries, the simple decision to eat more meals at home led me to shed pounds naturally. I wasn’t mindlessly snacking on tortilla chips and bread before each meal like I tend to do in restaurants, and was also eating cleaner, lighter meals. I also got back in to going to spin class, so by the end of my 5 weeks had lost about 8 pounds. Score!

image by free people

2. I saved hundreds of dollars.

Eating 5 weeks’ worth of meals at home made me realize just how much I was really spending on dining out. And it’s not just the big, fancy Friday night dinners. All those $10-$15 lunch runs to my favorite sandwich and taco shops really add up, too. By the end of my five week pledge, I estimated that I saved somewhere between $300 and $400.

image by who what wear

3. My social life actually got a lot more interesting.

So this is where the unexpected results of my experiment begin. I’d often lamented that our entire social system revolves around eating together, so being on any sort of diet puts you in direct conflict with your own social life. Entering into this project, I had basically resigned myself to becoming a complete hermit for five weeks. Fortunately for me, my prediction couldn’t have been more off. I started off by announcing my 5 week pledge on social media, in hopes that sharing my intentions with friends would make me more accountable. It turned out that people were way into the idea — everyone was cheering me on and supporting me online and in real life. Instead of leaving me out of dinner plans, my friends got creative about fun things we could do together besides going to restaurants. By the end of the 5 weeks, I had gone bowling, seen a live play, had a picnic in the park, watched a backyard movie with a projector, and hosted people to grill out by my pool. I even took homemade soup to a sick friend and cooked a new mom dinner.

image by so it goes

4. I (finally!) started to truly enjoy cooking.

I grew up in a “fast food house” in the 80s, and it’s hard to teach an old dog new tricks. All my life I’ve approached food from a perspective of convenience and laziness. My past attempts at getting into cooking were always short-lived. I would try out a few recipes and feel so overwhelmed with the process (the grocery store, the chopping, google-ing phrases like “simmer”, the massive clean up afterwards) that I would give up after a few tries. The cool thing about my 5 week challenge is that it forced me to stick with it. And just like working out or learning a new language, it quickly became a lot more fun once I started getting better at it. I’d say it took about three weeks before I really began enjoying my time in the kitchen, which leads me to my next discovery…

image by eva kolenko

5. I found my “rhythm” with meal planning and grocery shopping.

As I mentioned before, past attempts at cooking left me feeling overwhelmed and often wasteful — I’d have all these random ingredients leftover in the fridge that I didn’t know what to do with. (It’s also worth mentioning that cooking for one presents it’s own unique challenge, as almost all recipes and grocery store items are designed for 2-4 people.) Through trial and error, I finally found my rhythm with buying groceries: I’d buy one protein at a time (like a steak, salmon filet, or block of tofu) and figure out a way to “accessorize” it with different sides for three different meals. So I might have salmon and roasted veggies one night, salmon with rice the next night, and salmon and grapefruit salad for lunch one day that week.

image by damn delicious

6. I discovered some amazing recipes that I’m excited to make again and again.

My new favorite hobby is browsing pinterest for recipes, and over my 5 weeks I found some real winners that I know I’ll be making again and again in the future. Here are a few of my favorite finds:

Camille’s magical turmeric soup I took to a sick friend.

The sheet-pan shrimp boil I served friends by my pool. (SO GOOD!)

This grilled steak with baby arugula and parmesan salad.

Chanel’s salmon and broccolini for one (seriously so easy and so darn good.)

This detox salad with salmon and grapefruit.

Thank you to all the friends who supported me through this journey! Couldn’t have done it without you.

20 comments
  1. 1
    jill elliott | August 25, 2017 at 6:31 am

    I love cooking, but the idea of committing to eating ‘in’ for 5 straight weeks sounds exactly like what this girl needs! Thanks for the inspiration!

    Reply
    • Jennifer Rose Smith | August 27, 2017 at 9:07 am

      I highly recommend it! You could even just do 3 or 4 weeks and probably reap all of the same benefits.

      Reply
  2. 2
    mrsmotivatedmommy | August 25, 2017 at 9:56 am

    I love this! I have been thinking about doing away with eating out for a while, I have backed off some. I also grew up in a home that ate out or fast food all the time! I also want to love cooking, but I do not do it enough. Thanks for the inspiration 🙂

    Reply
  3. 3
    Cynthia | August 25, 2017 at 10:12 am

    Sounds like you not only ate in for 5 weeks but became a grown-up in the process! Now just think how much you’d be able to travel and do as you please if you put all that eating-out savings into a retirement plan. If you’re still in your 20s, it would be life-changing!

    Reply
  4. 4
    BDD Walk into a Bar | August 25, 2017 at 4:15 pm

    Oh my goodness I have no idea if I could do that! Although I definitely need to lose weight + save money! I envy your strength!

    https://batalidioranddeweywalkintoabar.com/

    Reply
  5. 5
    Andrea | August 25, 2017 at 9:34 pm

    That soup is amazing! Proud of you! When can we go get hamburgers? 🙂

    Reply
    • Jennifer Rose Smith | August 27, 2017 at 9:05 am

      Oh I am READY!

      Reply
  6. 6
    Niken | August 26, 2017 at 12:13 am

    I think it’s very interesting. I will try this too. Since I’m always busy I always want an easy fix for food

    Reply
  7. 7
    Gabrielle | August 26, 2017 at 7:09 am

    I love this article! I always have packed my lunch but recently moved into total weekday meal planning and I absolutely love it, its very empowering and doesn’t actually take a ridiculous amount of prep time. I agree that you have to get into a smart ‘rhythm’ of grocery shopping but its so worth it. I always allow myself to go hogwild in the produce section so I’d also recommend the ‘Debbie Meyer Green Bags’ to help keep them fresh (good for single gals and small households especially). Kudos to you Jennifer! 🙂

    Reply
    • Jennifer Rose Smith | August 27, 2017 at 9:06 am

      Very cool. Thanks for the tip, Gabrielle!

      Reply
  8. 8
    Beth | August 26, 2017 at 4:24 pm

    I love this idea! All i do when I see friends is eat out and man does it drain your bank, I love the sound of your meals you found and thinking of other fun things to do like bowling and things! xx
    http://www.pagesfrombeth.co.uk

    Reply
  9. 9
    Ambar | August 26, 2017 at 7:34 pm

    Staying in and cooking all of our meals is definitely the way to go!

    ambartheblog.blogspot.com

    Reply
  10. 10
    Homes & Weddings | August 26, 2017 at 11:28 pm

    That shrimp sheet pan meal looks SO good. This was a very fun read.

    Reply
    • Jennifer Rose Smith | August 27, 2017 at 9:03 am

      I can vouch for it — it tastes as good as it looks! Definitely give that recipe a try.

      Reply
  11. 11
    ChrystinaNoel | August 28, 2017 at 9:21 am

    This is definitely something I should try in my life. I used to travel for work a lot and during that time it became very obvious how easy it was to eat out every night. Nice to know that it’s possible to get into a rhythm in only 5 weeks – thanks for the inspiration!

    Reply
  12. 12
    Nicole | August 29, 2017 at 11:37 am

    I love this. And it’s totally about finding a rhythm like you say. Once you create the habit the hurtle is much lower!

    Reply
  13. 13
    Diane Parkhill Smith | August 30, 2017 at 8:20 am

    This was an inspiring story! Thank you for sharing it. ?

    Reply
  14. 14
    Robin | August 31, 2017 at 10:52 am

    I hate cooking. I love eating out. If I could afford it, I would probably eat out more often. I would also probably lose weight if I stuck to cleaner eating. Maybe one day!

    Reply
  15. 15
    Molly | September 1, 2017 at 2:55 pm

    Jenn, you are so inspiring! Adam and I are going to try an eating-in September!

    Reply
  16. 16
    Joanne Sciullo | September 15, 2017 at 4:50 pm

    doing the same thing. never enjoyed cooking so much as when I make meal plans based on what I have and what I can buy on sale and in season. so fulfilling !!

    Reply
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