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Connecting with real hunger: ‘Living Below The Line

Welcome to the 10th Fat Chance! weight loss blog.

Weight loss and hunger are intimately related. In the West we have too much food available to us, we routinely override our bodies’ hunger signals, we eat too much and we suffer from the form of malnutrition which is called obesity. In developing countries the reverse is often the case – people can only afford to eat in response to physical hunger and malnutrition is because of a lack of food and extreme poverty.


I haven’t always been active in weight loss. In my other life I am passionate about development issues and work with the Leprosy Mission internationally. Next week I’m bringing my two interests together by ‘Living Below The Line’ for five days.

Have you heard about this? The objective is to live on $2.25 per day (the poverty line) for five days, in solidarity with those who are extremely poor, raising awareness of the inequality and unfairness in our world, gaining insight into how they manage to live on so little, and at the same time raising money for charity.

There are several very worthwhile charities involved including World Vision, Oxfam, Christian World Service and Tear Fund but I have chosen to support Volunteer Service Abroad, which is celebrating 50 years of volunteering, because years ago I was a VSA volunteer in Samoa and the experience changed my world view forever.

I lived in Samoa for several years and it’s where I found my husband, hence my surname: Maiava. Tavale and I are living below the line together, so $2.25 each for five days gives me $22.50 to work with.

So far the learning process has been very revealing, shifting me well out of my comfort zone and forcing me to think and plan carefully:

  • Meat and dairy (except powdered milk) are out of the question, so how will we get enough protein? (One answer: eggs)
  • What foods are both cheap and filling? How can we still try to eat healthily? (Answer: combine filling carbohydrates with vegetables)
  • There will be trade-offs: Where will I find the balance between protein, nutrition and satisfying hunger?
  • There will be a trade-off between flavour, variety and hunger. Can I afford flavouring? How can I make things interesting?
  • Is it cheating to buy in bulk and then take out a portion?
  • Is it cheating to buy specials now in advance? (I’m not sure but I’ve just got a good deal on Weet-Bix)
  • Is it cheating or smart to source free food, eg. lemons and herbs? (Answer: it’s smart)
  • What is my bottom line? (Answer: teabags. Wherever I go in the world – such as Bangladesh – I always know I’m alright if I can have a cup of tea)

I’ve already visited several supermarkets with my notebook and scouted other sources for cheap food, comparing prices of budget brands I am unfamiliar with. I am struck by how time- and energy-consuming this is, going shop to shop, and how restricted I will be to carbohydrates and cheap seasonal fruit and vegetables. Our diet will be limited and boring. I have to plan the portions to get enough to keep hunger at bay but not waste any. If I get it wrong I can’t change my mind. I’ll have to go hungry!

I’m beginning to get a real glimpse into how developing world mothers and women have to live their lives, and the decisions they have to make every day to feed their family. And I’m sure that next week, when I am living on Weet-Bix, rice and vegetables for five days, more will be revealed.

So what’s on my list? So far I’ve got Weet-Bix, rice, potatoes, rolled oats, flour, noodles, bread, baked beans, sugar, salt, oil, stock cubes, powdered milk, eggs, onions, carrots, cheap tinned tomatoes, half a lettuce, cauliflower or cabbage, cheap apples, and if I have anything left, bananas. Oh yes, and teabags, and lemons and herbs from the garden. It adds up to $28 so far, so I will have to cut it back if I can’t get what I want on super-low special. But what shall I cut back on? More careful planning will yet be required to work out a menu and portion sizes.


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