#Surviveon35: Interview with Chuck Runyon of Anytime Fitness


Could you survive on a grocery budget of $35 a week?

A team of FitFluential bloggers have been challenged to do just that, and share their experiences eating on a food stamp budget.

Anytime Fitness co-founder Chuck Runyon sits down with us to explain the #surviveon35 Challenge… and the inspiration behind it.




Earlier this year you were on an episode of ABC’s Secret Millionaire. What was that experience like?

It was a grueling, physical week with 15 to 21-hour days filled with volunteer work, filming, interviewing, more work, stifling 100+ degree temperatures, and more work. But, it was even more grueling from an emotional perspective. Our hearts had more blisters than our hands.

This was a top ten personal experience and one of the best things (Anytime Fitness co-founder) Dave Mortensen and I have ever done together. Ever since the show, we’ve received a tremendous amount of positive feedback from people all over. They call us generous, but I can honestly say that we got back much more than we could ever give.


What were your expectations going into filming and how did the results match up?

We knew we were headed to an impoverished area somewhere in the US, but when we arrived in an Oklahoma City neighborhood, I was taken aback by the level of poverty that surrounded us. We stayed in a rundown house crawling with spiders and cockroaches. The car we were given barely ran. Everything around us was in very rough shape, including many of the residents.

The real surprise was how we immediately felt an emotional connection with the people and organizations we were paired with. We met some outstanding organizations and courageous people who are giving their time, energy, and money in meaningful, admirable ways.

Another surprise was the way Dave and I bonded over this experience. After 20+ years as friends and business partners, we came to understand each other even better, as we fell in love with these organizations. Yes, we cried together, on and off camera.


Was there a moment, person, organization that didn’t make it into the televised edits that you wish had?

There are countless moments that I wish could’ve made the show. Unfortunately, the amazing organization Closer to Earth, which empowers youth through organic gardening, wasn’t included in the final cut. What you didn’t see was us working with these teens to transform a city block into a beautiful organic garden. We were also able to donate to the organization and setup a college scholarship on their behalf. The good news is that we filmed our own behind-the-scenes video with Closer to Earth, so you can see for yourself.


What was it like being cut off from cellphones and internet?

Of course, it was difficult to be out of touch with loved ones who were back home, wondering and worrying about what was happening to us, but being away from what was familiar really forced us to immerse ourselves more fully in the experience. We found that there’s actually a certain liberation that comes when you turn off the cell phone and shut down the computer— it allows you to really concentrate on what’s in front of you, and enables you to forge even deeper personal connections. So in a sense, being without technology was more of an asset than a liability.


How important is volunteer work to you? Why?

Volunteering is a great way to get out of your comfort zone. It will open your eyes and make you realize how fortunate you are. Most importantly, volunteering is an opportunity to have a meaningful impact on someone’s life. It won’t be easy, but it will change you for the better.


Tell us about the Survive on $35 Challenge.

On Secret Millionaire, Dave and I had only $35 each to feed ourselves for a full week, which is equivalent to what someone on government assistance receives. We did our best to show that not only could it be done, but it could be done in a healthy way.

Now, Anytime Fitness is challenging ten FitFluential Ambassadors to do the same. Can you survive— and even thrive— on $35/week? Keep in mind that for 7 days and 3 meals/day, that averages out to only $1.66 per meal! Of course, families will have a bigger budget to work with ($35 per adult, $20 per child). The challengers will strive to eat healthy and hopefully tasty food on that meager allowance.

Challengers will be judged by Anytime Fitness staffers based on budget, health, and taste. It also doesn’t hurt to get great feedback in the form of likes, shares, comments, etc.

Two Ambassadors will each win a $1,000 donation to the food shelf of their choice.


We understand this challenge was your idea. What inspired you to do it?

First, I was inspired by the show, where for a short time we experienced firsthand how difficult it is to get by on government assistance. I wanted to bring that issue into the public eye. There are so many people, especially children, who are not getting the nourishment they need due to poverty.

Second, I was inspired by one of biggest excuses in our industry, which is that eating healthy is too expensive. It really doesn’t have to be if you do it right.

Notice, I didn’t say it was easy. But, it doesn’t have to be expensive.


What was your experience trying to eat healthy on $35 a week while on Secret Millionaire?

I’m not much of price-conscious shopper in my normal life, so it was quite a change to be wandering through the grocery store, comparing prices on everything we bought.

We’re not cooks either, so we kept it simple. Yogurt, granola, whole wheat bread, turkey, etc. We had to think hard about whether we could afford a simple luxury like coffee. Like everything we did on the show, it was a total change of perspective.


Any tips for eating healthy on a limited budget?

A recent USDA study found that if you measure foods by their nutritional value, healthy foods are actually more affordable. The key is to calculate the cost in a smarter way.

As for the actual shopping and cooking strategies, I’ll leave that to the experts!


Meet the challengers:
Chuck Runyon (left) and Dave Mortensen (right)


Keep up with the #surviveon35 Challenge by following the hashtag on Twitter and Instagram! Our FitFluential Ambassador team will be posting their individual results and experiences on their own blogs, and during a Twitter chat on July 26th. Join us as the winners (and the food shelters that will benefit) will be revealed!


New to this? Just search for #surviveon35 on Twitter at chat time to see the conversation and add #surviveon35 to your responses so they appear on the chat timeline.


Meet the challengees!


Mike of Frugal Fitness

Sarah of A Gutsy Girl

Meghann of Meals and Miles

Julie of Julie Go Lean

Bess of Bess Be Fit

Brittany of GOtheXtraMile

Annie of Mama Dweeb

Erika Nicole of A Black Girl’s Guide to Weight Loss

Lindsay of The Lean Green Bean

Melissa of Eat on the Run


Kelly Olexa, FitFluential CEO, on kellyolexa.com




  1. says

    I do $50/wk on the regular for 2 people. But the key is preparation. And eating whole foods. Grains, Legumes… these are all affordable in bulk bags. Learning to prepare yourself via a crockpot really helps. I’ve learned to freeze single size portions to use during the week. Same with produce – I buy and plan menus according to sales ads. Then learn how to blanch and freeze for later use.

    Definitely a learning process, but it can be done.

    I think what makes it hard – is that you take “Convenience” out of the equation. And most people don’t have the time… but just like fitness – it needs to become a priority. I look forward to watching the challengers on their mission!

  2. says

    I’m excited for this challenge and to learn how to be able to save money and still be healthy! I don’t expect it to be easy but I know I can do it. I hope others learn from it as well! Happy to have been selected with my other ambassadors!

  3. says

    This was a great post on topics very prevalent in today’s society, trying to do something positive to help solve the problems of poverty and poor health. I am very happy to hear that individuals who are in a position to make significant changes did indeed sacrifice to meet the challenge, change lives, and be excellent examples for others to do the same. Thank you Chuck and Dave and I am proud to be participating in the Survive On 35 mission!

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