I want a new scale.
My wife and I went to Bed Bath & Beyond and looked at scales. Of course, the one I want is $100 and appeals to my geekier side – it gives % body fat via induction, % muscle mass and body water, stores daily information in memory – the computer in this scale could probably have launched a shuttle in the 60′s. Immediately, I snatched up the box and clutched it to my chest, headed for the checkout counter and planned my evening programming the scale and setti…
Wait a minute. Isn’t this how I used to eat?
What a shocking realization that was. I used to make impulse food choices based on cravings, then spend my meal planning out the next two days’ lunches and dinners based on cravings I wasn’t able to satisfy that day. Now I realize I’m doing the same thing with purchases. My scale’s not broken – it may not launch the shuttle, but it gives a digital readout every time I stand on it. (I have a psychological, albeit cynical, problem with a scale made by a company called Thinner, but that’s another story altogether.) I can certainly afford to spend $100 on a nice scale, but that’s not the point – just like I used to be emotionally eating, at that moment I was emotionally buying.
I put the scale back. I put my financial fork down.
I started reading The Simple Dollar and I Will Teach You To Be Rich, two fantastic personal finance blogs, after completing the Optifast program. They became part of my daily exercise routine – get up at 5:30am, grab my water bottle, ride my stationary bike for half an hour and read my RSS feeds. I started realizing the same behaviors that led to unhealthy eating – emotional eating, impulse eating, eating based on cravings, not setting goals and limits – also translated to unhealthy spending. I started paying attention to my spending habits and was stunned at how often I would make an impulse or emotional purchase, confusing “I want” or “I crave” for “I need.” Just like I had established long-term goals and short-term limits in order to shape new eating behaviors and habits, I found I needed to do the same for my spending habits.
Thus, the new paradigm was born – my body is a bank. This new paradigm has already been beneficial to me in at least two ways:
- I no longer have an emotional attachment to weight loss.
Before, when I would look at myself in the mirror and the numbers on the scale, I would become overwhelmed with the need to lose weight… and promptly eat a 12″ Subway sub. I thought of myself as a loser, stupid, incapable of making lifestyle changes, which made me even more depressed and overwhelmed, and even more unlikely to change. If I’m a loser anyway, what’s the point?
Now, I look at my physical health in an objective manner – I make deposits (eat healthy foods, drink water, exercise) and withdrawals (eat comfort food, drink coffee); I earn interest on the deposits I make (lose weight, get more sleep, feel better). Just like my bank account, my body is an investment which has clear cause and affect relationships with choices I make. No longer am I a loser – now I am a choice maker with the power to affect my fitness.
- I can use financial goal-setting strategies to control my fitness.
There doesn’t seem to be any cohesion to weight-loss strategies - no over-arching, consistent, step-by-step advice for losing weight and leading a more fit lifestyle. All I read is this person’s top 15 tips for weight loss, that person’s top 5 tips for exercising more, a third person’s list of foods to eat, another doctor’s list of foods not to eat that directly convtroverts other lists – there’s no consistency, no clear way to proceed.
Look at the finance advice out there, though, and it’s a different story. Instead of this person’s top 25 different purchases to make on your credit card and that person’s top 10 bills to pay first, you see consistent advice and strategies. A short synopsis of some strategies that I have already adopted include (I will write more on these later):
- Calculate your net worth.
Fitness is about more than physical health, and physical health is about more than weight. Your bodybank net worth should include information like your moods, your stress level, your % body fat, your waist size, and more. It is imperative that your bodybank net worth evaluation include something positive.
- Set a budget.
In general, building an investment account requires spending less than you earn. Similarly, building your bodybank account will require consuming less calories than you burn. Set a concrete budget of daily calorie allowance, and split that budget equally between at least 4-5 meals per day.
- Set goals according to achievements.
It’s easy to set a goal like “lose 20lbs” or “exercise 30 minutes a day” – it requires no effort and no investment to make nebulous statements, and likewise requires no effort and no investment to fail at achieving them. Instead, set your goals to practical, every-day achievements you would like to accomplish. If you fly frequently, set a goal to fitting in the coach-class seat more comfortably. If you have a small child or dog, set a goal to keep up when they run and play hide & seek or “keep the ball away from the human.” Whatever your goal is, it should be attached to an achievement you are emotionally invested in – when you reach this goal, you should feel a major sense of accomplishment.
- Track spending and investments.
In order to reach your goal, you need to track your daily activity to ensure you are on track. Every calorie, every glass of water, every minute of exercise, every step on the pedometer, every hour of sleep – any data that are important to your new fit lifestyle should be recorded. Doing so is a daily reminder of your budget and goal.
- Control impulses with the 10-second rule.
Take some time to evaluate food cravings – are you actually hungry, or are you emotionally hungry? Are you craving broccoli because you lack vitamin C, or are you craving a hamburger because you need emotional comfort? I find if I drink some water and involve myself in busywork, 9 times out of 10 I’m not craving that hamburger ten minutes later.
Which brings me back to the scale. It seems like a trivial thing to draw a line in the sand over, but I have to start somewhere. Over the next few days, I will be applying the lifestyle lessons I learned from my weight loss experience to my finances. It may take me several months of saving a nest-egg in a high-APY savings account before I buy that scale, but it will represent my last impulse buy and my first purchase based on choice and reason.