How I Lost 25 Pounds – And How It Can Help Your Finances

It's that time of year — the time when everyone makes resolutions in hopes that a year from now, we'll be thinner, wealthier, smarter, more productive, and better-smelling. As I ponder my own resolutions for 2012 (wow, is it really almost 2012?), I thought I'd relate how I was actually able to follow through on a goal from several months ago.

As loyal readers may recall, in the summer of 2010 I began to try to lose weight. I clocked in at around 205 pounds, and my clothes were starting to no longer fit. As I wrote back then:

“You may be wondering why I'm telling you, the money-minded GRS audience, about my jiggly parts. Well, I think money management and blubber management have a lot in common. They both rely on smart consumption and good habits that, frankly, aren't a lot of fun. The effects — both good and bad — aren't noticed immediately, which makes the bad habits seem not so bad, and the good habits not-so-instantly rewarding.”

The thought of having to replace my wardrobe with bigger clothes would have been a blow to my wallet and my ego. So I decided to go on a diet.

A year and a half later, I weigh 180 pounds and feel the similarities between fiscal and physical health are even more numerous. So here's how I was able to disperse 25 pounds into the universe (since matter can neither be created nor destroyed, that 25 pounds went somewhere — my guess is Goldman Sachs turned it into an investment and sold it to an unwitting client). Regardless of what you're trying to lose or gain, I think these principles will apply to any of your efforts to make 2012 more jingly or less jiggly.

1. Go extreme
In my post from 2010, I bemoaned the fact that after three weeks of less food and more exercise, I had lost just three pounds. I questioned whether I shouldn't get extreme with my plan — essentially eat nothing but vegetables and lean protein, and exercise my butt off. Many commenters to that article gave the very sound advice that an extreme diet doesn't work; it's unhealthy and unsustainable.

That's all true. But I eventually found that I needed to kick-start the weight loss just to feel like I was getting somewhere. So for a few weeks, I went extreme — and lost 10 pounds. It felt much more rewarding, and much more encouraging.

As for money, I've known many people who try to get out of debt or build up their savings by making small changes to their spending habits. These small changes can be powerful when compounded over many years, but at first they can seem like they're not making much of a difference, which can lead people to think, “Why am I making these sacrifices when there's such little progress?” For some people, a period of completely new habits — even if they're extreme — are the jolt they need to break old patterns, and provide enough progress in the beginning to maintain the motivation they need to keep going.

2. Don't go extreme forever
All that said, I eventually worked ice cream, French fries, and cookies back into my diet. I just couldn't give them up forever. But, given the progress I already made, I wasn't going to let them bulk me back up to 205 pounds. So I've been able to limit them.
In her book The Beck Diet Solution, Judith Beck discusses all the weird ways we have of thinking about food. One particularly fattening train of thought that I found myself conducting was “Well, now that I've eaten that, I've blown my diet for the day, so I might as well blow it for the rest of the day and start fresh tomorrow.” Now, I eat the occasional crappy treat, but I don't let it open the floodgates.

With finances, it's important to allow some “fun money” back into your life, and if you blow your budget, don't let that be an excuse to continue your old spending habits.

3. Change your associations
I intentionally use the term “crappy treat” since I've come to see all the bad food for what it really is: unhealthy, fattening, teeth-attacking, and not a particularly good way to spend money, but still a treat (which, in my book, is something you can still enjoy but only once in awhile). One example: I loved soda, particularly Mountain Dew. Even as I drank it for decades, I associated it with being a kid and visiting my grandparents' farm in Ohio (where I had more freedom to drink what I wanted). But then I began to do more research into healthy foods, and really began to understand how bad soda is. In particular, I heard a story on NPR about how meth addicts love Mountain Dew, and how it contributes to them losing their teeth (which the taxpayers have to replace for the meth addicts in prison). Now, I can't have a Mountain Dew without feeling like my teeth are going to immediately fall out.

Watching several food-related documentaries — such as Super Size Me, Forks Over Knives, and Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead — also helped me better appreciate the long-term health effects of a bad diet. Given my family history of heart disease, I began to see a healthier lifestyle as not just a way to be only slightly embarrassed at the pool during the summer, but as a genuine way to stave off death for as long as possible.

When it comes to finances, the important change of associations I've made is seeing responsible habits not as self-denial but as a way to provide for my family, afford college for my kids, and a secure old age for me and my wife (especially my wife, since she'll likely live longer than I will, regardless of my diet).

4. Use the right leverage
If changing your associations doesn't get you to change your habits, then you might need some external motivation. Sites like RescueTime.com, QuantifiedSelf.com, Xpenser.com, StickK.com, and Fatbet.net will help you monitor your use of time, money, and food, and encourage you to lay some money on the line to encourage you to follow through on your resolutions. Or maybe you need to put your ego on the line. In their book Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength, John Tierney and Roy Baumeister discuss the “public humiliation diet” of Drew Magary, who Tweeted his weight every day. As Baumeister explained to me in an interview, “I think we are shaped by nature to work together with other people and therefore to care what other people think of us. The basic biological strategy of human beings is we survive and reproduce by cooperating and working together with others in these small groups, so success with them is very important.”

The Motley Fool's internal financial fitness coach has decided to use this leverage to get me to the gym more often. He took a picture of me with my shirt off, and he has the right to put it up on the screen during a company meeting if he feels I'm not making enough progress. Now, if you knew me, you might be surprised that this means anything to me, since I've taken off my shirt and/or pants at several company meetings (you don't really want to know all the details — such as announcing the new company 401(k) match by having “8%” written on my underwear — but it suffices to say that The Motley Fool is just that kind of place). But there's something motivational about knowing that my picture could be held up before the company as an example of a guy who could use some work and isn't getting it done.

If public accountability is the secret to your success, inform a group of people (friends, family, coworkers, government spies who monitor all our emails) about your goal — financial, physical, or otherwise — as well as when you plan to have it accomplished and how you'll prove it. Or follow in the spirit of Drew Magary and post on your blog a picture of your scale or account balances every day, or use sites like Tweetwhatyouspend.com.

Or send us a picture of you without your shirt; we won't judge.

More about...Psychology

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Chaz
Chaz
8 years ago

Nice article and congrats on losing the weight! One takeaway from your article is that we should view our health and finances in light of the higher concept of ‘stewardship’. If we can start to more highly value a lot of the things we usually take for granted (like our long-term health and frivolous spending) it may go a long way towards helping us appreciate the smaller things all around us, and strengthen our consumerism detection radar. And hopefully it can help us take another step in the direction of being more givers than a takers.

Thad P
Thad P
8 years ago
Reply to  Chaz

Well said Chaz. As we get and stay healthy, we are saving significant amounts of money on health related matters.

Thad P
Thad P
8 years ago

Excellent advice for anyone just after the Thanksgiving to Christmas food rush! The extra savings to your healthcare budget/expenses will be significant too as you get and stay fit.

BB
BB
8 years ago

Eat less –> spend less (on food) –> weigh less –> save more, that’s how I view the combined goals.
Keep up the good work!

Adam P
Adam P
8 years ago

It’s funny that you mention about the necessity of buying new and larger sized clothing as the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back.

I think for some of us frugal-holics, the idea we should have to go buy new pants with a larger waist and throw out perfectly good clothing because we’ve gotten fatter is a bitter pill to swallow.

I know many a gym/diet-binge of my own have been started because I don’t want to have to spend a few hundred dollars on new clothes!

Spend less/earn more = eat less/move more

SB @ One Cent At A Time
SB @ One Cent At A Time
8 years ago

I have noticed one thought that always keep me away from starting with regular exercises. That is the procrastination. I always try to convince myself to start exercises from tomorrow, its an easy thing to do, will only take 15 -20 mins of my time, no big deal…so let’s start it from tomorrow and let’s do this other thing today.

I am clean on saving side though, I always try to save today and spend tomorrow. Both has to do with mental set up, failing at one, and winning at another.

Dogs or Dollars
Dogs or Dollars
8 years ago

I used to do this too.

Now my mantra is “This will be the most important 20 (or 30 or 60) minutes of my day”. I say this when I wake up at 4:30 in the morning to get my butt outta bed and to the gym.

Its the only time I take for me. It clears my head and better prepares me for everything else I am going to do.

Dogs or Dollars
Dogs or Dollars
8 years ago

Just like with my finances, I went the extreme route when I started loosing weight, loosing 50lbs in a little over 5 months almost 3 years ago. And also just like with my finances, the pendulum has come somewhere back to center. I am still 50lbs lighter, but I’m able to have ‘splurges’. I plan for them though, and I know when it a do-able thing, and when I need to reel it in. Money management and weight management are markedly similar on so many fronts. My favorite frugal eating tip, portion control! My meal may be more expensive than… Read more »

D
D
8 years ago

I went through a similar experience over the past couple of years – although I ended up losing enough to need to buy smaller clothes than I had had. (But what a great feeling that was.) I recently decided I’m ready to go down the last size (I never focused on the weight as much as the size/fit of my pants) and simultaneously want to tighten up my spending again and bulk up my savings. I agree that they go hand in hand and look forward to seeing where I am in three months. I also have some coworkers who… Read more »

Laura+in+Cancun
Laura+in+Cancun
8 years ago

Congrats on losing weight!

I started dieting this month and it’s certainly not helping our finances right now. I hired a nutritionist, which is amazing for the diet but costs me $60 – $100 a month (worth it)

Plus I’ll have to buy some new clothes once I reach my goal weight, but we’re going to save up for that over the next 3 months.

But still… I’m sure we’ll save $$ on the long-term health benefits 🙂

4 pounds down and 20 to go!

mike
mike
8 years ago

One great way to save money on food is to buy a whole animal directly from a farmer. You’ll need to invest in a freezer, but the savings can be tremendous and you are getting much better quality meat from an animal that was humanely raised. From a weight loss perspective, my wife and I switched to a paleo diet and have lost a combined 100 pounds, most of that coming in the first six months. One final note: the movies mentioned in the post are very biased and filled with bad science, I’d recommend to add “Fat Head” by… Read more »

brad
brad
8 years ago
Reply to  mike

The science behind the paleo diet isn’t on the soundest footing either, though. I spent a couple of years sharing a house with two visiting anthropologists at Harvard who are among the world’s leading experts on prehistoric diets, and they always scratched their heads at people who thought we should follow these diets today. The health benefits are questionable, and while it’s clear that a palo diet can help you lose weight (as you can with any diet) it’s not clear that paleo dieters are any better at keeping off the weight over the long term than are people who… Read more »

Carla
Carla
8 years ago
Reply to  mike

That is pretty much how I eat. I have been instinctively eating Paleo long before I knew it had a name. I realized gluten and even most other grains isn’t good for me. Dairy, legumes, sugar and soy is in the same boat. That is the only way I am able to keep my weight down, skin clear, digestive track healthy, and keep my fitness levels up. There is also some (though very little) evidence that is helpful for people (me) with MS.

sharon v
sharon v
8 years ago
Reply to  Carla

I’ll be going paleo starting in the new year. As for research, there are a couple of books out that are good reading. ‘Why We Get Fat’ and ‘Wheat Belly’ give a lot of great information, backed by dozens of studies. If you go back far enough, low-carb diets have been reccommended since the 1800’s, it’s only been since the 70’s that we have been side-tracked by fat-phobia. Paleo is basically a whole-foods movement that advocates restriction of grains, and consumption of the right kind and amount of fats the body needs, what could be wrong with that? I’m currently… Read more »

JCC
JCC
8 years ago
Reply to  sharon v

I’m going to try again to lose some weight by following the guidelines given in Why We Get Fat. I was simply unable to keep it up during the holiday season, due to holiday food and having extremely tight finances. Sad but true, when one is really broke, it’s far more affordable to go for the cheaper carb-laden food like bread. It can also be difficult when you’re not single; I know I would be so much better able to do this if I were just cooking for myself and eating with my own company only. Plus, certain people like… Read more »

Carla
Carla
8 years ago

For me weight loss and fitness is similar to personal finance: dedicating time for it and discipline. My vanity and health was my motivating factors to lose 50+ lbs and keep it off for several years now. Stepping up my workouts to now include power lifting 4 days a week is akin to me constantly looking for ways to earn extra money, not just save what little I make.

For me going extreme, especially with my diet was the only way I could have done it. In my case it wasn’t eating less food, it was changing what I eat.

mike
mike
8 years ago

You couldn’t have picked 3 better documentaries to watch. I especially recommend “Forks Over Knives”.

If anyone wonders how did they come up with the name “Forks Over Knives”, it’s what one puts on their forks now, as opposed to having one’s chest cut open in the future.

All 3 of those movies are available on Netflix.

chacha1
chacha1
8 years ago

Changing *what* you eat (like Carla) can be even more effective than changing *how much* you eat. Many people could lose all the weight they need to lose simply by replacing artificial beverages with water and packaged convenience foods with fruits & vegetables. The volume of food represented by an apple is about the same as the volume of a 12-oz bag of chips. But has about 1/6 the calories. Plus, you know, some actual nutrition. It’s mindful eating, which is approximately the same as mindful spending. I have seen health improvements march hand-in-hand with financial improvements in too many… Read more »

Craig
Craig
8 years ago

As someone who lost 150lbs, be wary of trying Option 1 (going extreme).

The reason lots of people can’t keep up weight loss effort is because they expect too much, too quickly and get desperate. Going extreme feeds into that desperation and makes it more likely a person will burn out in frustration early.

If you’re able to use this “act short term while thinking long term” strategy effectively with weight loss, then more power to you — most people, however, would find that strategy backfires.

Cat
Cat
8 years ago

Robert – 2 thing. I have definitely fallen prey to the notion “Well, I ate some bad food, so let’s just blow the whole day”. I’m trying to get better. Also – I wish my company meetings were as interesting as yours!:)

Dave J
Dave J
8 years ago

I love how this is not another tips and tricks for shedding weight in 2012, but more about the specific psychological barriers and how you overcame them – thank you! My wife and I have agreed to a combo of finances and weight-loss. We are each throwing $100 of our precious “fun money” along with $200 from the house into a hat held by a 3rd party. If by March 1 we both reach our goal, we split the total. If only one of us reaches it, that person gets the whole pot. If neither of us reach our 5%… Read more »

Dan
Dan
8 years ago
Reply to  Dave J

This is a fun idea, but don’t eat dinner at your mother-in-law’s until March… she might try to sneak extra sticks of butter into the recipe!

krantcents
krantcents
8 years ago

The best chages that are long lasting are general accomplished over time. This is true whether it is weight loss or financial. Generally speaking small changes work best.

Denise
Denise
8 years ago

From a family money management perspective, this could help your finances by eating less.

However, if you’re changing your eating habits to organic or healthier foods, your expenses can actually go up.

Dallas+saver
Dallas+saver
8 years ago

Great post. I found those movies really helped change my mind about how I eat and I eat more healthfully and mindfully as a result. I am down one whole size and 8-10 pounds depending on the day. I have maintained it for three months and now want to add exercise in and tone up. I am spending less on food and honestly eating out at a chain restaurant or fast food makes me feel I’ll because I am used to eating high quality veggies and meat (the latter in smaller portions). My clothes hang on me but a visit… Read more »

Cea+Wall
Cea+Wall
8 years ago

One particularly fattening train of thought that I found myself conducting was “Well, now that I’ve eaten that, I’ve blown my diet for the day, so I might as well blow it for the rest of the day and start fresh tomorrow.” Our Weight Watchers facilitator had a great saying about this – if one of us would stumble on a step while walking down a long stairwell, would we throw ourselves down the remaining stairs because we made that mistake? Of course not. A little stumble is no excuse to throw away a perfectly good path. Happy holidays to… Read more »

Russell
Russell
8 years ago
Reply to  Cea+Wall

Blowing your diet (or busting the budget) is along the lines of the “Sunk Cost Fallacy”, which has been written about before: https://www.getrichslowly.org/the-sunk-cost-fallacy-good-money-after-bad/

Basically, the junk has already been eaten, or the money already spent, so it doesn’t do any good to keep eating or spending.

jack foley
jack foley
8 years ago

I think the important thing about weight loss is self image

How do yuo see yourself?

I truly believe losing weight is all mental. If you have a powerful vision of a thinner you, you will become that person but one needs to work so hard on their vision..

Tina
Tina
8 years ago

Self-image is key. For years I didn’t see myself as overweight or poor. Now that I am working hard to save money and lose the extra weight at the same time, I see the parallels. The free myfitnesspal app is helping me keep track of calories and portion sizes. I wish mint.com was this intutive. I still need to figure out how to better track my spending. I need to save up for new clothes and the pricey fruits and vegetables I have been eating lately are cutting into that.

Andrea
Andrea
8 years ago
Reply to  Tina

I really like sparkpeople, which is free as well, but I’ll definitely check out myfitnesspal. Thanks for the tip!

Tammy @ Skinny Mom's Kitchen
Tammy @ Skinny Mom's Kitchen
8 years ago

Congrats on your weight loss! I also have embarked on the weightless journey and to my surprise have lost 40lbs in the last year and a half. I completely agree that weight loss and money are pretty much one in the same. For me making slow and steady changes along with a solid plan made all the difference for me. I started each week with a menu plan and made ahead all my meals. I also freeze most of my dinners so they are resdy at night when we want them. That way there was little room to grab impulse… Read more »

honeybee
honeybee
8 years ago

StickK sounded like an amazing idea so I tried it. The site botched the credit card transaction! Now there’s money going to my anti-charity. Boo. 🙁 Hopefully tech support can help, but that’s really awful.

Katie G
Katie G
8 years ago

“since matter can neither be created nor destroyed, that 25 pounds went somewhere – my guess is Goldman Sachs turned it into an investment and sold it to an unwitting client”

That is hilarious. I must be having a pretty slow day because that was the best thing of the day so far. Thank you!

Mara
Mara
8 years ago

I love this post. It’s hilarious yet very informative. In my personal experience, I’ve had to use extreme measures for almost 2 years to eliminate debt. I realize that it’s not for everybody but during that time I couldn’t sleep well at night knowing that I owe so much money. After 2 years of being driven like a gazelle (as Dave Ramsey would say), I could finally sleep better knowing that I’m financially healthy and could handle the not-so-cool emergencies that are bound to happen.

Vanda Keledjian
Vanda Keledjian
7 years ago

Very nice blog! You have made few interesting points I did not know, on weight loss. Thank you!

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