There’s a candy machine standing in the lobby of my bank. You know the kind: red and glass and filled with tempting treats. This one dispenses Hot Tamales, a cinnamon candy made, essentially, from pure sugar. (Well, pure High Fructose Corn Syrup, actually.)
For the past year, it’s been my ritual to buy a quarter’s worth of candy every time I visit the bank. “A quarter’s worth of candy can’t hurt,” I tell myself. “And besides, I deserve a treat.” Maybe I do deserve a treat — maybe I don’t. What I mean to address is the notion that “a quarter’s worth of candy can’t hurt”.
Eat less than you burn
At my personal finance site, I write frequently about frugality. “The fundamental law of money,” I say, “is that in order to accumulate wealth, you must spend less than you earn. There are two ways to do this. First, you can actually spend less. Second, you can earn more.” It’s basic stuff, but it’s difficult for many people to actually implement.
The same principle applies to fitness. In one of his excellent comments on this site, greenman2001 recently wrote, “There’s only one way to lose weight: to consume fewer calories than you burn.” Absolutely. This is the fundamental principle of weight loss. And as with money, there are two ways to approach this equation: you can decrease the number of calories you consume, or you can increase the number of calories you burn.
In personal finance, when a person opts to reduce her spending (which is the easiest of the two choices, in most cases), we call her frugal. Frugality is a fundamental skill for money management. Yet I’m not aware of a similar term for a person who opts to reduce his calorie consumption. Is there one? I believe it’s a notion that deserves some exploration.
Finding frugality with food
One reason people struggle with debt is that they haven’t learned the value of frugality. Instead, they allow themselves to fritter away their earnings dollar by dollar, buying knitting needles, comic books, hunting equipment, or whatever. They do not understand the power of frugality.
Again, the same is true with food. People gain weight (a form of corporeal debt) because they haven’t grasped the consequences of small decisions. A soda with lunch, an extra helping of mashed potatoes, a handful of Hot Tamales from a candy machine — these small indulgences combine to produce a greater effect. When a person fails to practice “food frugality”, it doesn’t manifest itself as financial debt — it’s reflected as fat.
The key, then, is to adopt smart skills with food. Financial frugality is a learned skill. It takes time to understand the benefits of buying used books, of shopping for clothes at thrift stores, of re-using bags from the grocery store. Some of this seems cheap at first, but it’s actually a path to wealth. I need to learn some of these same skills with food.
Smaller portions are an excellent way to start. Taking a smaller portion is an example of food frugality. So is choosing a “light” yogurt, or drinking water instead of juice. And, of course, so is ignoring the Siren call of the candy machine in the lobby of the bank.