Today marks a pretty exciting day for me.
I am officially more than half-way to my weight loss goal. On July 1st, I set out to lose 50 pounds. Today, I stepped on the scale and – hooray! – had lost 26 pounds.
To celebrate, I’m writing this post, which has been floating around my head since about 15 pounds into my weight loss “journey”. As I worked hard to shed those pounds, it occurred to me that I had done this before. We had gotten out debt. No, the mechanics of shedding debt aren’t exactly the same as shedding weight, but the mental process is eerily similar.
If you have gotten out of debt or lost a significant amount of weight – and are now struggling to do the other, take comfort: You’ve gone through this gauntlet once before. You can do it again!
#1. For most of us, it’s not enough to cut spending, you also have to increase income.
If you’ve read our get out of debt saga, you know that one of the first things we did was look for additional sources of income. I found some freelance writing jobs, which ended up bringing in an extra $1000 – $1500 per month.
That may not sound like a ton of money, but it was a game changer for us. We used it to fund our baby emergency fund, to kick-start our debt snowball, and eventually to feed our full emergency fund. Maybe we could have done all this without that extra income, but it sure would have taken us a lot longer. And I didn’t want it to take longer. I wanted to be debt free NOW.
When I first started my “diet”, I tried just reducing my calorie account – since I’m not the gung-ho work-out type. But my weight wasn’t budging. In order to kick my adrenaline into high gear, I realized that I needed to start exercising. Exercise became my “freelance writing jobs”.
The added benefit, of course, is that exercise has made me feel more youthful, energetic and hopeful about my body than I’ve felt in years.
#2. Tracking your spending is the best way to know where you’re going wrong.
We spent the first two months of our get-out-debt journey not only cutting our spending, but religiously tracking every penny we spent.
This tracking illuminated a major problem: We had been over-spending by about $500 per month. No wonder we were in debt!
Tracking our spending forced the issue of accountability. We could no longer blithely burry our heads in the sand.
Counting calories has had the same impact on my weight loss. I signed up for My Fitness Pal (it’s free and it’s awesome!) on July 1. It’s an easy way to track the caloric and nutritional content of your eating, along with the calorie-burning benefits of your exercise. I can’t say enough good things about it.
At first, I just made sure I was at or under my caloric limit per day. But as the weeks went on, I started paying more attention to things like fiber, healthy fats, protein and vitamins. I figured out how different foods made me feel – whether they added to my energy level, or depleted it; whether they filled my belly for a few hours, or left me wanting more in a few minutes.
#3. You have to know your triggers — and develop a strategy to avoid them.
For most of us, over-spending and over-eating doesn’t just happen in a vacuum. There’s an emotional issue too, and at least for me, there are certain sights, sounds and smells that trigger that urge to spend – or eat.
The better my husband and I got about budgeting our money and tracking our spending, the more aware I became of these triggers – and how to avoid them. For example, we learned to grocery shop from a strict list to avoid those costly impulse purchases. On the other hand, we also agreed to allocate a set amount of “blow money” to myself and my husband each month in order to intentionally accommodate those instincts.
When it comes to food, I’ve realized that carbs are a major trigger. (I’m sure I’m not the only one.) I simply am not able to limit myself to just three-quarters of a cup of pasta. I can.not.do.it. So I don’t eat pasta very much any more. Because when I do, that meal is easily 600 or 700 calories and that inevitably puts me over for the day. I also avoid refined sugar, which seems to fog my brain — and my will power.
#4. You must embrace sacrifice.
When you first start getting out of debt, it really kinda stinks. It’s a lot easier (in the moment at least) to just swipe your credit card and remain in denial. It’s pretty much counter-cultural to be mindful of every dollar you spend and its impact on your overall financial picture.
But at a certain point, I realized that denial was actually quite debilitating. I was subtly, but constantly, anxious about money. The kind of anxiety you don’t even realize you have until one day the footsteps of the mailman (delivering bills you don’t know how you’re going to pay) causes a panic attack.
Losing weight is no bed of roses. It’s a lot more fun – and certainly easier – to overeat while lounging on the couch. But when I realized that I was winded walking up our stairs (WINDED!), and physically uncomfortable when I laid down at night, it dawned on me that I actually wasn’t having fun after all.
Truth is, I was miserable – physically and emotionally. As I started losing the weight, I got that immediate feedback that comes with paying off debt. I was rewarded for my sacrifice, which made the sacrifice a lot more palatable. In fact, over time, as I have seen my body change and my muscle mass increase, the sacrifice has even become sort of enjoyable.
#5. This isn’t a quick fix. This is a mental makeover.
I’m sure there are many more ways that losing weight and getting out of debt are similar, but I’m going to end the list with this one, because to me at least – it’s really the key.
No mater how much my husband and I deny ourselves today, we’ll probably never reach the point that we can spend or give however much we want – at least not unless we find some new (and much more lucrative) career paths. But that’s okay, because we have discovered that peace of mind is truly priceless. It’s far more valuable than any possession we could purchase.
Likewise with my body, I have come to accept that I will never be able to eat whatever I want, whenever I want. My reality has changed. Forever. I’m not a teenager anymore and metabolism is a waning thing. Exercising regularly is my new normal. Eating primarily vegetables, fruits, whole grains and lean protein is my forever reality.
The fix to my physical malaise isn’t quick – and it isn’t temporary. But having energy again, being able to actually make a muscle, fitting into clothing that doesn’t say XL on the tag, and improving my health profile actually feels a whole lot better than a sugary piece of cake ever tasted. And that’s a forever reality I can live with.
Have you made a major life change? Gotten out of debt? Saved a huge pile of cash? Lost of ton of weight? Set of a goal of running a marathon – and done it? Do you relate to any of these emotional changes?