Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Lessons Learned from Diet Books: How to Think Like a Rich Person

For a long time now, I've been wanting to write about the similarities between managing one's money and managing one's waistline. The kind of self-discipline involved in saving money and reducing debt is very much paralleled by what it takes to lose weight and eat healthily. I'm certainly not the first blogger to notice this (see Sitting Pretty, Frugal for Life, Kate Spills the Beans, and this great chart showing how American house sizes correlate to obesity rates!)

With that in mind, I started to wonder about how weight loss and finance compare in the book publishing world. At any given time, there always seem to be at least a couple of diet and personal finance books on the bestseller list. So do they offer similar advice? Or can the lessons in one type of book be applied to the other?

A couple of weeks ago, I attended the BookExpo convention in New York. I didn't have a chance to take photos of all the upcoming finance books as I did last year, but one day I noticed that signed copies were being given away of a recent diet book that has gotten a lot of attention, so I snagged one.
The Beck Diet Solution claims to "train your brain to think like a thin person," using techniques based on cognitive therapy. Might there be some analogy to training one's brain to think like a rich person, or at least a debt-free person? Of course there is no universal way that rich or debt-free people think, and many debt-free people wouldn't be considered rich by the usual definition. For the purposes of this post, I'm defining rich people as people who are financially secure, i.e. free of credit card debt, living within their means, on track to be able to retire comfortably-- these aren't insignificant things, and should at least make you feel rich if you've accomplished them!

In The Beck Diet Solution, Chapter 3 is titled "How Thin People Think." The author lists 8 characteristics that make it difficult for many people to diet, and claims that thin people don't have these characteristics. They make a lot of sense, I think, and can easily be translated into traits that might be common among people who find it hard to save money:

#1: You Confuse Hunger with the Desire to Eat
Translates to: You confuse need with want.
You need to learn to differentiate between what is really a necessity, and what is not, and practice depriving yourself a bit so you can experience what true need is really like.

#2: You Have a Low Tolerance for Hunger and Cravings
Translates to: You have a hard time not acting on your desire to buy things.
You need to learn that desires don't have to be acted on right away, and that if you don't buy something you want at that moment, you won't necessarily be haunted by it for the rest of your life.

#3: You Like the Feeling of Being Full
Translates to: You like being surrounded by possessions that make you feel prosperous, or spending money makes you feel prosperous.
Just as there is a difference between eating until you are full, and over-eating to the point where you feel stuffed, you need to recognize the difference between enjoying some of the rewards your money can buy, and over-doing it. You have to train yourself to appreciate what you can reasonably spend, and not feel deprived because you can't spend more.

#4: You Fool Yourself About How Much You Eat
Translates to: You fool yourself about how much you spend.
If you know how much you spend, it's easier to control. You might overspend a little one day, and then know you should compensate by cutting back on another day.

#5: You Comfort Yourself With Food
Translates to: You comfort yourself by spending money.
If emotional distress makes you want to run out and go shopping, you need to learn other ways of comforting and distracting yourself, and try to solve the problems that are upsetting you.

#6: You Feel Helpless and Hopeless When You Gain Weight
Translates to: You feel helpless and hopeless when you get into debt.
You need to learn to have faith in your own decisions and ability to act on them. If you overspend and get into debt, make a plan about how to solve your problem, and stick to it, rather than feeling like you're a failure and demoralizing yourself.

#7: You Focus on Issues of Unfairness
Translation: none needed.
Yes, some people are genetically thin, and some people are born rich. That said, just as many people look effortlessly thin but actually work quite hard to stay that way, many rich people did not have their wealth handed to them on a silver platter, and worked very hard to get it. In any case, how other people got their money isn't really something you should be worrying about when you're trying to get your own financial house in order.
Of course, unlike your weight, your finances may be affected by government policies you feel are unfair-- if you want to change them, get involved and take action to do so, but in the meantime, you're stuck in the world you live in and ultimately, you and only you are responsible for how you spend your money. You have to accept the fact that getting rich isn't going to be easy for you.

#8: You Stop Dieting Once You Lose Weight
Translation: You stop watching your spending once you get out of debt, or reach a certain savings goal.
If you've really buckled down and reached a financial goal, that's great, but you should look at your financial habits in terms of long term goals, not just immediate ones. You have to change your attitude towards money for life, or you'll find yourself in trouble again in the future.

So, a thin person knows why they are eating, knows how much they are eating, is willing to feel hungry, doesn't use food as a distraction, doesn't think gaining a few pounds is an irreversible catastrophe, accepts that staying thin takes some work, and sticks with this attitude for life. A rich person knows how much they are spending, whether it's truly important, knows they will sometimes have to say "I can't afford it," feels satisfied with moderate possessions, doesn't shop as a distraction, doesn't stress out if they go a little over budget now and then, doesn't resent other people's money, and sticks with this attitude for life. That all sounds pretty good to me! Maybe author Dr. Judith Beck should write "The Beck Budget Solution!"

I'm looking forward to trying this with some other diet books, though I'm not sure all of them will prove as useful: French Women Don't Get Poor? The South Beach Savings Plan? YOU: On a Budget? We shall see!


Bob said...

This is insightful and definately food for thought. No pun intended.

Anonymous said...

I love this post. Personal finance and health/fitness are two of my favorite subjects, and the similarities are hard to miss.

Anonymous said...

good post, the analogy is useful. I am doing the Beck Diet Solution from the book, with good results.

One could also use many of the techniques from the book for personal finance. For example, a person could track their Savings-Debt using a graph, with the zero point being debt free.

The Behavioral techniques of walking away from purchases, Bingeing, etc, they are all applicable.

I think its similar, as food is food-energy, measured in Calories, and money, is moneyenergy, measured in dollars.
Same thing, pretty much.

One could do an entire program on this, similar to the Beck Solution, but for personal finance.

Anonymous said...

Yup, this has occurred to me too. they're both about overspending a budget, caloric or financial. though the paradox is that now rich = thin, whereas in earlier cultures, wealth equaled fat. As in "rich food".
Perhaps we should collaborate on a blockbuster series called Rich Thin Dad, Poor Fat Dad?
here's my post of a few months ago.

Anonymous said...

I've noticed that I can be somewhat successful on a diet OR on a budget; it's as if I have a limited amount of self-control, and if I exercise it in one department, all hell breaks loose in the other :) but I keep trying!

Madame X said...

@ MoneyCHangesThings-- good suggestion!

@ Beth-- that is funny about not being able to control both things! I think it must be true-- the more money I save, the more I weigh!

Anonymous said...

Very nice correlation. I think I've subconsciously noticed these things before because as I was reading this I kept thinking to myself, "yeah, I've thought of that!" I guess I never thought of them all at the same time or in this exact context. Nice work! :)

Escape Brooklyn said...

Great post! I always suspected that I channeled my obsessive diet & exercise program into being diligent with my finances. Hopefully I'll reach the "maintenance" phase with my wealth the way I have with my fitness level!

Anonymous said...

I think there is a parallel between poor gov policies and obesity too. Farm subsidies for corn but not for vegetables. The fact that it's cheaper to buy empty calories than healthy ones. That's not the whole story behind obesity, but it's part of it.

ChiefFamilyOfficer said...

I too have been thinking about the similarities between managing one's finances and managing one's weight. Thanks for giving me a place to start. Great post!

Single Ma said...

This is an excellent post and I love the analogy! I've never thought about it quite that way but you're absolutely right. Budgets and Diets...they ARE very similar. For some reason, I fail miserably at the dieting part.

Where do I sign up for overdraft, I mean, overweight protection?

Anonymous said...

@ Single Ma: Have you ever done Weight Watchers (with the points)? You get 35 Flex points to use "if necessary" during a week -- viola! Overdraft protection.

Dawn said...

Madame X~
My roommate and I have taken a more vegetable/fruit, less meat approach to our eating and we are walking more.

It clears our head when we walk so we can think outside the box for finances.

Good post!

Anonymous said...

Interesting parallel, but what about the people who tend to accumulate both dollars and pounds?

Anonymous said...

Great piece of info..


Anonymous said...

I think the two can be connected with one word that really makes being fit and rich possible:


Raydancer said...

Read the introduction to The Hacker's Diet (a free online book that's been around for over a decade)...I think you'll find it an interesting take on this concept.

Anonymous said...

I fully understand your comparison between managing weight versus managing money, however you haven't shown any true correlation. The chart you provided a link to showing this statistically means nothing. You haven't tied house size to obesity. You compared house size to time, and you compared obesity to time. This does NOT show a correlation because time is a confounding variable. You could just as well replace house size with anything that is more or less continuously increasing - for example the S+P 500, the population of India, annual revenue collected by the IRS, or the number of rock bands to have sold a million albums. All of these increase over time as well. Yet American obesity is not tied to the stock market, population of India, how much the government collects in taxes, or the increased success of rock music since the 60's. In order to correlate obesity to house size you need to measure the weights of people in big houses and compare them to the weights of people in small houses (Time is not a variable).

Jason R

Anonymous said...

It definitely makes sense. After having tried sooo many diet programmes or fads fighting the Battle of the Bulge,I decided to create my own programme using the Bottom Line philosophy used in business. It is not a diet but a lifestyle. And you know what I have not only lost 8 kg but also found the 'fountain of youth'. It feels great.
By the way, I defied the myth that losing weight and other problems concerning menopausal women are hard to fight. Wrong.

Anonymous said...

This makes sense when I compare it to my marriage. The more and more my husband gains weight the more I start to see his choice not to improve financially. The more and more I try to save the more I worry about my health (because that can get costly).

Alli said...

Wow this is a great post!

I am reevaluating my budget and diet right now. I was shocked to see how much money was going towards food. I guess it stands to reason that my wallet will increase as my waistline decreases.


Anonymous said...

Your post has a lot of truth to it. The insights are something that we all can consider no matter where we are in our financial journey. There's no insurance policy for losing weight or gaining wealth. They both take time and consistency. Those things always lead to success.