Friday, August 31, 2012

Debunking the "Diet" Notion

I spent hours in the bookshop today being nerdy...was looking for Christmas pressies and wound up getting some for myself as well :) What are your favourite 'diet' books? My favourite right now is definitely 'It Starts With Food' 
(Photo Credit

First, allow me to quell any skepticism about what it means to go on a spending diet:

1. The word "diet" is often associated or aligned with deprivation; we can't eat what we want, or buy what we want, or have what we want. We are limited.
Isn't it more limiting to have to shop specialty stores because you can't find clothes in your size? Isn't it more limiting to sit on the sidelines while your buddies play volleyball or your kids run through the park because you are out of shape? Isn't it more limiting to stay home because you can't afford to go out for your best friend's birthday? Isn't it more limiting to have a house full of stuff but not be able to pay your energy bill?

2. Another my of "dieting" is that it is temporary.  
Most people who deprive themselves on a diet of any sort can only do so for a certain period of time before it becomes to difficult. Their willpower bottoms out, their initial discipline leads to making exceptions, and results become a distant wish instead of a reality. They key is to not make changes that are unrealistic to uphold, and to make them gradually.  If you want to see short term results, by all means, opt for a short term plan! There really is no quick fix for a wide waist or empty bank account.

3. If it works for that person, the same plan should work for you, too.
The basic concept might be universally compatible, but you must make the effort to individualize your methods. If someone decided to train for a marathon and loses a lot of excess weight, that doesn't mean someone who hates running needs to commit to months of training for a 26-mile endeavor. What I write about here may not precisely work for anyone else, but the idea is likely the same: eat better, move more, spend less, be consistent.
Okay, now that we have that out of the way, I will now outline my system for the next four months:
  • Use SparkPeople to log everything I eat.  I lost fifteen pounds in college by counting calories using a website called My Daily Plate, which no longer exists (it was absorbed by Livestrong), so I know it will help hold me accountable for what I stuff into my gullet. If I lie by omission, I only hurt myself. I know this works.
  • Only buy groceries I need, not what I might want. If I run out of eggs or butter or tomatoes, I will pick them up at the market. I will not be buying chips or wine or those amazing frozen chocolate croissants from Trader Joe's. I receive a CSA box full of vegetables every week, and most of my meals will come from these items.
  • No dining out unless I have a coupon or it is a truly special occasion. Weddings, a loved one's birthday, or a family reunion might all qualify as special occasions. Not wanting to cook, having a craving, and boredom are not valid exceptions to the rule. Eating away from home is one of the most frivolous spending indulgences, in my opinion. Still, I love it; I'm a foodie who loves to try new things. Plus, I spend far too much money on grabbing an iced chai here and a sandwich there. It adds up in terms of both caloric intake and financial expense. I do have a few Groupons that will expire before the end of the year, and since I've already invested the money in the initial purchase, it would be wasteful to blow them off. However, I won't be buying any new Groupons for the time being. Once they're gone, they're gone. They can offer a great deal (if you actually use them) but it's even cheaper not to buy one at all.
  • Exercise every day. Even if it's for ten minutes. If all I do is lie on the floor and do some crunches and leg lifts, at least I've done something. I strive to get 30 minutes of cardio 4-5 days of the week. Workouts could consist of any of the following: swimming, stationary bike, the elliptical machine, kickboxing DVDs, Dance Dance Revolution, jogging, walking, strength training, yoga, stair climbing, volleyball, spinning, or Zumba. I will be logging my exercise as well as my food intake. If I'm not seeing the results I want, the reasons should be evident in my notes. Have I only been doing mini workouts for the past two weeks? Have I been snacking too much? Then I will tweak my system accordingly.
  • Spend money only on bills, auto fuel, groceries, and emergencies. No shopping. Whatever I think I want to buy can wait until next year. And if I wait that long, odds are I don't need it at all. My bills include my mortgage, internet, energy, water/sewer, cell phone, gym membership, and medical payments. A failing furnace or a flat tire will qualify as an emergency, not a hungry-but-don't-want-to-wait-an-hour-to-get-home-so-I'll-buy-this-pizza scenario.
  • This is also going to be an information diet.  There is no reason why anyone needs to be on a computer all day.  I am guilty of this far too often. The world will not end if I take a book into the other room and read quietly, or if I listen to a podcast in the car instead of the radio. If the television is on, I better have dumbbells in my hands.  If the game is on, I'm doing laundry or sit-ups or something or make that time more active. Otherwise, the TV is off and I'm doing something else with my time. I don't need to be bombarded with commercials telling me what I should buy, hyperbolic political ads that mislead, or speculation about what some celebrity's baby looks like. Facebook gets my attention once a day; it will not be a perpetually-opened tab on my web browser. I need my world to slow down. I'd rather spend that time cooking a healthy meal or getting fit or calling a good friend.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Spending Diet: Fall Edition

Well, folks, it has been a summer of restoration and recovery.

I had knee reconstruction surgery in late April (following my injury back in January) and spent two months on medical leave. My medial patellofemoral ligament and the cartilage behind my kneecap were replaced with donor tissue. For six weeks I was not allowed to put weight on my leg. I wore a brace at all times, unless I was hooked up to the CPM machine.  I could not take a shower for two weeks; I washed using a basin of water and a cloth. I could not use the restroom without assistance. I had to sleep on my back, which I never normally do. All of this took a lot of getting used to. My mother and father took turns living with me so I could have a caretaker at all times. I am extremely grateful to them, and also to my beau, my friends, my family, and my neighbors... everyone who came to visit me during my recovery.

Rebuilding my knee has been like a full-time job; I have to stretch it and exercise it every single day.  There is still some swelling and I cannot descend a flight of stairs one leg at a time without being very careful and deliberate about it. Unless I want to limp for the rest of my life, I cannot stop pushing my limits. It is now the end of August, and my physical therapy is finally drawing to a close. I have regained full flexibility in my knee, and have recovered some of the muscle mass.  Recently, I was approved to start a jogging and plyometrics regimen.

My outlook has been, for the most part, very positive.  I've willingly pushed through the pain and discomfort of therapy. I've gladly endured the time-consuming process of my recovery. The support I've received from loved ones has been tremendous. The journey hasn't been without its setbacks, however; the sedentary lifestyle as a result of my injury, surgery, and healing has caused me to gain over 20 pounds this year.

In addition to the 20 pounds I had already hoped to lose prior to the injury, this additional weight gain has pushed me into an unhealthy range.  I have made permanent dietary changes over the past few months (details to follow in a later post), but it hasn't been enough. I need to be more active. Therefore, following the medical clearance for this new workout regimen, I excitedly purchased a new pair of running shoes.  Though anything more than a jog around the block is a pipe dream at this point, I have to start somewhere.

The injury and its related expenses were ultimately the driving force behind my initial Spending FastNow, in an attempt to slim my spending as well as my waistline, I am embarking on a four-month Spending Diet beginning September 1st.  It will not be as strict as my earlier fast, but rather a model for a more long-term lifestyle and budget I can stick with. I'm still injured, so I can't hit the ground running (literally), but that won't serve as an excuse to become complacent.

I hope to have your encouragement and support. I also hope to offer insight that can inspire others who struggle with finding the balance in their financial and physical well-being. Just remember going into this: health is always more important than wealth.