On Food and Finances

I, like many Americans, love food. It’s debatable whether I love it too much, but for a long time I loved it in a very unhealthy way. When my mother got Type II diabetes and my brother got Type I within a year or so of each other, I decided maybe I should attempt to put limits on that love.

I was very overweight, as was my college roommate. We went on the South Beach diet five years ago and were very successful. I lost 35 pounds that I didn’t gain back until my recent pregnancy. Seems good and healthy, right? Physically, definitely. But I still had issues to work through.

After going through an uncomfortable adjustment period during which I mourned everything I couldn’t eat, I then went through a long period of obsessing over everything I could and did eat. Despite the fact that I was much healthier and was losing weight, I was just as obsessed with food as I had been before the diet—maybe more. It (both the diet and food in general) was my conversation topic of choice, regardless of whether the conversation began on anything remotely related to that topic. I imagine I drove people crazy, even though they were too polite to say so. There was nothing mentally healthy about my relationship with food at this point, even though my physical health was improving.

There had to come a point when I needed to realize that I just had to let go. That my diet had equipped me with the tools I needed to make better choices. To stop obsessing, and realize that it was ok if every now and then I ate something unhealthy, that it was ok to go to dinner with someone else and just shut up and eat whatever they served me. That I could enjoy food without it taking over my life. That the occasional physically unhealthy thing was better for me in other ways in the long run—and that the occasional unhealthy indulgence actually makes it easier to stay healthy the rest of the time.

I think that, in a materialistic culture such as ours, the same kind of thing often happens with money. We develop an unhealthy relationship with it early on. We spend it wantonly. We get into debt. We always want more and then, like filling ourselves on empty calories, we save it up and blow it on something equally useless.

Then, perhaps, we find a “diet” that works–some good principles that get us out of debt. But we can become just as obsessed with the cure as we were with the disease. And in spending so much time empowering ourselves with budgeting, with celebrating every debt we climb out of, we can develop the same kind of obsessive superiority complex I developed about my diet. We’re out of debt, but we’re just as consumed by money as we were when we were concerned only about its lack.

And I believe the same principles I learned about dieting also apply—that sometimes, it’s ok to “slip.” That, perhaps, the nonmaterial advantages of certain experiences make it worth the fiscal irresponsibility of a decision. That, as long as those kinds of decisions are the exceptions rather than the norm, you can still be financially healthy without being financially anorexic.

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