Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Diets & Budgets: So Very Alike

While it's a little early to call my diet a "success," I am certainly on track (13 pounds total as of Monday), and I am learning a lot about what I can eat versus what I want to eat versus whether it's even worth trying to trade one for another.

One of the things I've discovered is that I don't have to eat certain kinds of food, I just habitually eat them. I "want" to eat bread and chocolate and mayonnaise (yes, straight out of the jar, I almost did it the other day when I was upset), but I want them out of habit more than out of any particular desire for them... I think they'll make me feel good, they don't actually make me feel good.

If I went and ate a hamburger right now, I would certainly enjoy the flavor, but I wouldn't feel any better afterward, it wouldn't make my day any brighter or my mood any happier. It would just be a passing pleasure with an uncomfortable cost in wasted calories and fat-grams (a cheeseburger from In-n-Out is something like 500 calories, a third of my entire daily intake). Candy is the same, the amount of calories in a little mini chocolate-bar is equal to half of an entire meal, and it's not nearly as big or filling.

So I'm starting to look at food as simply fuel, rather than as something from which I have to derive pleasure. Of course, I require that my food taste good, bad-tasting food actually depresses me, but I don't need all the textures and varieties and gourmet hoop-de-doo that I thought I needed... that's all just habit, not need.

My daily diet now consists of very simple small meals at regular intervals (two hundred calories every two hours). For breakfast at 7 a.m. I drink a vitamin shake I bought from a very persuasive salesman at GNC, which fills me up fairly well; at 9 a.m., I have a Clif Bar with my tea; at 11, I prepare my lunch, which I split into two equal portions, consisting of a steam-bag of green vegetables (but not leafy-green, I can't stand those) and either plain fish fillets or thick slices of lean lunch meat (turkey, ham, beef); at 1 p.m., I eat an orange and two cheese sticks (made from low-fat milk, only sixty calories each), or maybe a bag of raw sugar-snap peas; I eat the second half of my lunch at 3; and then at 5, I eat another Clif Bar on my way to the gym, where I do twenty or thirty minutes of cardio (depending how crowded it is...there's a 20-minute rule when people are waiting), jam out on my iPod, and ogle the passing hotties (and get very irritated when there are no hotties... last Tuesday, I swear I was the hottest guy there).

Then for dinner at 7 it's either another fish fillet or else a smallish piece of meat with raw greens like arugula, maché, or baby spinach (my inability to eat cooked leafy greens has been something of a hurdle in my meal planning), maybe with a tomato and a few squirts of spray salad dressing; finally I get a bed-time snack at 9, which is usually a cup of warm milk and either cheese sticks or turkey slices. I've been averaging about 1450 calories a day, and I seldom ever get hungry.

None of the food is very exciting, it's in fact quite plain; but I'm not getting tired of it, either... and best of all, it's really easy to prepare. Those steam-bags of veggies are the cat's ass, let me tell you (Birds Eye started the trend, but Safeway came out with a store brand which I rather prefer; especially the string beans with edamame and mushrooms, divoon)... throw 'em in the microwave for five minutes, dump them in a bowl, and you're in business! And the fish fillets (I use Gorton's, grilled salmon or tilapia, no breading and only a whisper of sauce) are just as easy, put them on a plate and nuke for four minutes, and that's all you have to do.

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So, again while I wouldn't yet call it a success in toto, the success-so-far has inspired me to start "dieting" in another portion of my life: my finances. My credit record is an absolute shambles (score in the mid-600s), my credit-card debt is a shocking mess (though not as big as a lot of people's), and I overdrew my checking account again this week (I keep forgetting about my student loan payments for some reason), resulting in crippling overdraft charges.

I found myself, the last couple of days, asking myself why I put up with this crap from myself; rather than let it continue, I have taken what I learned from creating my diet-and-exercise regimen and am applying the new knowledge to a budget-and-savings regimen: First, I set some goals (zero balance on my credit cards, and three months' pay in my savings account, within three years); then I figured out a plan (using a credit-card calculator, I discerned how much to pay on my credit cards every month, and then put those and my other expenses in a nice spreadsheet to see what I can do on my base pay); and most importantly, am going to start right now rather than "someday."

I believe that what I have to do to make this work is stop thinking of money as something to spend... or, rather, stop thinking of money as something that makes me happy when I spend it. Yes, I derive a great deal of pleasure from buying things, but it's simply not worth the pain of getting slammed with increased interest payments (I'm over 33% APR on all three of my credit cards) and overdraft fees (I just gave the bank $150 that it already knows I don't have).

Essentially, I have to prioritize the fleeting pleasure of an eBay spree against the lasting pleasure of financial security, just as I have prioritized the fleeting pleasure of a mortadella-and-provolone-on-rosemary-focaccia-with-pesto-mayonnaise against the lasting pleasure of being able to see my penis without a mirror. I can't have both, I have to choose... and I shall choose what will give me the greater benefit rather than the immediate fix.

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I sound so sententious when I'm starting on a new project, don't I? I'm going to have to work on that. Lighten up, bitch! It's just life, nobody gets out alive!

Here's wishing you a spectacular day. Love!

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