When it comes to weight management, everyone is all about the "macros" (short for macronutrient—carbohydrates, protein and fat). These are the nutrients in our food that provide energy —AKA calories. With all the talk about which one is best it is easy to lose sight of the big picture. Total calorie matter. If you look at the bulk of well-done research, in the end, it is total calories that have the biggest impact. What is the ideal distribution of those macronutrients? We'll hit that at the end of this article. In the meantime, what does this all have to do with your finances? Let's take a look at how managing your calories are a lot like managing your money.
Know your numbers:
While you don't have to do full-on calorie counting on a daily basis, it's a good idea to have a ballpark number of your average needs (My Plate Plan calculatoris a simple tool for a baseline estimate), so you have a point of reference for decision making, for example, when reading food labels. When it comes to your money, it's the same. You have to know how much is coming in before you can decide how much to spend and where to spend it. Education is one of the most rewarding and import careers out there, but a "-rrari" isn't going to fit into your budget unless you have another source of wealth—like a trust fund.
While there is no need to track every penny that you spend or the calories in every bite, tracking is an effective tool to get the big picture when you find yourself off balance and you're not sure why. If you have $10,000 coming in every month and find you're out of cash by the third week, it's time to spend a month tracking your spending. You might find that those unplanned frequent stops at the grocery stores or the daily lattes really add up. Likewise, if your weight is creeping up, spend a couple weeks tracking your intake and activity (My Fitness Palis a popular tool). You may discover that those heart-healthy nuts you've been munching on while working at your desk every afternoon are really adding up (PS—800 calories per cup, Folks).
Another benefit of tracking—and possible the most impactful— is that it creates mindfulness around your day-to-day choices. Tracking makes you stop and think before you act. That's why tracking is most effective if you do it throughout the day rather than waiting until the end of the day to write everything down—besides the fact that you might forget. If you have the habit of eating a cookie every time you walk in the kitchen, you might think twice if you are paying attention to what you eat—especially if you have to write it down or enter it in an app. Likewise, you might not be as willing to hand your kid ten bucks every time he walks out of the door, if you stop to think how much it might add up.
Get what you need first:
Even if you stay within your means, you're not going to be healthy if you spend all of your calories on highly-processed junk food. Spending all of your money on going out to eat and buying new clothes each month without first putting aside the bulk of your cash flow for paying bills, saving for retirement and buying groceries would not make for good financial health either. If you enter your data in the My Plate Plan calculatorto find you estimated calorie needs, be sure to click on the calorie range you are given for the full plan—it provides a ball park guide for the amount you need from each food group to cover your bases for good nutrition. The calorie estimate is definitely helpful, but even more important is giving your body what it needs each day from a variety of foods for your long-term health.
Find great substitutes:
Finding substitutes for costly items—whether it be calories or cash—is a simple solution that has a huge impact. If you swap out your three regular sodas per day for three cans of raspberry flavored seltzer water, you save 450 calories per day. Maybe, you love to go to dinner and the theater every week in the summer, but find the expense is crushing your budget. Finding a free or low-cost option that you enjoy just (or almost) as much can dramatically improve your cash flow. A picnic in the park while watching theater on the green might be a less costly and equally enjoyable activity. And there are tons of free or low-cost activities to discover!
Fit it what you love:
Remember our dinner and theater example? If you love to go to the theater, make sure you fit it in to your budget. You might not get to go every week, but you may find that once per month is completely affordable for you. If you love chocolate cake, please don't vow to never have it again for the sake of calories or health. Learn how to fit it in. It may not be every day, but an occasional treat is totally worth the splurge in the context of an overall healthy eating pattern.
Find opportunities to increase how much you have to work with:
In the context of good health, that means the more active you are the more leeway you have to boost up your intake without paying the price of added weight. Of course, keeping your overall health in mind, you'd want to spend a good deal of those extra calories on healthy foods that fuel your body rather than consuming a lot of highly processed junk food. The monetary comparison? Find a side gig you enjoy, then use that expendable income to buy a new piece of art, to make memories on an amazing trip or update your home—but think twice about spending your extra money on a whole lot of junk that ends up as clutter in your life.