Fat and Debt

I was in the best physical shape of my life in grad school. Not only had I gone on a diet, but I did not have time to eat or money to buy food. Nevertheless, I did have enough time to put on tennis shoes and run. Add to that some unhappy things in my life induced stress that made the pounds melt away. For one brief, shining moment, I got onto a scale and saw that my weight matched the recommendations of the American Heart Association for my height–178 pounds.

It was glorious, but in the next term I moved into a co-op and spent more time on homework and zero time exercising. My weight quickly ballooned twenty pounds. By the time I got married a year and a half later, I had gained 35 pounds, but after that my weight stabilized. Over the next three decades my weight went up inexorably. It wasn’t hard at all for the weight to creep up and up and up.

Conversely, I had gotten into debt during the ‘80s buying houses, cars, and computers. But I dug out of debt and stayed out of debt thereafter.

My every birthday ending with zero is traumatic: 30, 40, 50, and then I was 59, on blood pressure meds, feeling pain in my joints, unable to comfortably walk more than across the room to the refrigerator. Was I obese? Quite so. I was at 286 pounds.

The term “obese” caused me enough emotional pain that I was in total denial about it.

I rightly concluded that unless I did something major, I’d soon be dead and/or my quality of life would be so bad that I’d just as soon be dead. I started exercising like a madman. The pounds did not melt away. It was a long, hard slog that took me about a year and a half.

I thought it would be impossible for me to lose 100 pounds. It was. So, I ended up doing the impossible. Instead of briefly flirting with the AMA recommended weight, I have stayed there for over a year. (Only of late have I let my weight creep up and today I’m 9 pounds above that target. It’s a lot better than 100 pounds over, but it makes me mad at myself.)

In a way, a ton of college debt is a little bit like being 100 pounds overweight. Or debt for any reason. It is impossible to dig out of that hole overnight. It is a long, hard slog that takes years.

Two things have to happen:

  1. You have to spend less than you make. This is like eating fewer calories than your body burns.
  2. You have to consistently repeat this spend-less routine every day–for months and months.

It requires more than just a desultory whim to rearrange some details of how one lives. It affects your whole identity. Like I became an exercise junkie, getting out of debt required me to become a tightwad. Dave Ramsey talks about gazelle intensity. That’s a nice thought, but this isn’t a sprint, but a marathon.

After I got debt-free, I got lazy and started spending as much as I earned. Sure, I maxed out my IRAs, but that was not enough. I stupidly wasted years this way when I should have been accumulating wealth. It took me seriously reevaluating my retirement timeline to knock me out of this stupid.

Lately, I’ve realized I am doing the same with weight control. Sure I had continued to exercise, but not as much. And I had loosened up on my eating. The pounds had been creeping up. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.

Diet and budget are not things to take up temporarily. They are both lifestyle things.

It’s not a sprint.

And it’s not a marathon, either.

A marathon has a finish line after 26 miles. We have to make diet and exercise–as well as saving and spending–a lifestyle. That means we have to make it comfortable and enjoyable so that we won’t stop when we hit the finish line–because there should be no finish line.

Steve Poling

Masters degrees in math and computer science. Poet in several computer languages. I write stories about Sherlock Holmes' brother Mycroft, steampunk, and SF.

Grand Rapids, Michigan http://www.catfoodretirement.com