The Money Diet: lose weight, gain money

salacd barLike many (or should I say most?) Americans, I'm going to go on a diet, starting today, Jan. 1, 2010. And I'm going to stick to it this time.
If no one believes me, I understand. Even I don't entirely believe what I'm writing right now. After all, I'm 17 days away from my 40th birthday, and every year since sometime in my 20s, I've come up with this not-so-original goal of dieting to lose 30 pounds in a year. I dutifully add the diet to my other resolutions, and come Dec. 31, while I may have accomplished many of the goals I set for myself, the "lose 30 pounds" one always goes unfulfilled. In fact, one year, I gained 30 pounds.

So I've come up with a new diet plan. While this may not be original, it does make perfect sense, which is why I'm going to try it. I'm calling this year's diet the "Money Diet." And starting today, I'm going to count how much money I save by eating less.

Maybe it won't work, but I'm thinking that if I can start training myself to say, "Hey, don't buy that eighty-nine-cent candy bar," when I'm at, say, a Walgreen's (no offense, Walgreen's), and I jot down that 89 cents in a journal, maybe I'll start to see some progress, not just on my scale, but in my bank account, too. Not that I buy too many candy bars, but I do have plenty of careless eating habits, from snacking on junk food in the evenings to eating fast food too many times a week. I can imagine my journal entries for a week looking something like this:

Money saved
Three Musketeers bar that I didn't buy: $0.89
McDonald's meal that I didn't purchase: $4.96
Second helping of mashed potatoes that I didn't eat: $0.47

Except I expect next week's journal entry will likely be much longer -- much longer. But you get the idea.

On the other hand, I might also start finding that I spend more money when I'm trying to eat healthier and exercise (yeah, I plan on doing that as well). After all, if I'm not eating a meal at McDonald's, I have to eat somewhere else, and healthier meals tend to be more expensive than the non-healthy, at least in my experience.

(And, yes, I know that McDonald's has salads and I'm envisioning the email I'm going to get from their marketing department, but historically, my willpower in bypassing the non-healthy fare for the healthier stuff isn't that great ...take that as a culinary compliment, McDonald's).

So why am I bringing this up here? Because for the next few Fridays (and probably longer, if I can manage to stick to this plan and start losing weight), I'm going to report on WalletPop how my Money Diet is going. With any luck, I'll actually be able to show that I'm making money while losing weight, though I'm fully prepared for it to go the other way and, in trying to be healthier, end up spending more. After all, Americans -- according to the nameless studies I keep pulling up on the Internet -- annually spend somewhere between $33 billion and $55 billion on weight-loss products and services. So maybe I'll have to pony up for something, too.

So how much do I weigh? That's what I suspect anyone reading this now is starting to wonder. I was going to post my weight today, but I have to admit I'm chickening out. After all, I know my wife's probably going to read this article with keen interest, and I can imagine my mother's eyes following my every word right now. And while I don't mind putting it down in print, I'd like to make sure I'm actually serious this time. I wouldn't have suggested this Money Diet series to my editors if I weren't, but for all I know, three days into this, I'll be telling my editor, "Weight loss series? What weight loss series? I'm writing a weight loss series? I know, why don't I write about raising chickens in your backyard? That's a popular trend!"

So let's see how this goes, and probably next Friday, I'll tell you my starting weight, how many pounds I may have lost in the first week and how much I saved in the first week of my Money Diet by eating less.

For now, let's just say I'm well north of 200 pounds, and that when I see reruns ofThe Flintstones or the sitcom King of Queens, and the fat jokes about Fred or delivery driver Doug Heffernen are flying, I think, "What the heck? They aren't so bad."

Because when I look in the mirror, I don't see someone who's particularly overweight. But some recent --and past -- photographic evidence in our family albums disagrees, and the bathroom scale probably isn't lying, either, much as I'd like to think it is. And while I'm really perfectly comfortable living inside the body of a Fred Flintstone, I realize that gaining weight every year is eventually going to cost me in more ways than just a higher grocery or restaurant bill.

I've been lucky so far, never having a cholesterol or high blood pressure problem, but I know the odds of staying healthy while packing on the pounds are eventually going to decrease. Eventually, I could see my health insurance premiums and health care costs rise. I can imagine that if my trend of gaining weight every year continues and I'm, say, north of 300 pounds in six years, I could just wind up having a heart attack at age 46 and be hospitalized, putting a serious crimp in my freelance income.

When I step on the scale, I can see the warning signs ahead. And like many Americans who look in the mirror and make the resolution to go on a diet, I'd like to avoid poor health becoming the overriding theme of the 2010s for me. So who knows? Maybe calculating my finances and relating them to weight loss might work. It should be more fun and feel more substantial than just counting calories.

No matter how you go about it, losing weight, like saving money, takes a lot of discipline, forethought and willpower. Will I be able to finally start changing my habits and take my life in a healthier direction? I certainly hope so. And now's as good a time as any to start.

Geoff Williams is a frequent contributor to WalletPop. He is also the author of C.C. Pyle's Amazing Foot Raceand co-author of the new book Living Well with Bad Credit. In a week, we'll see if he's actually lost any weight or if he has conveniently come down with a case of "writer's amnesia."
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