Money Diet, week 18: Bad food may be hard-wired into us

duckI have a new theory about food, one I developed after watching some ducks in my neighborhood. We have these two ducks that seem to live on our street, which is your typical suburban street that's more or less in the Ohio countryside. There's a nondescript lake about a 10-minute walk away, where I presume these two ducks spend most of their time.

Frequently, though, they're on our street, waddling along in the sewer and eating bugs on the lawns. But they rarely, if ever, come to my yard, which appears to be the one lawn in the neighborhood that isn't treated with chemicals. Which makes me wonder: Are chemically-laden lawns, to a duck, like a Twinkie is to a human being? Maybe our lawn is healthier for a duck to nibble bugs from, but the bugs in our grass taste like broccoli whereas the critters in the lawns that are sprayed every few weeks with weedkiller offer something that's more like a cheeseburger with onion rings.

Not being an expert on ducks or lawn chemicals, this is just a tentative theory. But it would help explain why it's so hard to lose weight and be healthy. Maybe all animals, human and otherwise, are hard-wired to enjoy food that isn't good for us.

I've spent a lot of time this year, as regular readers of the "Money Diet" know, thinking about food. That's certainly a downside to any diet. If you're consciously avoiding certain foods, you're constantly consciously thinking about them, which possibly makes it harder to diet. I'm sure that's one reason many nutritionists urge people not to use the word diet but to just think of it as "changing the way you eat" in order to make it a lifetime change, rather than just a way they're eating for a few weeks or months.

Anyway, for those who aren't familiar with my column, since Jan. 1, I've been going out of my way to avoid snacks and junk food, and every week, I've been tallying up what I've been saving by not scarfing down unnecessary foods. Last week, I didn't do so well and gained two pounds. In fact, last week, for the first time, I didn't even bother adding up what I had saved, figuring I'd probably saved nothing. This week has been quite a bit better. I've exercised a lot more, and I avoided a ton of junk food and snacks.

That said, I only lost half a pound. Still, half a pound gone is still a loss, so let me put my weight down, right here and now.

My weight when I began: 264
My weight last week: 245
My weight this week: 244.5

While I'm happy to have lost anything, rather than gain weight like I did last week, shedding just half a pound, a week after gaining two, is frustrating. I definitely exercised more than usual in the past week, doing my usual running around outdoors with my two daughters, and I took a brisk, 45-minute hike by myself on a biking and walking path. Of course, if I could manage to do that 45-minute walk every day, I'm sure I'd have made much more progress.

So here's what I think I saved this week by not noshing on snacks and junk food. Considering how often I wanted to chow down, I think I did very well.
  • Yesterday, after visiting a park with my daughters, we arrived back home, just as an ice cream truck was making its way through the neighborhood. I treated my wife and daughters to some ice cream, but I didn't get anything for myself, even when the driver asked if I wanted anything. I stammered a "no" and saved $1.79.
  • Earlier in the week, after my daughters' Girl Scouts' meeting, I got them some ice cream, and while I was tempted to buy a 99-cent cone of nonfat ice cream that the ice cream parlor/convenience store was touting, I abstained. Actual savings: 99 cents.
  • Several times this week, I was at either a gas station or an convenience store and flirted with buying a candy bar -- but I didn't. Estimated savings: $3.
  • At least twice this week, I was driving around and could have picked up some fast food and didn't. Estimated savings: We'll say: $5.
  • I had an evening to myself and much of a Saturday, too, thanks to my wife being out of town, and my mother-in-law watching the kids. After my 45-minute walk and a quick shower (lest anyone think I went right to the grocery store), I went looking for dinner at a Kroger. Being on my own for the night -- and extremely hungry -- I almost convinced myself to buy a $7.99 supreme pizza, covered in vegetables but still slathered in cheese and salt and full of calories. I considered the Doritos, too. I thought about how nice it would be to buy some ice cream, perhaps a gallon of some nonfat (but still full of sugar) flavor. I stared at a bag of buffalo wings for a full 20 seconds. In the end, I bought some low-fat frozen egg rolls -- and two bags of pretzels (you buy one for $3.29 and get one free) that I've mentioned in numerous columns before. For years, I bought those pretzels, scarfed down two bags in about two days, easily consuming close to 3,000 calories. I'm sure I could have chosen more wisely, but I know I could have done much worse. And, yes, I managed to make the pretzels last longer than usual (four days, to be exact, which is at least an improvement). Estimated savings for that grocery store trip alone: $20.
And that about covers it.

My total saved this week: $29.79
Total saved this year so far: $386.12

The dollar figure is somewhat symbolic, of course. Even if I wasn't on this diet, I'd like to think that I wouldn't have spent $20 at the grocery store on junk food and snacks for myself, although, who knows? For a long time, I didn't give much thought to what I put in that grocery cart or what I ordered at a restaurant or even what I put in my mouth. At least this diet is making me think about what types of food I'm putting in my body, even if that also sometimes means I'm pondering some rather odd thoughts, like wondering what ducks enjoy eating.

Geoff Williams is a frequent contributor to WalletPop. He is also the co-author of the new book Living Well with Bad Credit.
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