Why the Economy Is Making You Fat and How to Reverse It

Why the Economy Is Making You Fat and How to Reverse It

The new economic reality seems to go like this: The numbers you want to go up go down (housing prices, your bank balance), while the ones you want to go down go up (food prices, your weight). Your weight actually connects the two, because economic inflation can be directly related to waistline inflation. But the good news is that you have total control over one of those things.

Stress about money can send you straight for the stash of cookies you "bought for the kids." (You're far from alone on this.) To stop the flow of stress and pounds, you don't have to unlock the secrets of our med school textbooks (if you could read through the layers of yellow highlighter). Just pick up a pencil. Today. Then, determine where your money goes, where you want it to go, and what it takes to get these two in sync (you probably sort of know this already). This basic financial exercise will help you align your spending with your goals—and help melt stress and pounds faster than a pint of Ben & Jerry's on an Arizona sidewalk.

That's right. If you have financial stress—and most of us do—your brain tries to overcome it with a release of feel-good chemicals. It seeks things that cause those bliss chemicals to flow, including cookies, chips, and chardonnay. But those same things also cause fat to accumulate in your belly—the unhealthiest place to carry it. While there are good alternatives (mutually monogamous sex, a blazing bike ride) to those risky feel-good food fixes, what works even better is getting control of the problem: lack of good dollar health. (Get money worries under control.

It turns out that 50% of the typical person's stress (that likely means yours) could be eliminated by getting control of the typical household budget. Yup, your financial savvy directly affects your quality of life. In big ways. Less financial stress equals less stress eating—plus less danger of depression, hypertension, insomnia, fatigue, ulcers, migraines, and gastrointestinal upset.

If you're like most people, you were never taught to pay yourself first—but you should. That's good advice, whether it's coming from someone in scrubs (that would be us) or banker's suits.

  • Put 10% of every paycheck into a retirement account.
  • Put the next 10%—whether it's from a paper route or a corner-office-VP job—into a safety net.

    The safety net's purpose? If you are forced to change jobs or can't stand the ethics of your boss, you'll have the freedom to do what you need to do.

And if a cold look at your cash flow is more harrowing than an episode of Lost, get some expert advice and adopt the great habits you learn. Ask about consolidating your credit card debt onto one low-interest card, for instance, so you have a single -- and manageable -- monthly payment. Meet with a retirement specialist to learn how much more than that 10% you can start putting away. Talk to your employer about a flexible spending account (FSA) and/or a medical savings account (MSA) to help you use pretax dollars for medical expenses (that's like getting a raise right there).

The more you learn about managing your money, the more power you'll have over stress . . . and the less likely you are to succumb to the siren call of ice cream. Unloading financial stress will even help you look better. Feeling good about yourself helps you look good, and those two are the foundation for developing that sense of authenticity and deeper purpose that so many of us crave in our lives, especially in these challenging times.

But it all starts with a simple act: You, picking up that pencil.

Medically reviewed in November 2019.

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