Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 28 October 2020

How overhauling my diet helped me save 'a tonne' of money

Zach Holz says removing temptations had a knock-on effect on his finances

Zach Holz cleaned out his kitchen, avoided the grocery store and limited exposure to TV advertisements — leaving him with less weight on the scale and more money in his pocket. Getty Images
Zach Holz cleaned out his kitchen, avoided the grocery store and limited exposure to TV advertisements — leaving him with less weight on the scale and more money in his pocket. Getty Images

Self discipline is hard. To constantly deny yourself the things that you immediately want is a process that wears you down and usually defeats all but the most monk-like in their devotion to their larger goals.

Before I started to get healthy in the past year, my kitchen was loaded with treats. Flaming Hot Cheetos, home-made brownies, apple cake, soda; you name it and my kitchen was stuffed with it. It was so easy to eat unhealthily, and so hard to deny myself when these delicious treats were constantly in my line of sight, beckoning me every time I opened a cabinet. When I would stroll through the supermarket, multicoloured displays made me think, "Ooo, that looks great, I haven't had that in a while, I should treat myself."

My TV and radio bombarded me as well with constant advertisements for sumptuous products that promised me bliss if I purchased and consumed them. That is certainly not limited to food either; every day I was confronted with hundreds of reminders of new products or old consumable friends that would make my life complete with the swipe of my credit card.

Of course, when I bought those things, and ate those things, it didn't make me complete. There may have been a shallow, fleeting pleasure, but the cumulative effects of those years of consumption left me 30 kilograms overweight with similarly ballooning health problems.

Then, I came across a life-changing book called Atomic Habits by James Clear. He breaks down how habits form, how to break bad habits and how to start good ones in their place.

One key element of this is "friction". Basically, you want to arrange your space so that good habits are as easy to follow as possible, while bad habits require extra steps and effort. The key is to make willpower as small a factor as possible. If you're not confronted by the things you have to resist, you don't have to spend the energy on resistance.

I figured it was worth a try, as the only thing I had to lose was my love handles and looming diabetes. I chose to focus on three key areas: cleaning out my kitchen, avoiding the grocery store as to avoid impulse buying and limiting my exposure to advertisements by minimising time watching TV and listening to the radio. Another thing happened while I was doing this — I moved into a smaller apartment, which also helped.

The first, and most important, was to go through my fridge and cabinets and get rid of everything that was unhealthy. Chips, gone. Soda, out of my house. I gave it all to the watchmen and cleaners so I wouldn't waste it, but I immediately felt lighter and less burdened.

Then I made sure I had healthy alternatives, like fruit and nuts, and bought lots of veggies I like to cook with. I still allowed myself to go out to eat on special occasions, but my everyday consumption changed overnight. I started losing weight immediately.

Next, I started using grocery apps instead of going to the grocery store. I planned my meals so I knew what ingredients I'd need, then just bought those. This had the added benefit of not only making sure I wasn't distracted by displays and my own hunger, but I also spent less money on groceries, because I only bought the things I was going to use that day. They say you shouldn't go to the grocery store while hungry; I say, don't go to the store at all.

Third, I cut out a lot of my TV and radio time by reading more and listening to podcasts instead. Fast food restaurants had two fewer avenues of attack for my attention and interest. I also spent less on other categories outside of food, because I wasn't constantly reminded of what I didn't have in seductive manners.

Downsizing my apartment was another factor in helping me avoid making harmful purchases. I simply have less space, and if I don't want my place to look like an episode of Hoarders, I need to not buy new stuff.

At the end of this process, I weigh less than I ever have, my health is fantastic, I've saved a tonne of money — and it wasn't a struggle. I simply tried to eliminate as many sources of temptation as I could, so that I wasn't denying myself as often.

Where are your temptations that knock your health and finances off track? How can you organise your space so that you're less tempted? I'll bet, if you looked, you'd find lots of ways.

Dubai schoolteacher Zach Holz (@HappiestTeach) documents his journey towards financial independence on his personal finance blog The Happiest Teacher

Updated: December 28, 2019 08:28 AM

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