In what may be the most tenuous metaphor of this blog, let’s look at two major issues for millennials and what they have in common: financial stress and obesity. Let’s also skip shaming people and making lazy jokes – I’ll resume shaming you all later, consider this my attempt at Mr Rogers or Jed Bartlett (but try not to get distracted wondering why we haven’t had a West Wing follow up series focusing on Sam Seabourne’s presidential run. They set it up so clearly, what wasted potential).
Obesity is not a good thing. That’s not ‘on the fuller side of the healthy BMI range’, but Obesity. A condition where your joints burn out quicker, you sleep worse, you’re more prone to mood fluctuations and your risk of serious medical problems like cancer, heart problems and miscarriages increase dramatically. I specify those, as recent social movements have tried to portray obesity as an oppressed state. If society didn’t shame fat people, they’d feel better, apparently. According to their ideas, being fat should be seen as beautiful and chairs, buses and planes should be redesigned. However, even if we did that… health problems are very rarely socially constructed*.
(*one of the most fascinating tangents I could go onto, but that’s for another time.)
I don’t write that to attack or insult anyone, but if you’re overweight for your own sake you should act now to get to a healthy weight. My main point is that I doubt anyone plans and aims to be obese, and yet it’s on the rise. Likewise, so many millennials are financially stressed (a phrase I prefer to ‘poor’), and who among you planned for that? So how does it happen?
I’m not the first to make the link – Mister Money Mustache, one of my favourite blogs, made the analogy that you don’t cure obesity by buying bigger pants. My favourite UK personal finance blogger, The Escape Artist, has made the connection too. There’s even a great YouTube channel called The Financial Diet, and many great personal finance resources structure themselves as short programmes, similar to a diet. Finally, only yesterday when I started reading Ramit Sethi’s ‘I Will Teach You To Be Rich’, he went and made the comparison between managing food and money in his introduction (p7 in the new 2nd edition).
Those must have fermented in my brain, until I was inspired by the parallels of financial stress and obesity. My take on it is that both conditions have a similar cause and similar treatment.
Does anyone plan to be [obese/financially stressed]? No.
Are these issues on the rise? Yes.
Are they normalised? Yes.
What causes them? Habit, specifically a lifestyle that focuses on comfort in the moment.
Yes, that’s my opinion, but this is also my blog and I’m basing my opinion on facts.
It feels good to grab a chocolate bar or 3rd pint. We’re better at tracking the cost of the cocktails than the calories. It feels good to anticipate a big treat, then go for it. A big take-away on Friday, full of oils, sugar and fat tastes amazing, and it’s been a stressful week, right? Work is crap? Head out to the cinema, pay £30 to see a film, spend £19 on cocktails afterwards, get an uber back. You’re relaxed now, you get back feeling treated and sleepy and make a note to buy some new clothes on the weekend – this dress is feeling quite tight.
I’m sympathetic here – evolutionary biology is driving you to love the taste of fats, salt, sugar, the feel of a full tum and a light buzz. Advertising is shouting and subtly whispering simultaneously at you all day, ‘treat yourself! Buy something nice! X is a problem! Isn’t it annoying? Well Y will solve it and we happen to sell Y.’ Apparently, we’re short on time and need quick (expensive) solutions. Yeah you’re fatter than you’d like, but look around, everyone’s looking tubby now. Hey never mind that, look at their iPhone – it’s newer than yours, time to upgrade?
Evolution, Advertising and Normalisation – those are big, powerful forces and they’re driving you to failure and dependence. Dependence on a job to cover your debt, dependence on medical care, dependence on the state, which means no freedom – you get what you’re given.
So, the default path, the encouraged, advertised route will get you a standard job, financial stress and more than likely, obesity and unhappiness. How do you avoid this fate? Use your brain and think ahead. Moreover, have the foresight to see the goal life you want: physically fit, wealthy. Then, knowing that it is your goal, have the fortitude to start working towards it, avoiding the easy and quick comforts being pushed on you.
It starts simple: Don’t eat all the calories around you, eat what you need.
Don’t spend all the money you’re paid – spend what you need and pay yourself first.
Those are the basics of the plan, keep reading and I’ll help you with the rest.