December 11, 2008

"I was really fat and really broke after college, so I decided to live on 800 calories a day."

"I ended up losing 160 poounds [sic] and, eventually, digging myself out of debt."

It's funny -- isn't it? -- how few people go with the idea of a combined strategy for saving money and losing weight. It's so odd it made a saleable book project.

Of course, we all somehow instinctively know that it's in terrible taste even to hint that overweight individuals with financial troubles ought to buy less food. See? You can't even write "fat poor people." ← I only wrote that to say you can't write that. Please. Really. Don't hate me.


Original George said...

Seismic reassignment...
survival...blago [the noise one makes when retching]...sleeping at Starbucks...broke....

Do I detect a theme?

TMink said...

There is a saying in Central and South America: "Let's go to the U.S. where the poor people are fat."


Pogo said...

Small amounts extra eaten each day add up to many more pounds. Eating smaller amounts each day may not however lead to an equal weight loss after the weight has already been deposited.

Humans are exquisitely designed to avoid starvation. We find it difficult to exist in this, the only time in human existence, where one can be "poor" and not only not starve, but be obese.

You will lose weight with calorie restriction, but it has to be drastic, less than 1000 calories per day. That can be quite difficult because it feels like starving.

Denying such a basic drive is painful; like choosing to beathe less often. Doable, but not easy.

Robert Cook said...

Without assigning or removing any judgements of blame, I'll point out that poor people in America are fat because they eat cheap food that is overstuffed with salt, sugar and fat. This is not to deny that it is better to be poor and fat as in America,than poor and starving, as in other parts of the world. (Also, we must assume all poor Americans are fat, although, undeniably, many are.)

But the fat American poor are not enjoying nutritious diets and many will suffer the ailments of their diets, including hypertension, diabetes, heart disease, and so on.

Ron said...

Hate? no. Maybe, sadness...pity...things like that.

Robert Cook said...

I meant: we must not assume all poor Americans are fat, although undeniably, many are.

Original Mike said...

fat poor people
fat poor people
fat poor people

Yes I can!

Joan said...

Reading about this memoir, I thought of the research that shows calorie restriction appears to be the only thing that increases longevity. I also think that fewer people would be in credit card debt if some authority figure would just tell them to stop spending so much money. I know a woman who's teetering on the brink of financial collapse, and she told me she's worried about paying her cable bill. I thought, "Why do you even still have cable?" I didn't say that, of course. It's not my place to tell her that her financial priorities are whack. She believes she deserves cable, whether or not she can afford it, and that's why she's in financial trouble.

Pogo's right, as he so often is. Moderate calorie restriction doesn't help most obese people lose weight. Restricting calories makes you feel hungry, and people don't like feeling hungry. I know quite a few people who go a little crazy when they're hungry -- they have no impulse control and are generally unpleasant to be around. What is particularly impressive here is that MacDonald had the discipline to stick to his strict regimen and succeed.

Shanna said...

Interesting story, although its interesting that he didn't pursue more high paying jobs, which trying to save money. It sounded like he did it so he could dress sloppy.

I know a woman who's teetering on the brink of financial collapse, and she told me she's worried about paying her cable bill. I thought, "Why do you even still have cable?"

Yes, that's definately not logical. Even most of the financial advice columns say "cut down to basic cable", rather than cut cable entirely.

As for weight loss, I think Good Calories, Bad Calories goes into the whole low cal diet and hunger research. It's pretty fascinating and contrary to a lot of cw.

AprilApple said...

I always like it when the mainstream press gives us a glimpse into poor America. What do we find? Fat children.

don't hate me because it's true.

Dust Bunny Queen said...

The first step that the author took that was the biggest step, was to give up cigarettes, alcohol and drugs. All expensive and extremely unhealthy addictions. The next thing, a high fiber and low fat diet will help a person lose weight along with an excercise program. No longer self medicating with drugs, nicotine and food, the author discovered that his former life was boring and got off of his dead ass and became active.

Anyone with willpower can do this. I know. My husband was diagonosed with diabetes and we made drastic changes in our lifestyles and it worked. It is hard to stay with the program and we do fall off of the food and alcohol wagon, especially this time of year.

Poor people tend to eat high fat and high sugar foods, mainly because it is convenient and most just don't cook from scratch. Why bother cooking a healthy breakfast when you can get 2 Egg McMuffins for $3.00 or a healthy lunch when you can pop into a fast food restaurant for a Whopper and fries? We used to teach home economics as a standard class in high school. I guess we don't have this anymore?

I agree with Joan. People have their spending priorities completely out of whack.

Triangle Man said...

I think the story is not all that uncommon, but the magnitude of the change makes it dramatic enough to sell books. I lost 30 pounds after college when I started commuting by bike 5 miles each way, and changed my diet from mostly fast food (and beer) to home cooked whole grains and limited meat consumption because I had so little money.

Anonymous said...

You can't even write "fat poor people."

Wow, that's like writing "young black male" in a crime report. I'm not sure you can do that.

Meade said...

"See? You can't even write "fat poor people." ← I only wrote that to say you can't write that. Please. Really. Don't hate me."

Hey. Is Chip Ahoy ghosting your blog now?

Pogo said...

America has replaced its yankee bluntness with PC pablum.

Unable to call a thing what it is or tell people what to do, we suggest, infer, encourage, and inform. But we never criticize or castigate. Never blame or call bullshit.

We need a I'm calling bullshit party now.

traditionalguy said...

We all use a narcotic of choice: pain lives close by us and teaches us to get up and do something about it. Therein lies our need to find comfort in Good Friends and in "purpose driven" lives. The delusion is that Food alone will give that experience. Man cannot live by bread alone. He/she must have Words. [See Psalm 1] And the best part of sex is the "pillow talk".

Anonymous said...

Let a 2000 year old man talk about diet and a healthy life.

Ron Paul talks about self control verus the nanny state.

Anonymous said...

Yes, that's definately not logical. Even most of the financial advice columns say "cut down to basic cable", rather than cut cable entirely.

We haven't had television reception for years, and not due to financial hardship. Cutting cable out entirely is definitely logical. That would lead more time to devote to reading and preparing for a better-paying job, perhaps? Oh, and it'd save money, too.

Shanna said...

Cutting cable out entirely is definitely logical.

Of course it is, I think you are misreading me! What is illogical is the woman mentioned who was worried about paying her cable bill, but never thought about just canceling service.

I tried to cut cable down to bare bones channels, for 10 (now 13) bucks a month, and they didn't ever change it so now I have cheap cable! But it is less cheap when you factor in Tivo and the phone line, but that's for internet too. If I really wanted to save money I would cut my internet, tivo and bare bones cable, for a savings of almost 80 bucks a month.

Sigivald said...

Without assigning or removing any judgements of blame, I'll point out that poor people in America are fat because they eat cheap food that is overstuffed with salt, sugar and fat.

They'd be just as fat if they were eating fatty foods from Michelin three-star restaurants and paying two orders of magnitude more to do it.

There's no fiscal reason poor people can't eat healthy food, in general*. The reason they don't is, to my knowledge, primarily that they prefer to do less cooking (or don't know how very well).

Nutritious, healthy food is cheap and easily acquired, generally* - if you cook it yourself. Prepackaged food that requires no or little preparation is more expensive.

* Yes, this means you have to go farther than the corner store. And some urban areas have less and more expensive produce than the suburbs.

But nowhere, to my knowledge, is it impossible to get fresh vegetables at prices no worse than convenient but less nutritious food.

Almost all the blame to be had is cultural or personal; very little is structural.

I've known people on food stamps who managed to eat a reasonable, healthy diet in the city. All you have to do, really, is know how and want to.

(And salt? Please. Salt doesn't make you fat, and claims of its dietary harm are vastly overblown compared to the actual clinical evidence, which is mostly equivocal, at best.)

Joe said...

Yes, anyone can lose weight if you cut back far enough on your calorie intake, but that doesn't mean it's healthy. Contrary to popular opinion, being underweight is extremely unhealthy.

Read up on the
Minnesota Starvation Experiment for a very sobering view of starvation diets.

PJ said...

If you think that's a delicate situation, just try to find a subtle way to suggest that a middle-aged single person w/ a cash flow problem cut back on their monthly weed bill. Just temporarily. ;-)

Anonymous said...

I once met a woman in Los Angeles who had 7 TV sets in her house. One in each bedroom for her five kids and two in her master bedroom (stacked on top of each other). The freezer compartment of her refrigerator had so much accumulated frost and ice, she couldn't close the door (she tied it with a rope). I walked through her kitchen one morning and noticed all four gas burners of her stove were on full blast even though no one was around.

It wasn't surprising that she was on welfare. She didn't use good sense.

Robert Cook said...


Of course poor people can eat healthy AND cheap, but Americans in general have taken to eating cheap fast foods in recent decades. Not just poor people but Americans in general are fat.

My point was only that because high-calorie fast food and snack food is cheap and ready to hand, poor people, no less than the more affluent, will tend to eat it. Thus, they are, in fact, poor, yet they are, paradoxically, often fat, like their richer neighbors.

As for salt, it does not make one fat, no, but it does, I think, create in people the desire to eat more food which contains it, and it also can result in the consumption of high calorie sugary (and cheap) beverages to wash it down. I once even had a nutritionist tell me she had a patient who was eating a healthy diet yet couldn't lose weight, and she was mystified by it. Until she noticed that her patient was drinking lots of fruit juice, being "healthy" and all, you know; fruit juice, which we're encouraged to drink as a healthy alternative to soda, is extremely high in calories, at least as much so as soda.

So, it's all too easy for any of us to eat too much of too many bad foods. The low cost of calorie dense food means it's well within reach of those with minimal means.

Synova said...

I've thought I should shop a book around, "One Year at McDonalds," or some such. I bet I could feed myself for $5 a day.

Granted, I couldn't do that and dig ditches.

We sit on our butts at work and at home.

And we snack.

And everyone blames McDonalds and plots ways to keep poor people from getting cheap food that makes them fat. (Second only to plotting to keep them from having a Wal-Mart superstore in their neighborhood... because it's important to be moral *for* poor people.) What is unhealthy about a breakfast burrito?

Maybe instead of banning fast food stores in urban areas, they should allow duty free "soup and salad" carts. Just have to figure out how to make salad-rolls. The soup can go in a cup.

blake said...

Some people are taken aback by Nintendo's Wii Fit balance board, which happily calls you fat AND clumsy. (OK, it says "overweight" or "obese" and asks you if you have trouble walking, but those are hardly more delicate.)

I don't know where you guys shop but from what I see fruits and vegetables (and certainly raw meat) are waaay more expensive than calorie-equivalent processed foods. Plus you get all of Pogo's estrogen-laden pesticide residue turning you into a girly-man (or an even girlier-girl I guess).

Lastly, I think current wisdom suggests that snacking isn't bad at all, if it leads to smaller main meals, and is done "seriously" (i.e., not as an excuse to eat junk food).

blake said...

I have done this sort of thing, living on 800 calories. For a month or so, as an experiment.

One does lose weight, even if highly inactive. Though interestingly enough I found it much harder to sit still while hungry. If I were being physically active, not eating much or even fasting for days on end, it was much easier going.

The brain burns a lot of calories.