Episode 019: What Paying Off Debt Taught Me About Weight Loss

Feb 26, 2015

I tried to lose weight for over 20 years. Sometimes I was able to but I inevitably piled the weight back on – always more quickly than I had lost it.  I doubted my ability to ever permanently lose the weight and truly be healthy. I thought I’d always have to rely on gimmicks, tricks, crazy ridiculous diets or diet pills if I EVER wanted to get to a “healthy” weight and stay there.

In my late twenties I embarked on a totally different journey. I was determined to get out of debt. Between my husband and I, we had well over $100,000 in student loans and other small, miscellaneous debts – just over $130,000, actually. After reading a Dave Ramsey book, I focused on the goal with unrivaled intensity. We met, and surpassed, our goal in less than 2 years. Little did I know that the process of getting out of debt would teach me everything I needed to know to finally tackle my lifelong weight struggles. It’s true. The crazy parallels between paying off $130,000 and losing over 130 pounds are astonishing. Here’s what getting out of debt taught me about life and extreme weight loss.

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Your habits catch up with you
Accruing debt is a lot like gaining weight or delaying weight loss. You figure its ‘just this one’ little expense you’re putting on credit. You’ll deal with it next month. You really need a new outfit for your class reunion so you might as well use the store credit card so you can save 20%. You’ll just use it this once. You go ahead and take out a little more than your financial needs for tuition – you’ll use it for books and maybe a plane ticket to visit your best friend. Just this once. Next semester you’ll save more and only take borrow what you truly need. You’ve exhausted your budget for the month but you really want to have a night out with your spouse so you put it on the credit card – its just one night – you’ll pay it off as soon as you get paid…

All those ‘just this once’ moments catch up with you. You can’t ignore them forever. They add up. In the moment, they seem like small concessions but five years later you’re looking back on a mountain of debt. Isn’t that true of how we gain weight or fail to lose it? We figure one cupcake won’t hurt. You’ll do better tomorrow. Then you go on vacation and you figure you might as well “let loose” – what’s a week? Your co-worker brings donuts in to work and you justify that one little donut won’t do much. Just like with debt, all those small concessions add up to years of damage to deal with. Your little habits DO count. Small concessions make all the difference.

A season of discipline doesn’t mean you’ll never enjoy your favorite things again.
We could not have paid off our debts without discipline. There was no way to have our cake and eat it too. We had to cut back. We had to temporarily pass up vacation opportunities or other fun things we might have otherwise been all about. But doing so for a season opened up many other opportunities that we wouldn’t have had if we were still in debt. The same is true of weight loss. Yes, you’ll have to be disciplined. You’ll have to be focused.  You’ll have to say “no, thank you” to a few things. But it’s only for a season. Sure, you won’t ever be able to mindlessly indulge in anything and everything just like we won’t ever rack up 130,000 in debt ever again. But a season of discipline and saying “no, thank you” doesn’t mean you’ll never eat ice cream again or ever enjoy your favorite pizza. For years I quit diet after diet because I felt like I had signed on for a lifetime of deprivation and misery. It’s all in your perspective. A season of focused discipline opens all kinds of doors.

You can’t hit a target you can’t see.
Getting out of debt was a huge goal. We needed a plan and a timeline. It wasn’t going to happen overnight. We had to know where we were headed and what it would take to get there. I knew exactly what debt was getting eliminated next and approximately how long it would take to get there. I had to look at our budget and figure out what could be cut, what could stay and come up with creative ways to bring in more cash. Sure, the unexpected will come up but you must have goals. Without goals and a plan, not only would it have been hard to stay motivated, it probably would have been impossible to get where we wanted to go. Weight loss is no different. You’ve got to break it down into smaller parts. Establish small, short-term goals and focus your energy towards them. Have a long-term plan but feverishly pursue short-term targets.

Celebrate your progress.
I can’t tell you how excited I would get when I reached one of my small goals. I’d look forward to it for weeks and be over the moon to pay off a small student loan or get a car title in the mail. It was empowering and such a great symbol of the hard work and discipline it took to get there. It’s easy, however, to get caught up in how much further it is to go. Yes, the journey continues; the journey always continues, but you need to stop and take a moment to celebrate how far you’ve come. There’s no question that this is also true of weight loss. It can be easy to overlook your victories because you feel frustrated and discouraged by how far there still is to go. I get that. But I can also guarantee you that if you don’t celebrate the little victories along the way, you’ll really wish you had. You’ll look back at those moments you brushed right past – fitting into those jeans you love or getting under 200 lbs for the first time in years – and you’ll see how major they were. Celebrate your progress. Be proud of yourself. Allow other people to celebrate you. It all matters. It’s all a big deal.

Removing major stressors transforms your entire life.
When we were in debt, I can’t say that it was particularly stressful – we were able to easily pay our bills – it just frustrated me that so much of our income was tied up and we were unable to enjoy it. It was more of a nuisance than a stressor. However, the process of getting out of debt was incredibly stressful. At the time, my husband wasn’t really on board with the process. He didn’t like not having all the extra cash at his disposal to go play and have fun. THAT was stressful. When we paid off our debt, not only was that stress gone, but it eliminated countless other pressures and stress. Being unhappy with my job was suddenly far less stressful because financially, I didn’t need that job anymore. It was amazing how removing one stressor truly transformed so many other areas. This truth is magnified when it comes to weight loss. Being unhappy with your weight impacts every area of your life – your professional life, your social life, your marriage – you name it. Your confidence and your happiness is paramount. When you finally tackle your weight struggles once and for all it will transform your entire life in ways you could never anticipate.

Progress isn’t linear.
Yup, I’m a planner (everyone who knows me is reading that sentence laughing at what a massive understatement it is!!). I’d like to say that I laid out my plan and everything went smoothly from there. Of course that’s not how it happened. Things came up. Unexpected tax bills, medical bills, home repairs, etc. There will always be setbacks. There will always be things that happen and you can use them as an excuse to throw in the towel and say “well, this isn’t going to work afterall” or you can embrace the opportunity to get creative and find a work around. There wasn’t a single month in two years that went exactly how I planned but you know what? We reached our goals anyway. Progress is not linear in any area of life. Not finances and certainly not weight loss. The same thing happened while I was losing weight. I had a plan. I thought I knew how things would play out. But there were injuries, bad weeks, periods where my body just seemed to not respond to what I was doing. Yes, sometimes I wanted to quit. Sometimes I felt like it just wasn’t working and I questioned the point of it all. But that’s the way ALL journeys will go. Progress isn’t linear so don’t expect it to be. More importantly, don’t use that as an excuse to give up on yourself or your goals.

It’s a lifestyle
If I were to return to the same habits I had when I was in debt, I’d pile the debt right back up. If I were to stop using a budget, even now that I’m debt free, it would be pretty hard to avoid spending more than I make and I’d definitely have trouble setting aside extra cash to save and invest. Getting out of debt fostered habits that are now so deeply engrained in me. It is a lifestyle. Financial responsibility, spending less than you make, and assigning every dollar that comes in is a way of life. I will never go back. This is exactly what is required for lasting weight loss, as well. Sure, I can enjoy ice cream from time to time, just like I can splurge on a vacation or beautiful handbag. But those occasions are the exception, not the rule. Losing weight is about so much more than shedding pounds. It’s about adopting healthy habits that increase your energy, improve your move and prolong your life. It’s not a temporary way of eating. It’s a lifestyle. You can’t ever go back to old, unhealthy habits and expect to maintain your results.

Help yourself and then help others.
As we got out of debt we found that many of our friends and family members were also struggling. We have had countless opportunities to share our story with others and encourage them to do what it takes to pay down their debt. We told them what it had done for us and how we made it work. We shared the hard parts and the great parts. I know we helped a lot of people. I think we still do. The same thing has happened throughout my weight loss journey. As people saw changes in me, they wanted to know what I was doing and how I was making it work. I started to share bits and pieces of my story, offering whatever I could to those who asked. Now, sharing my journey is my life. I don’t want anyone else to struggle the way I have. I know that the more I help myself, the more I have the ability and the opportunity to help others.

Change is hard. Extreme weight loss is rare. Whether its getting out of debt, losing weight, breaking an addiction, changing jobs….its hard. It takes work. It takes discipline. It takes endurance and perseverance. But the skills you’ll learn along the way will be catalysts to achieve absolutely ANYTHING you can dream of.

Dave Ramsey Total Money Makeover
Tony Robbins Money: Master the Game

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