Obesity and financial stress – Why they are the same and what we can learn

I have talked about how the complexity of obesity is overwhelming our society. The same can be said about the financial problems plaguing most North Americans. When you break both down to the grass root issue it is quite simple. People become fat when they consume more calories than they expend and they become poor when they spend more money than they make. The difficulty is trying to figure out why this occurs. Why is it that our population is now 60% overweight? Why is house hold debt at 165% of income? The banks have to keep the prime interest rate at 3% for the last five years because people mismanage their money, and refuse to curb spending. Both issues are getting worse and worse year after year with no signs of a slowdown. Are we destined to have 200lb plus women, 300lb plus men walking around with thousands of dollars in credit card debt and mortgage foreclosures? Surely people are not so stupid that they would buy new expensive cars they cannot afford. Surely if someone is 100lbs overweight, has diabetes, heart issues and joint pain they would avoid all you can eat buffets and fast food outlets. Most people know what decisions are the right ones, but for some reason cannot make them. When it comes down to it, it really is simple math. As long as you can add and subtract (we learn this in Grade 1), the right decisions should be relatively easy to make. Let me offer some of my own insight and see if I can point out the obvious, which I think people already know but are afraid to face.

Fear, Or Inability To Delay Immediate Gratification

Human beings are designed to seek pleasure. If we did not, our race would have died off like the dinosaurs did. The part of the brain that drives us to reward is responsible for motivation. Whenever we go too long without that, the drive becomes even greater. If we are too cold, the primary focus that overrides everything else is to seek warmth. If you are starving, then finding food is paramount. If you are thirsty, then water is vital. If you have not had sex for a long time then…….even Mrs. Roper from “Three’s Company” starts looking hot. If our prehistoric ancestors did not have the drive to seek pleasure then they would sit dumbly on a rock and never do anything.


The issue today is that we already have our main basic needs taken care of. We have water, food, shelter and the blessed ones are getting regular sex. What do human beings do when they already have everything? They desire more. Warren Buffet, one of the world’s richest men once said “the only difference between me and the average person is that I don’t travel commercial”. Someone may already have a house but they desire a nicer, bigger house with granite counter tops. They have transportation (either their own car or public transit) but they desire a car with more features. The nicer car doesn’t get the job of getting you from point A to point B any better. The end result is the same but now we want to get there in “style”. We want others to see the emblem on the car or brand. A Mercedes, BMW, or Porsche is much more eye catching than a Nissan Versa. The biggest scam in branding I find is in women’s purses. What does a purse do other than carry your small stuff around in and accessorize your outfit? A fifty dollar purse could do this quite nicely but does a $2000 Louis Vuitton bag do it any better? It doesn’t carry things any better. Some say it is better quality but you could buy forty $50 bags with many different colors that would last you decades. Plus I think the Louis Vuitton bags look ugly. It just comes down to the logo, the prestige of owning one, and the pleasure you get from others seeing you walk around with one and asking you about it. Now I am all for spending your money on whatever you desire if you can afford it, but what happens when you don’t have the resources? Putting $2000 on a credit card at 19.9% interest will cost you $400 in interest rate charges at the end of the year if you make only the minimum payments monthly. Just on the yearly interest you could have bought eight $50 bags. Some of you may say,” what people are dumb enough that would do this?” I say there are many. It happens when people lease new cars when they should be buying used. It happens with people mortgaging themselves to the max when a half percent interest rate rise may cause them to miss payments and lose their home. Why should we care that our neighbours are unable to delay immediate gratification and live within their own means? Because it affects us all. People losing their homes affect the housing market. People going on welfare means others have to work harder and longer to support them. People avoid paying their tax bill because they had to get that new 3D HD television their teenagers desperately wanted. They are part of the billions of dollars in tax avoidance the Canadian government has to go and recoup.

Your financial problems are your fault but not entirely. Electronic stores are up selling stuff you don’t have to start paying for in two years. Car dealerships are selling you vehicles with no interest payments. I have seen promotions that if you bought a new vehicle right away they would pay off $2000 on your credit card. If you can’t pay off your credit card does buying a new vehicle make sense? Banks were handing out mortgages to people that they should not have. All these institutions know that people are seeking immediate gratification. They know if they present you with a deal so desirable your prehistoric pleasure seeking reward brain cannot resist. As a society we need to set up rules to help people from themselves. It should not be so easy for people to over spend. The problem when you make up many rules is that it takes personal freedom and choice away from the individual. I am not a big fan of government telling me what I can and cannot do but when other people’s bad decisions affect my life I can live with it. Banks today have more restrictions on who they can loan money too. Loan applicants have to come up with a bigger down payment before they can borrow money to buy a home. I think this is good – for everyone.


When it comes to food and weight loss the problem of immediate gratification is the same as in finances. People have access to fresh fruit, vegetables, meats, dairy and grains. No one needs to go hungry ever again. But this is not enough for the majority. Sometimes the problem is that they have too much access to these foods but the main issue is the desire to seek even greater pleasure from foods higher in salt, sugar and fat. It becomes a greed for taste that is uncontrollable. Instead of a healthy apple we choose a concentrated fruit juice. French fries are much more desirable than a baked potato. Potato chips are the more preferred late night snack than a fresh, raw vegetable plate.

Foods that are higher in sugar, salt and fat are more calorie dense. Not only do you get less food for your calorie buck but you get fewer nutrients for your cellular health. You could be obese but still be malnourished. The immediate pay off from eating a nice chocolate cream pie is pure ecstasy for your taste buds and temporary relief from the pleasure centers of your brain telling you that you need to eat something to make you feel good. Prehistoric man would get the same feeling from finding nuts, seeds, lean meat or edible plant food. Chocolate cream pies did not exist back then so the brain did not know what it was missing. The presence of fast food outlets, processed packaged foods, and soda pop are killing us. Big food companies sell us cheap, unhealthy junk all in order to satisfy our immediate pleasure seeking brains. The problem is that in the long run they are making our society obese and diseased. I hate to see advertisements on television directly marketing to children. McDonalds is the biggest distributor of toys in the country. They are supposed to be selling some kind of food product, why the toys? You know the answer to that. Your kids see an advertisement on television, they bug you to go get a happy meal, you are either too tired to make a healthy meal, don’t want to hear them cry or just don’t think a happy meal once in awhile will do much harm. The goal of big food companies is to hook your children into becoming lifelong consumers and for them in turn to unwarily make your grandchildren consumers. When big food companies start using your children’s favorite cartoon characters to sell them junk food, I think that is going too low. They are using Grover, Buzz Lightyear, Dora and Spiderman to sell high fat/sugary snacks that lead to a lifetime of poor habitual eating patterns, disease and obesity. Pooh Pooh to big food and Pooh Pooh to the creators of the cartoon characters banning together for the single purpose of PROFIT, and Pooh Pooh to the rest of us for letting this happen. Your goal as parents is to protect and care for your children giving them the best possible chance at a healthy long life. DO NOT let these companies get to them. Think of them as drug dealers dealing on the playgrounds. You can speak volumes with your actions and your wallet. Everyone has a choice. Choose to spend your money wisely. If enough people do so they will be forced to change their business model and products they sell.

At one time there was no solid proof that smoking caused lung cancer. As more research was done and people became smarter a strong correlation was shown to exist. The research on certain food products causing diabetes, heart disease and other types of cancers will be tougher to prove. There are too many variables to account for in taking one product like “soda pop” and say it causes obesity. How much soda pop you drink, what types of other foods you eat, your activity level, and your genetics are just a few things that can lead to obesity as well. It will be impossible to say “don’t drink pop – it makes you fat”, even though it does. The Governor of New York outlawed pop being sold in extra large containers. All he is trying to do is make it slightly more difficult to over consume the product. The flack he is getting from people crying out their personal choice is being violated is monumental. Any credible dietician, doctor, trainer, nutritionist would all say drinking pop is not good for you. How everyone differs is on the “how much” part. How much you can consume of anything differs from person to person. It depends on:

  • How lean and healthy you desire to be (some people are okay being over 30% body fat while others would freak out if it crept over 10%).
  • How much you like a certain product (I love pizza, no way I give that up ever. I will simply exercise more to enjoy it).
  • How toxic the product is to your body ( problem is no one really knows the long term specific consequences, even though they exist)
  • How healthy and energetic you feel right now (if you are in general good health but overweight then maybe the effects of over consuming a products takes longer to hit you)

Coca Cola has recently launched advertising ads to boost its image away from destroying our youth with their products. They have the gall to say they want to lend a hand in curbing childhood obesity. That is like having an arsonist help you put out a fire they started. That is like pig teaching you proper table manners. They say they want to help but then put out ads deflecting their involvement in the obesity crisis. One of their ads suggests that obesity occurs because we sit too much. So why doesn’t everyone just get up, run around and have a coke for a refreshment, that will cure the problem. Sitting is a problem but so is Coca Cola. With the amount of money they have for an advertising budget they can brain wash you into believing rubbing their sodas on your head will grow hair or increase your libido or even cure a headache. Big food is so powerful that they are impossible to bring down. Only when enough people get sick and the money we have to spend to help the ill outweighs the economic benefits big food brings to the economy will we start making the right choices.


Everyone gets a budget of calories for their 24hr day. In my experience and the literature I have read it is around1300-1700 calories at a basal rate for women and between 1700-2200 for men. There are variances from person to person because of their age, sex, height and weight. A person who is younger, taller, heavier and male gets quite a few calories to maintain the weight they are at. A person who is older, shorter, lighter and female is screwed. If you want the best chance of estimating how many calories you get at a basal rate (the amount for just basic life functions and sitting around all day) a metabolic test can be done at some Universities or health audit clinics. They will put a mask on your face connecting a tube into your mouth. The machine will measure the gases you intake and expire, your resting heart rate plus add your sex, age, height and weight variables. If you do not want to go through this trouble and are okay with a less accurate estimation this is the formula I use when setting people up on eating plans through my website.

(10 X weight in Kg) + (6.25 X height in cm) – (4.92 X age) – 166 women +166 men

A 150lb female who is 5ft 5in tall and 45yrs old has a BMR of 1332 daily calories.

Myself a 205lb male who is 6ft tall and 45 yrs old has a BMR of 2021 daily calories.

This means I can eat approximately 700 calories more per day, in a week nearly 5000 calories extra compared to the female example. In theory I could eat 2 whole large pizzas per week extra compared to the female. She would gain a pound and a half and I would maintain the same weight. This does not even factor in daily and weekly activity level. It would be even more ridiculous if I factored my typical weekly exercise regime. Basically it sucks being a chick, especially if you are an inactive chick. Women have a much more difficult time than men losing weight. Restricting calories too much is not a good idea. It becomes difficult to get all the nutrients your cells need daily plus you need the energy from food to have the energy to lead an active lifestyle. It is harder but not impossible. The great news about your daily calorie budget allowance is that there is no limit to it. You can simply make added deposits to your daily calorie total by increasing the duration or intensity of how active you are. It is the same from the financial point of view. If you don’t have enough money to buy something you can go and make more money. Not easy but it can be done. Realistically for most people their basal metabolic rate does make up the majority of the calories in their daily calorie budget. The exceptions are for athletes who can typically train 2 to 6 hours per day. I read an article during the last Olympics that talked about Michael Phelps (multi gold medal winner swimmer) that stated he ate up to 12,000 calories per day and he is ripped. I surely do not suggest that you need to up your activity to this level. The point is many people underestimate the power of movement to combat disease and obesity. I read constantly many obesity expert doctors talking about how little a role exercise plays to combat obesity compared to restricting calorie consumption. I do agree most people cannot out train a bad diet. Morbidly obese individuals have low functional capacity and would have a difficult time expending many calories before they became exhausted and had to rest. A good eating plan is more important, especially for more overweight individuals. Exercise and non exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT) – calories expended from every day movement like housework or walking the dog, are the two variables people can manipulate to propel their weight loss to further levels. Once you have developed a lifestyle of eating that is 80-90% healthy and your weight loss has stalled the only other option is movement. The side benefits which I think are huge and many others fail to account for are, endorphin release, sense of accomplishment, pleasure, stress/depression reduction. Anxiety, stress, depression and lack of sleep have been shown to increase the urge to seek a pleasurable response from calorie dense foods. Exercise has been shown to be a natural anti depressant. If you can make the time to perform movement you enjoy on a regular basis not only will you reduce your desire to intake high fat, high sugary high salt foods; you will develop muscle, a good cardiovascular system, social stability training with others and be an inspiration to your children.

In my experience taking one hour of your day to perform movement you enjoy can result in a caloric expenditure between 300-500 for a female depending on the intensity of the movement and the size of the person doing it. If you are the 150lbs, 5ft 5in, 45 year old in the previous example you can now increase your daily calorie budget allotment to between 1632 and 1832. This gives you much more playing around room. This is what an active lifestyle can do for you. It gives you more freedom to choose how to spend your calories. You have more options. Option #1 sit back and enjoy a pint of Rocky Road Hagen Daz Ice Cream and that’s all you get in a day. Option #2 (the healthier choice) spread the calories over 3-5 meals with lean meat options, some healthy carbs like yams, yogurt, fruit, spinach salad with roasted chicken breast and few dark covered chocolate almonds. Option one will overwhelm the pleasure centers of your brain, make you feel wonderful while you are eating your ice cream and when you are done that feeling turns into disgust. It is only temporary pleasure. With option two you still will feel pleasure (not as much at one time) but it will be distributed over your day. Keep doing option one regularly you will have temporary blips of pleasure in your life but the consequences are obesity and disease long term. Option two there is not as much intense pleasure but the long term benefits are a fit, healthy, long life for you and your family.

If your goal is to lose one fat pound you must expend 3,500 calories over some period of time. Most fitness professionals agree that a one to two pound loss in a week is doable without too much disruption in your life. To lose 1lb in a week you must average a 500 calorie deficit from your daily average allowable intake for seven days. To lose two fat pounds then a 1000 calorie deficit must be averaged daily for seven days. Our poor 45yr old that wants to drop 5-10lbs at a current weight of 150lbs would be limited to consuming 1332 calories per day (not that much) plus have to exercise at least one hour everyday at a good intensity. If she is consistent one pound will come off at the end of the week. It would take five weeks to get down to 145lbs. An additional matter to be aware of is, as you get lighter you must redo your calculations. Your daily calorie allotment drops as you have less fat. More of either calorie restriction (which I don’t recommend when you are eating 80-90% healthy) or more intensity/duration of movement must occur to continue losing fat.

I believe we have the ability to control our own destiny. Some have it easier than others when it comes to weight loss and money management. Realize that everyone still has the ability to choose. I know that there are many advertisements on television that promise results that defy the 3500 calorie deficit rule to lose a pound of fat. You have to be smart and realize they have an alternate agenda of trying to get at your money. If someone told you it only takes 200 days for the earth to orbit the sun instead of 365.25 days you would not believe them. Until some new research comes out that is reliable and validated by others, the current concept is what we have to go by. Some people can blame obesity on their thyroid, fibromyalgia, genetics, their job, depression, no support structure, time, age, hate for exercise, hate for vegetables, their parents, big fast food companies, and so on. All are legitimate obstacles to the body you desire. In my experience the majority of North Americans cannot make the right decisions because they don’t really want to. It is too hard to resist the pleasure that surrounds us. It is too hard to drive past McDonalds and make a healthy dinner at home for your family. It is too hard not buying that $400 pair of Oakley sunglasses because they look so good on you and you still have a bit of room before your credit card is maxed out. I will leave you with this. “Always take the hard, rough, uphill road. The easy, smooth downhill path just takes you back where you started from.”