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What Dieting Can Teach You about Budgeting

Allie Johnson

May 13, 2013

I’ve been trying to lose a few pounds, so I’ve recently started tracking calories for the first time ever. Yes, really. In the past, I was drawn to those diets that advertise no calorie counting — even if I had to eat grapefruit or cabbage soup all day long, at least I didn’t have to quantify everything I put in my mouth. But it turns out calorie counting is pretty easy.

Now that I’ve started tracking what I eat, I’ve discovered a simple truth: Dieting is very similar to budgeting. Here are some ways that your knowledge and experience with managing money can help you lose weight, or vice versa:

1) Daily attention pays off – If you’re trying to keep your spending or your weight in check, it helps to monitor your actions on a daily basis. After you’ve made sane spending (or healthy eating) a habit, you might be able to cut back to checking in once a week or so to make sure you’re still on track. Before that, though, paying close attention is key. That’s because if you mess up for one day, it’s relatively easy to fix your mistake. If you veer off course for a whole week or month, you’ve got a bigger problem.

2) Tracking tools can really help – When it comes to finances and food, clarity is crucial. That means knowing how much you’re spending on what, and how much you’re really eating. For money, online tools such as Mint.com can really help, though I use a spreadsheet. For food, I use MyFitnessPal.com to track my calories and exercise. It’s like having an online dashboard for my body, and it helps avoid the vagueness that can lead to weight gain — and going broke: “I think I ate one serving of chocolate, maybe.” Or, “Oh, all of those shirts were on sale.” GeniusKick.com has a list of seven money-tracking tools. WomenandWeight.com offers a list of the best online calorie- and fitness-tracking sites.

3) A splurge is OK, if you plan for it – There are many ways to splurge, both money-wise and food-wise, without derailing your progress. I allow myself a certain amount of “want” money each month. I make a list of the things I want most, then prioritize. I always leave extra for little splurges, such as a latte. With a diet, planning is important, too. If I know I’m going out to a restaurant one day, I’ll keep my other meals light and look up calorie counts ahead of time. MyDollarPlan.com has tips on how to splurge while staying on a budget. And Shape.com offers a guide to how to indulge while still losing weight.

4) You have to make it a lifestyle – If you feel deprived, it’s not going to work. Restricting yourself too much or thinking of a change as temporary can lead to the starve-then-binge cycle. Instead, it’s important to figure out how you can manage to live within your means (or a reasonable calorie count) and not feel miserable. The answer might be different for different people, so you have to find what works for you. Daily Worth offers a do-it-yourself financial planning guide, and The Mayo Clinic offers tips on how to integrate healthy eating and weight loss into your lifestyle.

If you apply the same simple principles to money and weight management, you could end up in a position many would envy: fit and rich.