Why some people can over-eat and still stay thin

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Do you have a friend that chows down on fried chicken wings like a one-man piranha herd unleashed on clueless swimmers but looks skinnier than Victoria Beckham? Meanwhile, there you are looking glumly down at your pathetic salad and inwardly screaming to the heavens, “How have I displeased you, mighty Thor? That thou hast not alloweth me to win the genetic lottery.”

The Unfair Advantage

It seems everybody knows somebody who can keep weight off without doing anything. It’s so unfair. Meanwhile, there you are, quaffing weight loss pills, signing up for gym memberships and praying every night not to wake up looking like a whale. If you ask your friend what his secret is, he’ll shrug and say, “I eat like this all the time and never gain weight, good genes I suppose.” And we mutter under our breath “you lucky bastard.”

So we perpetuate the stories that being skinny is to do with genetics, some people can eat a lot and not gain weight. Weight loss is effortless for some people. Therefore, the opposite must also be true. Due to bad genes, some people can gain weight while eating like a bird.

WELL, LET ME JUST BUST THIS MYTH RIGHT HERE!

Your friend isn’t really a mutant. It’s a matter of perception. You probably spend 1 or 2 meals with him a month. If you follow him around 24 hours a day, you’ll probably see his food intake is something like this. Forgot to eat breakfast and lunch, gets extraordinary hungry at dinner with you and clocks 1800 calories. Feel super full after dinner yesterday and only eats 600 calories the next day. This means he only averaged 1200 calories a day.

But because he only eats a lot when he hangs out with us, we get the false impression he eats that way all the time.

Is this healthy? Probably not. But it explains how he can eat so much and stay thin. He eats a lot when he has company and abstains when he’s alone. We are only with them in the brief moment they are letting loose so we think he’s a big eater. Put it another way.

Have you heard people changing their travel plans to avoid flying to Paris? 130 were killed in the Paris bombing. It’s a terrible tragedy. But you’re about (63,000 times more likely to die from cancer than a terrorist attack). We think that a terrorist attack is far more likely to happen because the Paris bombings were all over the news. Nobody reported the deaths on cancer.

Now to address the flip side of the coin. There are tons of people out there who claim they eat less than a 1000 calories a day and put on weight faster than an inflating balloon. This one pretty is simple. We’re terrible at remembering what we ate.

Now to address the flip side of the coin. There are tons of people out there who claim they eat less than a 1000 calories a day and put on weight faster than an inflating balloon. This one pretty is simple. We’re terrible at remembering what we ate.

Our brains are not properly wired to remember how much we ate or spent — even though, if you ask someone how much they ate/spent last week, they’ll confidently give you an answer. Forgetting that 250-calorie whipped cream mocha frappucino with extra chocolate sprinkles they get on the way to work. Because drinks don’t give calories… do they?

How it relates to money

I’ll give you a personal example of how I ran into cashflow issues previously. Holy shit, a personal finance guy talking about how he overspent? Well, it’s true. It’s to do with those sneaky installments plans. This was how it played out in my head. If I pay 400 a month for this TV, it’s only 10% of my salary. It’s not that bad.

Then a week later. Well, we need a sofa set and 600 a month, that’s not too bad. It’s only 15% of my salary. I’m pretty good with these percentage stuff as you can see. 2 weeks later it’s time for that gym membership that’s only 10% and so on and so forth.  You can probably see where I’m heading.

I was viewing each of these transactions individually. Instead of calculating how much I had spent on a whole. Before I knew it, more than 50% of my salary was taken up by installments which completely screwed up my financal goals. Our brains  just aren’t very good at tracking numbers.

Reality Re-immersion technique.

It’s simple really. (I’m gonna use spending as an example here)
First, write down what you think you spend.

Spending Think
 Saving  1,000
 Going out / Fun  200
 Shopping  200

Then write down what you actually spend. (This is where you track it daily.)

Spending Think Reality
 Saving  1,000 200
 Going out / Fun  200 1,000
 Shopping  200 1,000

Compare the “actual” chart to your “expected” results. I guarantee you, the numbers will stun you. It’s funny why people chronically complain about having no money and getting “shocked” by their credit card statement. How can we be “shocked” by our lack of progress when we don’t have any data about our methods? It’s hard to maintain the reality that save more than we spend in the face of raw data. This exercise is to help us understand where we can make surgical changes to our behavior.

How to get started tracking today

The most important thing is to start tracking today. The point isn’t to set up the fanciest tracking system. it’s to learn from the results and change your behavior. (I aim for the most lightweight system I can create, Evernote is a good bet. Just set up a simple notebook, it syncs up with your phone).

1. Pick one thing to track for the next four weeks.

This doesn’t have to be spending. It could be your gym attendance, eating or travel routes.

2. Track your progress something accesible

Google Sheets, Evernote, YNAB for money etc.

3. Analyze your results.

At the end of four weeks, sit down and evaluate how close you were to reality. Use this data to adjust your expectations and set better targets for yourself.

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