Physical health is paired with our financial well-being

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That looks like enough for a coffee – things can’t be that bad, right? Annie Spratt via Unsplash

Taking care of our body allows us the space and energy to take care of the other aspects

It is always a heavy time, starting sometime around mid-November and culminating with the celebrations of the new year. All around us there is the talk of holidays, time with family, and, for students, the stressful last few weeks of the term before a decent break from everything. For those of us trying to be more mindful of spending, there is the dual challenge of Black Friday and Boxing Day sales. For those of us trying to eat healthier and exercise, there is the dual challenge of holiday meals and extreme cold.

All those six weeks in the late fall and early winter can be a magical time. We are all occupied tying up loose ends, wrapping up all our work, and yes, shopping for a few good discounts online or in stores. As the last few days of the year approach, we busily make resolutions for a better year, for developing better habits and being better versions of ourselves. Then the new year arrives and many of us discover, much to our dismay, that we still seem to be the old us.

Come the first few weeks of January, I am not the same person I was towards the end of the previous summer, but a deteriorated version. As I often lament, my active and healthier lifestyle takes a hit as the weather gets colder and the days shorter. By the end of the year, I am usually heavier thanks to the many decadent meals, more sluggish due to the sugary treats, and worst of all, substantially broke because I “saved” so much money on sales.

I do not think I am some outlier when it comes to this. I have heard many refer to the post-holiday blues and the challenges of getting back on track with work, health, finances, and life in general. I am always caught between two different perspectives. On the one hand, life is short, and times are hard. If a little online shopping, some luxurious meals, and a few days of sleeping in till noon bring a little joy in our lives, can that really be a bad thing? But on the other hand, my more logical and rational self practically yells out “yes, of course it can be a bad thing!”

Firstly, there is the tangible setback to the bank account, leading to several nights of making do with ramen or mac and cheese, looking for deals on groceries, and wondering if there is room and opportunity for more hours at our current jobs or another part-time job.

Then there is the less tangible but equally palpable effect on my mental health, with an odd mix of guilt at having enjoyed myself, anger that living a little can be so expensive, and persistent hope that things will look up soon and it will all be worth it.

Lastly, there is what to me is the most lasting effect on my physical health. I have had a lifelong complicated relationship with food, one that swings between the two extremes of “I eat only to survive” and “I live only to eat.” Over the years, I have also noticed that what I eat has a clear impact on how I feel physically and mentally, how productive I can be with my work, and even how well I am able to focus on my hobbies. One would think that knowing this, I would be selective about what I eat – and I am – except the times when I am not. Such times are over-represented in the last few weeks of the year, with the holiday mood and the chilly weather. But if it were just a matter of overspending on food or a few pounds gained, I would not worry too much. The worst part is the effect it has on my energy levels and mood, which in turn make it much harder to get back to school, work, and making better decisions about lifestyle.

I am firmly of the opinion that life, and good living, cannot be compartmentalized. In other words, we cannot feel good about our finances if we are not feeling good about our health, and vice versa. As it happens, I also believe that very often, what is best for our finances is also best for our health, both physically and mentally – which is why so far this year, I have set out with the goal of rebuilding my finances and living a healthier lifestyle in tandem.

For me, this has involved cutting down on takeout and eating meals at home more often. To fit that better into a busy schedule, I have also taken to preparing my meals in advance whenever possible. This is a far cry from the weekly meal prep, fully packed and ready to just heat up like we often see people post about on social media. Mine is more along the lines of cooking enough for the next three days, packing dinner leftovers for lunch the next day, and occasionally making do with just some toast and peanut butter for lunch.

The biggest challenge, for me, has been to not feel deprived or bored with eating the same food every day of the week. But with some planning, this has also been possible to work around by making two dishes and simply alternating. So far, we are one month in and I have mostly been able to stick to this. I am glad to see my food costs have been lowered; knowing that I am only human, I have been putting away some of these savings for a nice big treat for myself sometime.

In the past the challenge has been to not treat myself to these too often. I am hoping by setting aside funds for it, I am also sending myself a signal to be more mindful of how much eating out can cost, and maybe that will help me keep it to a more reasonable frequency. Regardless of how it turns out by the end of this year, right now I am really enjoying being more deliberate and mindful with my lifestyle, health, and finances!

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