Diets Don't Work

Why No-Spend Money Diets Don’t Work and What You Should Do Instead


Diets Don't Work

Have you ever had the experience where you wanted to cut down your spending during a certain period, only to find yourself spending more than usual?

Or like regular diets, you want to lose a couple of pounds and then there are all kinds of free cupcakes at the office?  Or all these great restaurants are opening up, all sorts of opportunities to indulge come up?

What’s up with that?

This happened to me the last time I went on a “No-Spend” month.  I have had an expensive couple of months, my sister, niece and Mother’s Day was all within 30 days.  That’s a lot of presents.   I overspent.  So I thought it’d be a great idea to go on a No-Spend month to save some money.

Instead, I ended up further overspending.

How did that happen?

Turns out, my suspicion was right; my brain was working against me!

Brain Sabotage

Our brains are calorie hogs.  Our brain weighs about 2% of our body weight.  But every day, it consumes 20% of all our calorie intake.  More if you are problem-solving, less if you are in the middle of a Netflix binge.

What that means is that our brains are always trying to conserve energy.  This was how we evolved.  We had large brains, they allowed us to gain the upper hand of our environment.  But they sucked up a lot of energy so we had to find shortcuts.  Over time, these shortcuts became standard wiring.

How We Talk To Ourselves

As we were evolving with our brains, we also developed language.  Incredibly useful for coordinating with each other.  And more so to warn each other if danger was coming.

Neuroscientists who continue to study how our brain process language and action discover some eye-opening findings.

For example, when presented with the phrase “There are no eagles in the sky” and then asked which of these 2 pictures match the phrase, We are more likely point to one with an eagle in the sky first, rather than the one of an eagle in its nest.

Even though we perfectly understand the sentence, we do it in spite of ourselves.

I chat about this phenomenon with Jill Cornfield, personal finance writer for

Neural Shortcuts

The reason we pick the picture of the eagle in the sky is because of those shortcuts that are now wired into our brains.  In order to get out of the path of a stalking lion, we are primed to act as soon as we hear the warning.

Your neighbor isn’t likely to yell “No lion is coming”.  So we aren’t primed to react that that “no”.  Throughout evolution, they yelled a lion is coming and we are primed to react to it. It might be a fraction of a second, but once we go down a path, momentum is hard to stop and then reverse course.

What To Do Instead

So are we doomed to never save money or lose weight?

No!  Instead of going to money or food diets where we restrict ourselves, what should we flip the script.  We need to focus on what we want our brain to react to.

Instead of reacting to the verb of “spend” or “buy”, we can focus our brain to focus on our values; “security”, “opportunities”, and be primed to take action on those to bring value to our lives.


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