How Saving Money Is Like Losing Weight… And How It’s Really Not

In 2024, the second most common New Year’s Resolution is to save money.

The first most common? To lose weight.

Dear readers, I have made both of these resolutions. I slogged through months of dieting—both of spending and of eating—dragging my goals and expectations behind me. And I emerged from the experience wiser, richer… and the exact same weight.

How I felt after dieting for both my weight and my money.

That’s right. Today we’re talking about dieting.

Controlling one’s body and controlling one’s finances are often brought up in the same breath. And I think it’s useful to talk about the ways in which they’re similar—but also so very different!

For the purposes of this article, I’m going to define a diet as a temporary change of exercise and eating habits for the purposes of changing your body shape and weight. Temporarily cutting out all carbohydrates counts as a diet, as does implementing a points system a la the WeightWatchers diet. But we wouldn’t include, say, omitting gluten because you have Celiac disease. Having a diet dieting.

If that’s not your jam… blame our Patreon supporters! Those gorgeous, charitable, artistically gifted people specifically chose today’s topic. And as they literally pay the bills around here, I’m going to lay my heart (and my cellulite) bare according to their whims.

Today’s topic includes discussions of dieting, weight, fatphobia, and eating disorders. I’m going to use the word “fat” a lot because we believe in reclaiming it as a neutral description so that it loses its power to demean and insult. If you’d rather not read this post, it’s okay. I promise I still love you.

My experience with dieting

First, a disclaimer: we strive to make Bitches Get Riches a body positive blog. That means we believe that all people deserve to have a positive body image, regardless of that body’s shape, size, color, and abilities.

But “strive” is key. Our culture teaches us to assign moral attributes to random, largely uncontrollable bodily traits like height, weight, and skin color. Unlearning that programming is a lifelong struggle. We’re always looking for new ways to be supportive and accepting of diverse body types. If we say something whack, in this or any article, please draw our attention to it! Every day, we wake up wanting to be better.

Today, I’m writing about my own experience. Which is something I really struggle to do.

If my style of persuasive writing was an instrument, it would be a clarion. A clear and bright summons to action! Inspiring! Unambiguous! Designed to cut through the din of war! Loud to the point of being annoying, yet unashamed!

In contrast, writing about my inner life feels like huffing away on a kazoo. My reality is messy and imperfect. I set unbelievably high standards for myself, then hurl myself at them like a very small dog trying to get onto a very tall bed. Talking about my failures is uncomfortable.

All bodies are beautiful and don't need dieting. Except mine. Shut up.

And when it comes to dieting in particular, I have two opposing (yet equally disappointing) failures to own:

  1. I’ve failed to lose weight.
  2. I’ve failed to not care about my weight.

Experience tells me that if I struggle to articulate my feelings on a subject—be it money or anything else—I’m likely not alone in the struggle.

Right on schedule

Like a lot of people in their mid-thirties, I think about my weight an unhealthy amount. Why is it increasing? How can I decrease it? Why does it seem to be concentrated on my thighs and the weird flabby bits that spill out the sides of my bra? Why does mentioning the flabby bits cause people to bolt to the comments to tell me I must have the wrong size bra, and therefore need a new bra? Don’t they know that bras cost eleventy hundred dollars?!

In this way, I am ashamed to admit I’m a slave to societal expectations. I want to be conventionally thin and attractive, despite the ravages of time! Why can’t I effortlessly remain the svelte, fleet-footed Amazon I was at 23, graced with smooth skin and raven hair? And why can’t I stay that way until the day I die, suddenly, of a massive heart attack due to my 70-year diet of parmesan cheese and the occasional tomato? WHY, I ASK YOU?

I’ll never forget the day I went to my doctor and complained about gaining weight only for her to shrug and tell me “Welcome to being a woman over 30.”

She was right, of course: gaining weight is a natural part of the aging process for many bodies. And despite my best efforts (and juvenile taste in movies)… I am aging.

But I don’t have to like it

I’m a naturally goal-driven person, and I delight in setting my mind to a problem and fixing it. I also like self-improvement projects: whether it’s to read more, run more, or save more. You’ll notice this is by no means our first nor only article on New Year’s Resolutions!

So I thought I could manage my weight the same way I do my money: strategically, intentionally, and—above all—successfully. After all, putting myself on a financial diet worked wonders. I saved a massive amount of money and created permanent habits for maintaining healthy finances. For someone of my exceptional will power, losing weight should be no trouble at all! Right?

Turns out there’s a pretty big difference between dieting and managing money.

I failed miserably to lose weight

Last year I vowed to lose weight. I took all the exercises I loved (rock climbing, hiking, competitive Costco cart-pushing) and dialed them up to 11. I revised my all-cheese-all-the-time diet and crunched carrots through the tears. And I downloaded a dieting app.

It cost $179 for the first six months.

If you’re new here, maybe you’re missing the significance of this expenditure, so let me clarify:

I—a frugal Bitch who rinses her plastic baggies for reuse, cuts the tops off tubes of lotion so I can reach every drop, and balks at the idea of buying groceries without my coupons—spent $179 on fucking Noom.

I paid $179 for dieting and I'm not proud of it.

I do not spend that kind of money without a high level of certainty in the value of the purchase. So I was certain this dieting business was going to work.

Spoiler alert: it did not.

My weight fluctuated constantly between the same 10 pound range it’s inhabited for the last several years. Which research shows is within the normal range of weight fluctuation for an adult.

My experience with saving money

Previously, on Bitches Get Riches:

In short, my experience saving money and setting up healthy financial habits has been far, far more successful than my experience dieting.

But like… why? And am I alone in this experience? I have some theories.

How losing weight and saving money are different

1. One is math, the other is… sciiiiience?

If you decline to buy a latté, you have saved $5.

If you decline to drink a latté, you have not necessarily lost 5 pounds.

The science of weight loss is far more nebulous than the math of finance. You can make plans around financial math. You can literally count it and count on it. If you cancel your Netflix account, then next month your subscription fee will be there in your bank account, ready and waiting to be used in some other way. Saving money is a math problem.

Not so with losing weight.

Author and fat activist Aubrey Gordon of Your Fat Friend and the Maintenance Phase podcast (can’t recommend highly enough) puts this into perspective:

Researchers have been clear for years that our body size isn’t solely or even primarily the result of our own choices. There are major contributing factors like genetics, environment, specific health conditions like polycystic ovarian syndrome and lymphedema – and social determinants of health. What kind of green spaces do you have in your neighborhood? What are your parents’ income when you were born? What kind of neighborhood were you raised in? All of those have really powerful impacts on the size of our bodies, and none of those really have to do with our individual choices in adulthood.

-Aubrey Gordon, in conversation with NPR’s Life Kit

There is no button to push to lose weight. Results vary significantly by individual. Cause does not necessarily correlate to effect. Foregoing cake for a month does not automatically lead to a loss of an exact pound of flesh.

Foregoing buying cake, however… does literally lead to a savings of the money you would’ve spent on cake. That’s just math.

2. One is objectively good… the other, not so much

I have friends for whom fitness and healthy eating are a way of life. These people maintain healthy lifestyles religiously, and I admire their commitment.

They aren’t, however, dieting.

Dieting (see our definition above) is temporary. In theory, making short-term changes can inspire new and valuable lifelong habits. You might find an exercise that doesn’t feel like boring torture, or learn to appreciate new foods, or discover that you sleep better when you drink less. But when your focus is on the “results” of losing weight, diets can have significant negative effects on your health.

Science shows that yo-yo dieting (the practice of starting and stopping various diets repeatedly) can be really, really bad for your body and mind. It increases the likelihood of heart disease, vitamin and nutrient deficiencies, and actually makes it harder to lose weight over time.

By contrast, saving money—even briefly!—can have a permanent impact on your finances. People with a nest egg of money are less likely to get evicted or enter bankruptcy. They’re more likely to afford an education, a safe place to live, nutritious food, and medical care (all of which contribute to mental and physical health, by the way). They won’t be financially ruined by an unexpected emergency expense, and they can use that pile of dough to make more dough. Money breeds pansexually, after all!

3. One is designed for failure

The personal finance industry wants you to succeed. At least the part of it that isn’t weird cults—sorry ’bout those! After all, if our advice can help you get rich, there’s a 1% chance you’ll remember us and support our mission. (Drop a ha’penny in the battered guitar case that is our Patreon here!) I know that I speak for our competitors when I say that making our audience richer keeps us all in business.

The diet industry, however, is literally designed for failure. It caters to people who have more money, so it can sell them more products. It’s an endless cycle of alternative plans and pills and products so people will lose weight temporarily… and gain it back again. Statistically speaking, half of all Americans try some kind of diet every year. Most will not lose weight. And of those who do, 80% regain the weight and then some.

An industry that benefits from selling you another diet has no reason to highlight these facts. It’s very, very profitable to convince us all to strive for skinniness, hate fatness, and take personal blame for the shortcomings of a much broader system. Dieting represents a multi-billion dollar industry that thrives on all of us hating bodies—including our own—that don’t conform to a societally accepted standard of thinness. Fatphobia is the dirty coal that fuels the hateful freight train of the dieting industry, and they’ve tricked us into shoveling it.

So if dieting doesn’t work, why is it so popular? Why is everyone from conservative radio hosts to Instagram influencers peddling a new fad diet every week?

This isn’t just my body positivity showing… it’s also my anti-unfettered capitalism showing! Viva la revolución—y trae bocadillos!

4. It’s easier to build a snowball than to melt it

… for the purposes of this metaphor, anyway.

The Snowball is a great biography of Warren Buffett . The titular ball of snow refers to how Buffett built his fortune: like a snowball, he started with a small amount of money and rolled that into a larger amount of money by making his money make him more money. (That was an extremely awkward way of describing the law of compound interest, but I am not sorry.)

Money snowballs reeeeeeal easily. If you have money to invest—in the stock market, in property, in your education—then it’s a lot easier to grow your overall wealth exponentially.

Diets don’t work like that. Research suggests that most people who want to lose a significant amount of weight simply cannot maintain the pace of loss over time. Instead of shedding pounds exponentially faster, your momentum is more likely to plateau or even regress. That sets you up to feel like a failure, and restart the cycle of self-hatred that first got you into this mess.

Exponential improvement is the magical part of personal finance. If I gave you a penny today, and doubled it tomorrow, and kept that up for a month, you’d have over $5 million. That’s magic! No one can tell me otherwise! If you invest money wisely and wait long enough, its growth takes off like a rocket ship that wasn’t built by Elon Musk. How could we not be excited to teach you how to do it?

How they’re the same

1. You can’t help how you’re born

Some people are born rich. Some are born skinny. And if you’re not, it’s magnitutees harder to get that way.

For people without generational wealth, things like a college education, home ownership, and good credit can be significantly harder to achieve. Through no fault of our own, our parents’ ability to provide for us can determine dramatic differences in financial achievement throughout our lives. The poverty is cyclical because it can be inherited as easily as wealth. (We’ve written before about how the whole concept of self-discipline is deeply informed by access to resources in early childhood.)

Likewise, body size. Some people’s genes are just very attached to the idea that the winter is cold and long and without all these extra pounds, we might just freeze to death in our wattle and daub hovels! Fatness can be hereditary! Some people have trouble putting on pounds, others have trouble shedding them! Your body is a wonderland the human genetic code is a mystery!

I’m not saying it’s impossible to get out of poverty or to become significantly thinner if you’re born poor or fat. But I am saying it’s way harder.

2. Both are peddled by grifters

The Venn diagram of Robert Kiyosaki and the Liver King is a circle.

Both preyed on the insecurities of normal people by lying to convince them they could sell solutions to their problems.

Influencers in both weight loss and personal finance are legion. You can’t swing a lonely cat on Instagram or TikTok without running into some bro selling cryptocurrency futures in the same breath as pH-optimized protein supplements.

Their purpose is not to help you lose weight or save money. It’s to profit from your anxieties about poverty and fatness. They are grifters, and they don’t feel bad about it.

3. The shame of it all

People shame the broke and the fat in equal measure. Both are seen as a moral failing for some reason, despite having little to do with personal decisions in many cases.

We discussed this at length in our article, Why Are Poor People Poor and Rich People Rich? Our culture loves to assign individual blame for systemic shortcomings because “you’re lazy and you deserve your own poverty” is a much simpler and more satisfying narrative than “you’re systematically disadvantaged at every turn, we must dismantle the patriarchal white supremacist hegemony of unfettered capitalism and remake a new society so equitable and perfect that we ascend together into the fourth dimension where time means nothing and jellybeans grow on trees!”

Shame exacerbates trauma by adding a layer of social stress, isolation, and low self-esteem. Our bodies respond to that extra stress by raising cortisol levels. Cortisol is a stress hormone that increases our blood glucose, raises our blood pressure, and stimulates our appetite. Do I need to get out my thumb tacks and red string?? Science is reconsidering if the stress of feeling shamed bears greater responsibility for obesity-correlated diseases (like diabetes and high blood pressure) than obesity itself.

4. Easy to get started, hard to maintain

With both saving money and losing weight, it’s easy to get started but hard to maintain.

The reward centers of the human brain prize novelty. Dopamine, that supremely delicious neurotransmitter, releases immediate feelings of pleasure and wellbeing when we take certain actions. For example, the nicotine in a cigarette triggers a 150% spike in that sweet feel-good brain-juice. But repeated exposure drops the amount, and we must seek new experiences—or increase the intensity of those certain actions. A longtime smoker might need a whole pack of cigarettes to reach that same spike. Which is upsetting because it’s stinky and bad for you, but also because cigarette packs cost almost as much as bras! If you’re smoking, you might as well buy bras and put them straight into the dryer!


Obviously, that’s a very simplified explanation. But it helps to illustrate why some behaviors feel effortless and motivating initially, but our enthusiasm tapers off over time.

Saving money and dieting can both feel like fun games at first. But it’s really hard to sustain enthusiasm as the days, months, and years crawl by. The “maintenance phase” is a boring place to be. Declining a pricey vacation with friends sucks, just like declining a plate of loaded nachos sucks. Especially when they know to build the nachos out, and not up, so you get optimal topping coverage.

Riots not diets

One of my favorite athletes is writer and ultrarunner Mirna Valerio, aka The Mirnavator. She’s been featured on the cover of Women’s Running Magazine, was chosen as a 2018 National Geographic Adventurer of the Year, and REI made a whole documentary about her.

She’s also a fat person.

Here she is talking about breaking stereotypes in the running community and the difference between weight loss and fitness:

The Mirnavator taught me one final similarity between weight loss and financial health: looks can be deceiving.

We’ve talked before about the concept of the millionaire next door. This is the neighbor who appears average in every way: they drive a reasonably priced vehicle, their home is modest, and they don’t wear expensive designer clothes. Yet despite—no, because of these lifestyle decisions, they are secretly a millionaire. You’d never know it by looking at them, though.

Now think of the bodies around you. Does their shape and size truly tell you anything about their health and fitness? If you were to meet Mirna Valerio in person, would you assume she was unhealthy and out of shape? Would you assume Aubrey Gordon (who happens to be a vegetarian) subsisted on a diet of chicken wings and greasy pizza?

I’ve let go of the idea that my weight is an important metric to track on my road to self-improvement. Trying to lose weight last year was distressing, embarrassing, frustrating, and distracting. I literally forbade my loved ones from asking me about it once my secret Noom subscription was out. I can confidently say I went into the resolution for the wrong reasons, and the results made me neither happier nor healthier.

What’s more important to me now is my health and fitness. I want to be strong enough to climb incredible crags and have the endurance to hike up blindingly beautiful mountains. I want to eat food that makes me feel energetic and wake up from sleep feeling rested and enthusiastic about tackling my day.

None of those goals are reflected by a number on a scale.

Want more articles like this?

WELL THAT WAS FUCKING HARD TO WRITE. Nothing like talking about one’s body image issues to an audience of thousands to make one all squirmy and uncomfortable!

Which is why I truly have to thank our Patreon donors for choosing this topic. Y’all constantly challenge us to tackle difficult topics and do the research to answer hard questions. It is such a privilege to be financially supported by people who are just like “Hey, we like what you have to say, here’s some money to please say more of it.”

So if you want to support the Bitches Get Riches mission (i.e., a dog in every household and user-friendly online brokerage interfaces by 2035) and vote on what we write next, join us on Patreon!

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20 thoughts to “How Saving Money Is Like Losing Weight… And How It’s Really Not”

  1. Thanks Piggy for that candid post and the insights.

    Feel free to skip this question, but
    since Noom keeps popping up in my feeds as well I thought I’dask: Care to elaborate what you didn’t like about the app?

    1. I can say from my own personal experience using Noom that it really ties into the shame cycle. They also LOVE pushing add-on features that cost more, making it sounds like “for sure, this ONE thing will be the key to you actually losing weight this time”. Curious if Piggy also experienced that, or what may have been the straw there.

      1. I didn’t enjoy the aspects CIE mentions above about Noom. I also found all of its “we’re not a diet!” advertising misleading because… it… literally is a diet. Some of the daily lessons supposedly based on psychology were overly dependent on the premise that psychology was all it took to lose weight, when (see above) that is clearly not the case!

        The most useful part of Noom was the gamification of goals–for example, it had a way to easily track how much water your drank in a day. But most of the useful bits (exercises, recipes, etc) were kind of hidden off the beaten path and not intuitive or gamified.

  2. It really is true that it’s mechanically easier to save money once you’ve started than it is to lose weight, even ignoring all the emotions stuff. With money, once you’ve paid off high interest debt (or have invested), you stop having that additional drag where debt is making it harder to get ahead and then after investing your money just starts making more of itself if you leave it alone. But physiologically your body does not WANT to lose weight so the more you lose the harder it gets to lose more.

    Adding to that about how yo-yo diets are so bad for you and it seems like from a long-term health standpoint it’s better to be consistently overweight than to keep having big weight changes.

    I do think food is important and exercise is important. It’s important to listen to your body and get nutrients and to eat what makes your body feel good and to avoid what makes it feel cruddy. And I hate exercise, but since starting co-pilot (which is an exercise app with a personal trainer which I’ve stuck to for like a year and a half now which beats my 1 month record for literally any other exercise program since middle school) I can sit in a computer chair longer and carry heavier stuff and don’t get winded so much. But weight is not health and health is not weight.

    #RadicalSelfLove #TheBodyIsNotAnApology

    1. “But weight is not health and health is not weight.” THANK YOU FOR THIS. I am going to tattoo it on my forearm and scream it at the next doctor who tells me I “should find an exercise I enjoy” without having first looked at any of my health records or asked me about my regular 7 mile hikes in under 2 hours (with excellent recovery time afterward).

    2. VERY well said. Separating the idea of weight from other health indicators (can I walk upstairs without getting winded? Did I eat a vegetable today?) was the start of me feeling a lot better about my body, and pursuing health in a more productive way.

  3. Loved this post, and appreciate your content. Best of luck on your journey of body acceptance. I’m on that rollercoaster too. Maybe one day we’ll get off this ride on the right side 🙂

  4. As a Boomer (yes, one of those), I can say that the best part about getting old is that you stop caring if people think you’re fat/ugly/gray/wrinkled/etc. Which is great, because not a single person I know is getting thinner as they get older, including me. Your body is your body, and as long as you’re healthy and taking care of yourself, it’s all good.

    The bigger problem, financially speaking, is that society’s aversion to fatness translates to fewer job advancement opportunities. Everyone I’ve seen in upper management at my company is thin as a rail; no fat execs or even managers. You only see larger people among the rank and file, which are lower paying jobs.

    The smaller problem, financially speaking, is that as time goes on, I outgrow my clothes and have to buy larger sizes. 🙁

    1. Hail, beloved bitchy Boomer! You bring up a really good point I didn’t even touch on in the article: the societally accepted discrimination of fat people. It affects more than just job opportunities, of course, and it’s a huge problem.

      Join me at the thrift shop for new clothes 😉

  5. As the resident Big Dude of Bitch Nation, thank you for being vulnerable here.

    One thing I’ve always thought is that I can set my finances up mostly on autopilot – one action at my employer takes care of my retirement with one simple enrollment form for the 401k, etc. But you can’t autopilot FOOD, or even “just not eat” the way some people do “no spend months”. You’d DIE.

    I especially hate the casual “health is wealth” throwaway comments by the people who make the FI in Fitness their whole personality.

    1. Josh! Thank you so much for reading and for chiming in. I feel really validated knowing that you’ve had the same thoughts about finance v. weight. And while I somewhat agree that good health is great for your finances… it doesn’t change the fact that weight =/= health! And yet those Fi in Fitness influencers are some of the worst when it comes to pushing the weight myth.
      Let’s love of our bodies and make some money, friend.

  6. I appreciate this post for so many reasons. The truth people don’t like to admit (certainly doctors and modern medicine refuse to). The fact that people make money off an industry designed to intentionally make people feel bad about themselves is so revolting.

    But personally: here I am, in Denmark, land of socialized healthcare. Went in to have my hip assessed after insurance companies continued constantly gatekeeping the orthopedic surgeon in the U.S. (“you’ll need a hip replacement but you’re too young because insurance won’t want to pay for it twice”).
    The ortho here took one look and said, “You have no cartilage, you’re prime for a hip replacement! But…”
    Yep, my BMI makes me “obese”. Would I be willing to try Wegovy?

    Wegovy is the THING in the U.S. You can’t get it in many places because demand is so high. But it’s made in Denmark by a Danish company, and while not free, it’s mostly affordable.

    I’ve been on this medication for six months now. I have always been mindful of my eating habits. I exercise 30 minutes or more daily (weights, cardo, core). And I have lost…nothing.

    When I have told my doctor this, he is incredulous. Of course I must be doing something wrong.
    I don’t know how this will play out for a hip replacement, but it’s sure damn depressing to be on a “miracle drug” for weight loss and have it basically be an even more expensive version of Dexatrim from the 1980s.

    Sorry for the rant, but I know folks who are desperately trying to find this crazy expensive drug, and have the same challenge I do with losing weight–and I want them to know, it’s not a sure thing.

  7. That was so good on so many levels. You could add a little more volume to it and have a great book! Weirdly I’m one of those hated people who have to work to keep my weight up. I actually eat more than I really want because if I don’t I just lose too much weight. I’m thirty pounds lighter than two years ago without trying to lose weight. I was snowed in recently for two weeks in a mountain cabin with nothing to do but eat, and I had tons of awesome food of every kind. I lost three more pounds! But for much of my life I was like most people, I weighed ten or fifteen pounds more than I really wanted to and if I dieted it off it always came back. And that’s in spite of running over 20,000 miles and many marathons. I think our bodies have a weight set point and its hella hard to adjust, and its rarely where you want it to be. And I think for some reason something flipped mine, I’m wondering if I was better off before? I do think that finances and weight control are very different things. My finances were never a problem in life but weight control has been a weird thing.

  8. I was nervous to read this article at first but the message is spot-on. All the financial podcasts in January were using so many dieting metaphors and anecdotes to talk about budgeting & mindset around frugality or getting out of debt, which is never what I want to hear as someone recovered from an eating disorder. We are always told that body weight is a simple “calories in, calories out” calculation, but it’s so far from the truth!

    One note on the “finance industry wanting us to succeed” though. As someone who dipped into debt for the first time in my life this past year (a break-up and a bad business decision, womp), it’s remarkable how many products are marketed to broke people. The financial institutions LOVE that I’m in debt. Trying to sell me balance transfer cards and consolidation loans etc which they say will “help” me but will only keep me in debt and paying them interest for longer. It feels very predatory just like the diet industry.

    1. Thank you so much! I’m glad you were pleasantly surprised. 🙂
      And you’re right… there are indeed predatory financial products out there. It’s wild how after killing my debt I graduated to a whole new menu of financial services being marketed to me as a high earner. So now I have a blind spot!

  9. Love this analogy! It’s so true that saving money and losing weight require similar mindsets and strategies. It’s not about depriving yourself, but rather making sustainable choices that lead to long-term success. Great post!

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