How to Avoid Putting on Recession Pounds


Health experts are concerned that the current economic downturn could have adverse public health consequences as more people, in the sensible quest to save money, turn to cheaper yet less-healthy eating choices, potentially aggravating the already prevalent obesity problem in this country.

Referred to as “recession pounds,” they result from the added weight that comes about from the increased consumption of cheaper junk and fast foods that also happen to be tasty by virtue of the fact that they are often loaded with salt, fat, and highly processed carbs (i.e., sugar and high fructose corn syrup). Who doesn’t love those?

It is ironic when you think that in the past, lower socioeconomic standing often resulted in people losing weight due to lack of food. In the modern era of plenty, however, obesity has now become a symptom of poverty because these highly processed foods are not only promoted vigorously and widely accessible, but they are also cheap.

But can you really put a price on your health or the health of your family? When you think about the things we spend our money on, it doesn’t always make a lot of sense to cut back so drastically on healthy eating so that you can afford a new cell phone.

Especially when you consider that, at some point, your body will let you know that you shouldn’t have eaten all that garbage. Unfortunately, as is often the case, the consequences won’t be felt for years, and like smoking two packs of cigarettes a day for 20 years, by then it’s too late.

So in an effort to keep a tab on our health and our waistlines, here are a few suggestions that might help you avoid putting on unnecessary recession pounds during these rough economic times, keeping in mind that the problem lies not in junk food in and of itself, but rather in the over-consumption of it.

1. Moderation. If possible, try your best to stop eating before you’ve eaten every crumb on your plate, and resist the urge to super-size. I know many of us were raised with the idea that it is good to clean your plate, but times have changes. Set your goal to be sated rather than stuffed, because you won’t feel any better after that second cheeseburger.

2. Don’t eat just for the sake of eating. Sure, that second Big Mac may be tasty, but don’t eat another when just one will suffice.

3. Eat junk food. Just combine it with something healthy. Let’s face it, junk food is a fact of our lives, so rather than setting the unrealistic goal of eliminating it, eat it! Just add in something nutritious, like a piece of fruit, veggies, or whole grains.

4. Eat the healthy stuff first. If you wait until after your junk food meal to eat that apple, it probably isn’t going to happen. So eat it first. Not only will you get a dose of healthy stuff, but it will probably make you eat less of the junk.

6. Be inconsistent. Like losing weight, gaining weight doesn’t happen by itself. In other words, you won’t gain weight in your sleep, you have to consume. So don’t eat junk food regularly, three times a day, everyday. Incorporate a healthy meal in there, with something nutritious that is high in fiber.

7. Don’t inhale your food. Try to eat slowly and deliberately, chewing your food completely, and don’t take another bite until you’ve swallowed the previous one. Not only with this help you digest your food, but it will spare other at the table from having to see the chewed up food in your mouth while giving your stomach time to communicate to your brain that it is full.

8. Drink more water. This takes time to develop and for some of us, may seem impossible, but water is not only cheaper (in many instances, it’s free), but unlike sweetened beverages, has no calories. Water will also help temper the feelings of hunger that encourage us to inhale our food.

9. Don’t drink (your water!) while you’re chewing, or vice-versa. This falls in line with #7. Besides nurturing good manners, it will help slow you down and avoid depositing chewed up food into your beverage.

10. Talk. And be social, if you can. Conversation is a great way to slow a meal down, not to mention enjoy it. I think of my friends from Europe who have these enormous meals drawn out over several hours, and an important part is good conversation.

11. Eat with people who either share your dietary goals or have already achieved them. There is strength numbers, not to mention inspiration by way of guilt.

12. Turn off the TV. Nothing is better at shutting off your brain and encouraging mindless eating. So just turn it off and read, or better yet, talk to your table mates.

13. Be more assertive. Even though junk food is cheap, it is also convenient, which is why many of us choose them. Sure, we’re tired from our busy lives, but a little effort can go a long way in terms of making a healthier meal. And even though it’s a lot easier said than done, it’s not impossible.

14. Exercise. I know, so painfully obvious, but so hard to employ. Given that junk food is so easy only increases our need to be active.

In the end, it all boils down to a little common sense. We all know what is healthy (and for that matter, what is not), we just need to use our heads when we make our dietary choices. And when we have to make compromises, maybe rather than targeting our food for cheaper alternatives, we could consider cutting back on other more frivolous items, like shoes, or the size of our cable package.

The question we have to ask ourselves is how much is enough. Or in the case of eating unhealthy junk food, how much is too much.

The responsibility lies with us, but employing a little more thought and effort could go a long way to improving your health, your appearance, and even your outlook during difficult times.

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Guest's picture

I heartily endorse the concept of turning off the TV (or internet, or newspaper or what have you) while eating - you'd be surprised at how much extra food goes into your mouth while you're preoccupied with other things.

If you are someone who buys in bulk to save money, do yourself a favor and invest in a package of snack-sized zipper bags or a set of snack-sized tupperware containers. Portion out those bigger bags of potentially unhealthy foods - if you snack mindlessly, you're wasting money if you eat out of the big bag.

Guest's picture

We've actually lost weight since my husband lost his job in October. With a $50/week grocery budget for our family of five, I find I don't buy junk or convenience foods unless I can get them for free with coupons. Instead, I do a lot more cooking from scratch. Also, eating out is prohibitively expensive for us, as a fast food meal costs $15 for the family.

I could see people gaining weight from having to work longer hours out of fear of losing their jobs. You'd be much more likely to rely on convenience or fast food then.

Guest's picture

It helps so much to eat seasonal. We also go to a grocery store that has a produce clearance rack, and eat almost exclusively off that, when it comes to fresh fruits and veggies. We go to the day old bread store, and bake sourdough at home. Make your own yogurt and granola. Also, we do alot with pulses. For instance, today I'll be cooking lentils and cabbage. Healthy and dirt cheap.

Unfortately, we're still putting on recession pounds. But we're not doing it supporting the local Golden Arches.

Guest's picture

While I tend to avoid eating meat, I wish you would have used
a less appealing photo to accompany the article as that hamburger is just asking to be eaten.
"I generally avoid temptation unless I can't resist it." Mae West

Guest's picture

Good news! The most sensible diet is also both eco-friendly and eco-nomical! The "food" part of this formula excludes food in boxes and elaborate packages, especially those that claim to be good for you, e.g. low-fat, low-sugar, high-protein, or whatever. Natural food simply prepared is best. Treat meat as a side dish. Eat mostly vegetables. Let fresh fruit in season be the sweetest desserts or treats you eat. It's surprising cheap! ; )

Guest's picture

I really recommend reading the book Mindless Eating. It mentions pretty much everything in this article as well as tons of ways to realize how much you are unnecessarily eating (and how to stop). Everything from the plates you serve/eat off of and the size of packages you buy influence over-eating. The researchers did a lot of really intriguing experiments (feeding people from a secretly refilling bowl of soup, etc) and the book is funny too! Get it from the library!

Guest's picture

yea, dont understand the whole no money = eat junk food - it is so expensive! Maybe i eat less healthy items (like more pasta, canned instead of fresh, etc) but if the goal is to save $ you have to also control the portions - and that keeps me slim.

the only time i every got fat was right after college when i had my first "real world" salary and my loans werent due yet :)

Guest's picture

Thanks for the post. Lots of good points to keep in mind and put into practice as the recession starts to bite. I also recommend having a read of Melanie's Dietriffic blog.

Fred Lee's picture

Great thoughts and ideas, everyone. You can never know too much when it comes to good  eating habits.

Alli, great advice on portion control. I'm guilty of mindlessly dipping my hand into the bag of chips, and even pouring it into a bowl helps me to control my rate of consumption, as long as I leave the bag on the counter. And as far as the TV goes, you don't have to tell me twice to turn the thing off.

Steph, making food from the scratch is the way to go. Besides, it brings meals back to the realm of quality time eating with friends and family, something we've completely moved away from and, because of this, suffer from as a society. And I agree, working like a dog promotes a poor diet.

Emily, I think eating seasonally is a great thing, but hard to practice unless you grow your own stuff or have access to it. But, I do think, if possible, it's the way to go because it really promotes a healthy diet as well as, in many instances, supports local communities. And it's a fun way to be in tune with seasonal cycles. FYI, we eat tons of legumes.

For Guest, I would counter with Oscar Wilde, "The best way to deal with temptation is to succumb to it." I don't advocate eliminating junk food, which I think is not realistic, but to moderate while adding variety to your diet.

To Shanel, thanks for your thoughts. I can spot a Michael Pollan fan when I see one. We always read labels and avoid things we can't pronounce, or in the spirit of Pollan, have more than five ingredients.

Courtney, thanks for the tip. I'll check out the book.

Lizza, portion control is what it's all about. Interestingly, most people gain weight in college, usually in their first year, when they have all that (at least in the dorms) access to cheap and plentiful food.

And David, thanks for your feedback. I'll check out the book.

Linsey Knerl's picture

Fred, whether you meant to, or not -- you gave me a chuckle.  The chewed up food floating in the drinking glass is exactly how I know that one of my kids stole my glass when I wasn't looking.  Yucky, but telling.

Linsey Knerl

Guest's picture

I've found that the best way for me to eat (as well as the most economical) is to make sure that the food I eat has some nutritional value that my body can use. To take the instance of the hamburger - no one can deny that it's cheap. To make it a worthwhile meal, I throw away the bun. The bun is just a bunch of processed sugar and junk, and since that stuff makes your blood sugar and insulin levels skyrocket, it will just make you hungrier and fatter. You're left with veggies and a burger patty. The veggies are good for you, and while the burger isn't the most desirable form of meat, it has protein to feed your cells and some fat to keep you sated. Another interesting tidbit - a lot of the fat in a hamburger is in the bun, since it soaks up all the grease.

Guest's picture

I was gaining weight eating out of large bags of chips. I found out the monosodium glutamate was stimulating my taste buds and making me pig out. So I made 100% whole grain and virgin olive oil crackers at a 4th of the cost of chips and some homemade bean dip. I rolled the dough in small balls and used two sheets tin foil or plastic between a tortilla press (faster and easier than rolling dough). Lost 4 inches in the waist in a month. Healthy can be cheap.

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