My 2016 Budget Challenge: How to Lose Weight Without Counting Calories


[Editor's Note: This is another episode in Max Wong's journey to find an extra $31,000 this year. Read the whole series here.]

One yucky, unintended side effect of my 2016 Budget Challenge is that both Mr. Spendypants and I have chubbed out in the last six months. Since most of our methods of saving and earning extra money this year involve sitting down, we aren't burning our usual number of calories to balance our power snacking. So now, in addition to finding an extra $31,000 by December 31st, we've added Lose 10 Pounds to our To Do list. Boo.

There's a reason why Asians dominate at eating competitions. Asian metabolism is real. The biblical plague of locusts looks positively junior varsity when compared to my Chinese family nibbling its way through the Beef Jerky Store in Las Vegas. In my family, eating through the pain is a mark of character. And don't even think about skipping Second Breakfast. Didn't your mother tell you that Second Breakfast in one of the eight most important meals of the day? No?

I'm just going to blame my poor food habits on my cultural norms.

What Is Hara Hachi Bun Me?

Luckily food sport isn't the only famous Asian eating habit. Hara hachi bun me, which translates roughly as "belly 80% full," is the Confucian practice of purposeful eating. The hara hachi bun me eating practice is based on a very simple idea: Stop eating when you are 80% full. Since it takes about 20 minutes for the stretch receptors in your stomach to tell your brain that your gut is at capacity, it's easy to overeat. So, if you put down your chopsticks while you still feel a little hungry, chances are that 20 minutes later you will actually feel full.

Why Did We Choose Hara Hachi Bun Me Over Other Diets?

Mr. Spendypants and I decided to try this method of weight loss for several reasons.

Budgeting Is No Fun

Counting calories is basically making a budget about food. What an unappetizing thought. With hara hachi bun me, we don't have to do any math. We just have to stop eating the moment we stop feeling hungry instead of the moment we start feeling full. It's super easy.

You Don't Need Special Equipment

Although I am sure hara hachi bun me tools exist, practicing hara hachi bun me does not require special equipment. We don't have to download an app, pulverize our food in a $700 Veggisaurus Rex blender, or use a Breathalyzer to tell us that our diet is working. (I know that my diet is working because my favorite dress no longer fits me like a sausage casing).

You Don't Need Special Food

We don't have to buy special food, either. We don't have to live for weeks on maple syrup and laxatives harvested by endangered Canadian squirrels. We don't have to ingest a choco-malt meal replacement — that smells like burned rubber and tastes like sadness — twice a day, along with a sensible dinner.

You Won't Become a Diet Humblebragger

Lastly, our friends won't hate us. Okay, let me elaborate about how not to lose friends when you lose weight.

Since I live in Los Angeles, the epicenter of every food-denying trend, I don't want to hear your opinion on what I should stop eating. I follow you on Instagram and already know about the unsweetened twigs you ate for breakfast today. People who tell me about their juice fasts are the worst. Really, stop talking about your diarrhea. Also, if you are a vegan who does CrossFit, how do you decide which lifestyle to talk about first? (Answer: neither). Because hara hachi bun me is based on portion control, we can eat out with friends, anywhere, without making the meal all about us.

So How Does This Save Money?

We went out to lunch with friends last weekend and split two entrees, two large salads, and two appetizers between five people, and we still had food left over. American restaurant portions are huge. So, when we go out to eat, we save around 40% by splitting meals. At home we immediately cut 20% off our grocery budget by eating 20% less food at every meal.

Progress Report

July was fun, but fun costs money. We just spent the weekend in Napa Valley commemorating my in-laws' 60th wedding anniversary. Although their six-decade marriage is a marvelous achievement, the dress code for the family portrait was not. "The color palette for the reunion photograph is gold, navy, and white, with touches of red," read the email from a relative who will go unnamed. Because I apparently don't know how to dress appropriately for important family events, a helpful reference photograph — of Mitt Romney's family — was included.

Since my closet is tiny, pretty much everything I wear is black, so I was forced to find something suitably Ann Romney meets the Naval Academy for the picture. I resigned myself to doing a little catch and release shopping. I went to the nearest consignment store to buy the first navy blue dress that fit me and looked moderately Republican. My plan was to wear the dress for the portrait and then sell the dress back to the store the following week to recoup 40% of the cost. As luck would have it, I found a brand-new, super cute (as in Zooey Deschanel owns this) dress for $28. Shockingly, the dress fits me so perfectly that I'm going to use it as a sewing pattern for future dresses. It's a keeper, but I'm out $28.

We also spent a few days at the beginning of the month in San Francisco for the baptism of Mr. Spendypants' godson. Luckily, we didn't have to purchase Catholic apparel for that event.

Although we lucked out with free housing from family and friends, the cost of everything from haircuts to food to airfare for those two trips cost $1500. When Mr. Spendypants finally got a chance to balance his books we discovered that we had a whopping $8 to add to the savings challenge. Uhn. At least we didn't have to dip into savings to pay for anything.

Better luck in August, maybe?

Goal: $31,000

Amount Raised: $21,506.41

Amount Spent: $12,153.66

Amount Left to Go: $21,647.25

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Guest's picture

I have never heard of this diet callled Hara Hachi Bun Me but I would like to try it out. Hopefully it works because it looks like it would be practical and convenient for me to try it.