DH = Dear husband
An unexpected thing has happened since our household embarked on plant-based eating a month ago: I gained weight. Ever since we started our vegan experiment, I’ve been panic-eating. Why the panic? With no meat, fish, eggs, or dairy to stick to my bones, I’m afraid I’ll get hungry. Why this fear of hunger? When I need food, I don’t just get hungry; I get hangry – and it’s not pretty. So lots of proactive eating to avoid the hanger of hunger these days.
Before going plant-based, this panic didn’t happen. There was always a quick snack at hand – either at home in the fridge or pantry, or at work in my lunch bag. In weak moments, there was easy access to the cafeteria and vending machine too. Getting food to eat was a no-brainer. Now each meal takes planning, grocery shopping for strange new ingredients, focused prep-time. Quick snacks are rarely at hand.
So when there’s food in front of me, my instinct says, “Eat as much as you can while you have the chance!”
Despite the fact that we in North America today are surrounded by ridiculous amounts of food, I’m feeling the scarcity of readily available plant-based options. I’m sure it’s a temporary feeling – one that will lessen as we learn more recipes and become more expert at prepping snacks and meals.
I would have guessed that a scarcity mindset would lead me to portion out our labour-intensive meals carefully. If there’s a true limit to the food going around, isn’t it more rational to make it last as long as possible? Yes, but who said anything about rationality? Especially when hanger is in the balance?
When frugality is perceived as scarcity
When DH and I started our journey out of debt, we decided to include in our budget discretionary allowances for each of us. Our respective discretionary accounts cover some essential items that have a broad range of price-points – like shampoo and clothing – as well as non-essentials like movie tickets and restaurant meals. We each get a generous monthly amount – $600.
I have no idea how much I spent on discretionary purchases each month before we started to attack our debt. What I do know is this: I always blew my discretionary allowance once it was defined – once it had limits. I’ve written so often about the frustration of not being able to get a grip on my discretionary spending. Now, I think I understand it. I’ve had a scarcity mindset about my money.
It’s a bit embarrassing to recognize that I perceive such a generous monthly allowance as “scarce”. Of course it’s enough – more than enough. In the same way, although I’m feeling the limits of what I can eat, experienced vegans will claim there’s nothing scarce about a plant-based diet. Grains, nuts, vegetables, fruits, legumes … There’s more than enough.
It’s a matter of habit and mindset adjustment. When you’re used to eating anything and you suddenly limit your diet, it’s easy to fall prey to perceived scarcity, and to react with panic-eating. And when you’re used to spending however much money on whatever purchase and you suddenly define the amount in that money supply, it’s easy to feel limited, and to react with panic-spending. “Buy now while you still can!”
Learning curves involved in lifestyle change are complicated! In this one personal case – one of many – our simple budget plan for discretionary spending ended up triggering a panic I wasn’t expecting, didn’t identify, and couldn’t overcome until I painstaking worked through it. Ugh!
Seamless lifestyle change? No!
Lifestyle changes are not seamless. But sometimes they’re presented that way. We’ve all seen commercials featuring beautifully slim, healthy, happy people who explain their don’t-you-just-want-to-be-like-me awesomeness by making casual claims like, “I started to exercise for 30 minutes every day, and I always have a _________________ (insert name of food product) on hand to give me the energy I need … (pause long enough for a simpering smile) without giving me the calories I don’t want.”
Sometimes financial advice is presented in the same “This-is-seamless” way:
- Prepare a budget to live below your means.
- Never carry a credit card balance.
- Don’t buy things until you’ve saved up for them.
- Buy on sale.
- Pay off your debts.
- Buy a house only if you can pay off the mortgage in 15 years spending no more than 25% of your monthly take-home pay.
- Set aside ____% (10? 20? 30?) to invest in your retirement.
Simple, right? Maybe in bullet points. But NOT easy when applied to the messiness of real life. For most people – especially those of us who have lived for years without any financial plan at all, there are multiple learning curves involved. And each one involves insecurity-riddled intention, frustrating inefficiency, and discouraging lapses in willpower. Again, ugh!
But I’m so glad that DH and I have tolerated our learning curves through the nearly 6 years of financial makeover that we’ve gone through to date. The most beautiful message that I can offer about our experience is that although it’s been messy, we’ve covered step after step after step towards the finish line. It’s hard to believe, but our journey out of all debt will be completed in just 6 more months!
Embrace the hot mess of change!
So let your life-change journey be messy! Tolerate whatever learning curve hits you with the full force of its unexpected personal awkwardness and complexity. Whether you’re moving towards better health, better finances, better career, better relationships, there are tried-and-true ways of getting there. And while they look neat and tidy in their presentation form, they’ll be a hot mess when you apply them. That’s OK! Messiness never stopped anyone from getting to a desired destination. In fact, I’d say you won’t get anywhere worth going without it.
Have you ever made a real lifestyle change? Was it seamless? Or messy? Your comments are welcome.