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You're Fat and In Debt for the Same Reason

By Rick Kahler

NEW YORK ( AdviceIQ) -- Over the years I've noticed a common trait among people with money problems: Many of those people are also overweight. Is there a relationship between overspending and overeating?

I recently read about a 2009 study by Dr. Eva Munster at the University of Mainz in Germany. Those deep in consumer debt are 2.5 times more likely to be overweight than those who have no debt, Munster found. Possible links include overeating because of the stress of debt, difficulty buying healthful food on a limited income or inability to delay gratification in spending and eating.

Based on my work with those in financial trouble, however, I suspect a deeper cause. Just as chronic money problems aren't about money, chronic weight problems probably aren't about food.

For supporting evidence, I went to an expert: my daughter, London, who recently took a graduate course in medicine. I asked her about the medical link between overspending and overeating. She explained that sugar is addictive and stimulates the same part of the brain as narcotics, producing a euphoric response that, when it subsides, calls for more of the substance.

She wondered whether people addicted to sugar overspend on junk food or also on diets, fitness centers and the higher medical costs associated with being overweight. I pointed out that I spend a lot on healthy food that costs more than junk food. I also spend money on a fitness center and on medical costs to repair the damage to my body after compulsively working out.

She pondered for a moment. "Oh, I think I got it. I'll bet for some people spending money lights up the same part of the brain as sugar and narcotics?"

Bingo. The key to changing any addictive behavior -- overeating, drinking, using drugs or overspending -- involves more than eliminating the substance or the activity. Something else pops up to take its place, which is why many who stop drinking then gain weight or plunge into serious money problems. The brain just substitutes one dopamine producer for another.

The answer is a sort of "rewiring" of the brain to create new neuropathways that do not require the harmful substance or activity to produce the same euphoric event. The latest research on the brain tells us this rewiring is completely doable.

I've seen that to change entrenched and damaging money behaviors permanently takes more than teaching someone thoroughly about money or budgeting. Obesity experts say that losing weight permanently rarely requires learning more about nutrition or researching to find the right diet. Such life changes require looking into the past and deep into oneself. This recovery takes time, effort and money. It's a path not many are willing to follow.

But if underlying causes for overeating and overspending are the same, the good news is that doing the work to recover from one likely speeds the process of recovery from the other. It's a sort of two-for-the-price-of-one sale. For long-term financial, physical and emotional well-being, it seems like a bargain.

-- By Rick Kahler, CFP, president of Kahler Financial Group in in Rapid City, S.D.

AdviceIQ is a network of financial advisors that writes insightful articles for the public about investing and wealth management. All articles are edited by AdviceIQ's editor in chief, Larry Light. AdviceIQ certifies that all its advisors have no regulatory infractions.

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AdviceIQ is a network of financial advisors that writes insightful articles for the public about investing and wealth management. All articles are edited by AdviceIQ's editor in chief, Larry Light. AdviceIQ certifies that all its advisors have no regulatory infractions.

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