NEW YORK (MainStreet) — A lot of people are concerned that a healthy diet is going to cost them more than they can afford. However, it's worth putting the question on its head: can you afford not to eat well? With heart disease and Type II diabetes among the chief causes of death in the United States, it's worth considering the cost of poor eating over a lifetime.

You’re Losing Money at Work

Ellie Kay is the author of Lean Body, Fat Wallet (Thomas Nelson, 2013), a book that speaks to the connection between health care, food and budgets. She points out that people who eat poorly tend to have more absences from work.

"Poor eating amounts to about a 7% loss in productivity around the year," she says.

What's more, that figure just refers to what you're losing out on by being sick; it does not take into account the more subjective question of what lower daily productivity is costing you. The Economist estimates that the obese earn a whopping 16% less than their fit peers. Less energy on the job means lower job performance means getting passed over for promotions.

You’ve Got Increased Health Care Costs

Of course, the elephant in the room here is the increased cost of health care. All told, the USDA estimates that poor eating costs America $71 billion in health care costs every year. Kay notes that obese people pay 40% more in doctor’s visits.

"This is for low-grade health items and not even major stuff," she said. "People who eat poorly are just more susceptible to illness."


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It's not just about a few colds here and there; people who eat poorly tend not to sleep as well and are also more likely to have depression. On the flip side, Kay points out that insurance companies are offering credits for people actively losing weight.

"You can get up to a $5,000 discount on your insurance over the course of a year by joining a gym or Weight Watchers," she says.

Finally, the cost of long-term poor eating is particularly high. Left unchecked, the wrong kind of diet can result in type II diabetes, heart disease, liver disease and several forms of cancer. So how do you have a health-conscious diet that fits within your budget?

Picking the Diet That’s Right For You

“There’s no one right diet for everyone,” says Mindy Gorman, a board certified eating psychology coach based in New York City. "Every individual is different. Rather than listening to experts, listen to your body and what it’s telling you to eat."

With that said, there are some general rules that will apply no matter what kind of a diet you decide is best for you.

  • Pay Attention to Your Stomach: "Eat when you’re hungry, but stop when you've had enough," says Gorman. She notes that mindfulness while eating is important. "Be present when you're eating so you can appreciate when your body has had enough," she says, adding that this is more effective than calorie counting.
  • Avoid Processed Food: "The American diet consists mostly of poor-quality fats, poor-quality carbs, packaged and processed foods with ingredients the average person can’t even pronounce," she says. This leads to consequences beyond just obesity.
  • Pick Your Battles on Organic: Gorman thinks that organic is indispensable when it comes to meat and dairy. However, with fruit she's less fussy. "You don’t need to buy organic avocados or bananas," she says. This is because the thick outer skin -- that you won't be eating -- protects the fruit inside from the negative impact of non-organic farming.
  • Opt for Natural Foods: "In a perfect world we'd be eating food that doesn't have a label and doesn’t come in a package," Gorman says. While reading the label on your food can help you to assess it as a consumer, Gorman argues that it’s better to eat foods that don't have labels because they don’t come in packages.
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When you start eating more healthfully, Gorman believes that your entire quality of life will improve.

"When you eat poorly your sleep suffers, your digestion suffers, your self-esteem suffers," she says. "All of that plays a huge role in how we approach life in general and what we receive from it."

Starting the new year out with a healthier diet can give you the physical health and positive outlook you need to make 2015 a success.

-- Written for MainStreet by Nicholas Pell