The Critical Pause

by Pamela Parks


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Here's a theory for you: The reason that so many Americans are overweight is because food is plentiful and (here's the strange part) so is money.

When I first heard this theory, I was watching my wallet more than my waistline. I was purchasing food with an eye toward economy rather than nutrition. I was buying in bulk, buying staples, cooking every meal, and planning the menu days in advance in order to minimize shopping trips.

All of this forced me to take a good hard look at how America shops, and how it eats. I began to see how consumerism and poor eating went hand-in-hand.

Most people in this country don't know what true hunger is. Upon encountering the first stirrings of hunger, we are urged to rush for convenience food. Commercials, billboards, and radio jingles bombard us with messages for chips and candy bars. Convenience stores and fast food outlets seem to be on every street corner. It's called over-consumption for a reason, and it applies to the belly in exactly the same way it applies to the wallet.

Consider an argument that's well known to The Dollar Stretcher readers: I see an advertisement for the Slice-o-matic 3000. I perceive a need for it. And almost instantly, my craving can be satisfied. A quick trip to the store will ease my "hunger pang," as fast as I can get there!

A good way to economize is to insert a critical pause in this process. I have to stop and ask myself, "Do I actually need this new product? Could I use a regular knife instead? Perhaps I could use a knife that I already own."

Consumerism is the opposite. It is deliberate propaganda designed to short-circuit this critical process, imposing instead an emotional attachment and a powerful, driving, unrelenting need for the product in question. Any salesman knows that a customer who walks out the door to think it over is a customer that they have most likely lost. The purchase must happen immediately.

The thing is, convenience food operates the exact same way. There is the same propaganda that attempts to create a powerful emotional need for the food. It's a need that must be satisfied right now. There is the attempt to short-circuit the critical process. The food is so good, so rich, so satisfying, and don't you deserve it?

If you pause to think, those reactions are lost. For those of us trying to slim down our budgets and our bodies, impulse buys are the enemy.

The first method of attack is (I'm sure you've heard it before) shop with a list. But there are those awful moments in the store when you see that canned tomatoes are on sale for 50 cents, and you know you cook with tomatoes four times a week and wouldn't it be nice to stock up? Those judgment calls are hard to make sometimes.

For me personally, we were on a crash diet of the money kind. For a few months, we simply could not afford to stock up. I found the best way to reduce my budget waistline (uh, "waste-line?") was to avoid temptation altogether. Eliminate impulse buys by eliminating all unnecessary trips to the store. My critical pause became long and forceful.

Initially, this was difficult. I grew up in a family of honest-to-goodness shopaholics, whose only leisure activity was walking around the mall. It's hard to insert that critical pause when you make a special trip to the mall. I had to find other things to do to occupy my time.

Avoiding shopping includes turning off the TV. The regular commercials are bad enough, but infomercials are my true weakness. All those kitchen gadgets look so useful! If your kids miss their Saturday morning cartoons, tape them and fast-forward through the commercials. If they balk at that, and if you don't want to sit through another episode of Winx Club with the kids, at least be nearby to discuss the sales tactics those commercials use to convince people to buy. Knowing is half the battle.

Cancel your catalogs that come in the mail. Pretend the reason is to save a tree. Be careful when you surf the Internet not to start browsing online stores. Don't let yourself be tempted.

The good news is that there is one place you don't have to insert a critical pause! Visit your public library and let yourself go wild. There is an endless variety of how-to books available for free. These help to channel my creative juices, so that I no longer want to hang out at the mall for fun. Now I have plenty of projects to occupy my energies.

All the movies you could rent are free at the library. Have you ever bought a CD that only had one or two songs you liked? Now that I'm not afraid of wasting my money on a CD with 80% garbage, I have been able to discover many different performers and types of music.

You can indulge your shopping impulses to their utmost. Browse the cookbooks, the how-to books, the bestsellers, or whatever your weakness is. And if you like what you see, pick it up and take it home! After all, don't you deserve it?

Take the Next Step:

  • Whether you're trying to slim down your budget or your body, always insert the critical pause before making any purchase.
  • If one of your goals for your family is to cook more healthful meals then you'll want to read Healthy Foods Ezine. Each week you'll find 'Nutrition 101', an introduction to a new food, plus a recipe.

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