Fast Way to Lose Weight? Lighten Up on Credit Cards

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In recent years credit cards have been blamed for practically every ill befalling American consumers, from bankruptcy to retiring without enough savings.

If you’ve still managed to maintain an appetite for that credit or debit card, here’s a little more food for thought – a diet high in plastic might also make you heavier.

Check out this recent story, then we’ll chew the fat on the other side.

There’s little argument that fast food isn’t the healthiest fare for a nation whose citizens are already the fattest in the world. According to statistics from the Organization for Economic Development and Cooperation, more than 30% of Americans are obese. That’s more than twice the global average (14%) and nearly ten times the percentage of overweight Japanese (3.2%).

While we can’t blame our nation’s weight problem entirely on fast food, it certainly isn’t solving the problem. Some fun facts about fast food from

  • High-fructose corn syrup (which tricks your body into wanting to eat more and to store more fat) first appeared in 1967, and the average American now consumes 63 pounds of it a year. It is ubiquitous in fast foods.
  • Dangerous fast food ingredients that have been linked to various cancers and/or obesity includes MSG, trans fat, sodium nitrite, BHA, BHT, propyl gallate, aspartame, Acesulfame-K, Olestra, potassium bromate, and food coloring Blue 1 and 2, Red 3, Green 3, and Yellow 6.
  • Burger King’s Triple Whopper with cheese has an amazing 1,230 calories. Hardies Monster Thickburger has 1,420 calories and 2,770 grams of sodium. Carl’s Jr.’s Double Six hamburger has 1,520 calories and 111 grams of fat. Most people need only 44-66 grams of fat per day, and most of them should come from sources like nuts, fish, and olive oil.
  • By the end of the twentieth century, one out of eight American workers had at some time been employed by McDonald’s, and 96% of Americans had visited McDonald’s at least once. It was also serving an estimated 22 million Americans every day.

Suffice to say that fast food probably isn’t your best nutritional choice. But there’s something even worse – more fast food – and that’s apparently exactly what Americans get when they pull out the plastic at their favorite burger joint.

Here’s what Visa says in a brochure they produced aimed at quick-serve restaurant (QSR) operators:

In a recent Visa study of 100,000 QSR transactions, customers using payment cards spent an average of 20 – 30% more than those who paid with cash. Other industry studies suggest even greater increases.

It’s no mystery as to why people spend more when they take their credit cards out to eat – it obviously allows them to spend what they want rather than being confined to the cash they have on hand. It’s also more difficult to part with “real” money than it is to hand over a credit or debt card: check out this NPR interview with Robert Frank of Cornell University.

So paying with plastic adds to the bottom lines of the restaurants – and the bottoms of customers. Conclusion? The best way to lose weight is to drive past the drive-in window. But if you’re going to succumb to temptation, at least lock your plastic in the trunk.

And keep in mind that restaurants aren’t the only place where plastic could lead to overspending. The simple truth is that using cash substitutes leads to spending more wherever we are.

I wrote about it ten years ago in my first book, Life or Debt, and included it again in my latest book, Life or Debt 2010. Here’s an excerpt:

Ever go to Vegas? Hang around any casino for any length of time, and you’ll see tons of money changing hands. Or will you? Actually, unless you’re near the cashier, you won’t see any money changing hands. You’ll see chips changing hands (more often than not, from your hands to the dealer’s). Why do casinos use chips instead of real money? Because they know that you’re much more likely to wager pieces of plastic than “real” money.

And, of course, they also know that the odds are in their favor; that if you hang around long enough, more of those pieces of plastic will end up on their side of the table than yours. And just to make sure you stay long enough, they’ll even ply you with free alcohol and eliminate unnecessary distractions like clocks and windows.

In many ways, credit cards are the same way. It’s a fact that you’re going to spend more money by exchanging plastic for stuff than you would if you were paying with cash. And the more you spend, the more likely it is that you’ll go into debt. And the more you go into debt, the more money lenders make.

I’m surprised banks don’t supply free drinks at the mall.

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