Here's How to Kick Inflation's Ass, Part 2

Readers, thanks for indulging me while I take a break from writing to work on other projects. The following post was one of the most popular and widely-read of anything I've written over the past several years.
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Last week we discussed expanding our thinking about competition and substitution to defeat inflation and shift power back into consumers' hands. Let's pivot now from the spending side of the ledger to the savings and income side of the ledger, and try to think creatively about attacking inflation on a second front.

Labor markets: tightening
One fortunate aspect of inflation is it tends to coincide with lower unemployment and an improving economy. Remember last post when we talked about making companies compete to sell to us? Well, this happens in labor market too. When labor markets tighten, it means employers have to compete more aggressively for workers.

This means two things. First, enterprising workers who are valued by their employers and willing to ask for what they want will get more money for the jobs they already have. Second, other opportunities are likely be opening up for you, right now, for a superior work situation. Start looking.

Both employment and wage increases tend to lag a recovery, which means now is the time to start taking advantage of the most direct way to beat inflation: get more money.

Side hustles/additional income sources
Last week we talked about monopolies in the consumer marketplace. Here's another way to think about a monopoly: if you have one job, your employer is a monopoly provider of your income. Your employer has total power over you, and it can "substitute" you right out of a job under the flimsiest of pretexts, whenever it wants!

To borrow a phrase from Nassim Nicholas Taleb's must-read book Antifragile, this makes you "fragile" to the loss of all of your income. Not good.

You cannot consider yourself to be truly robust financially if a) you have a monopoly income provider and b) your monopoly income provider can, by terminating your job, spontaneously shut off all of your income. This is why all households ought to be thinking, Wall Street Playboys-like, about what kind of side hustles they can run to supplement income from their primary job.

My domain of expertise is stock market investing, thus that's where I try to drive incremental income for my household. But there is no shortage of ways to earn extra money on the side, and plenty of resources that cover this topic better than I could. Once again, remember our primary heuristic: the more broadly we think about competition and substitution (and monopoly providers of things like our income!), the more we can eliminate various fragilities in our financial lives.

Turning an expense into an income source
One major insight from Jacob Lund Fisker's book Early Retirement Extreme is to look for ways to "monetize" your hobbies: Fisker loved bicycles, taught himself how to fix them, and gradually fell into a modest income source repairing them. Recently, I taught myself how to string tennis racquets. Now, not only have I dramatically reduced one of my largest tennis-related expenses, I'm now in a position to string other peoples' racquets for additional income!

In both these cases we've taken an inflation-prone expense and not only neutralized it, but turned it into a source of funds. I'll leave it to you to figure out where in your life you can apply this important insight.

Low overhead, low fixed costs
The late publisher Felix Dennis, in his useful book How to Get Rich, used to say "overhead walks on two legs."

I gotta be honest: that phrase makes absolutely no sense. But, well, he's from England.

What he's getting at, however, is this: never, ever, ever get yourself in a situation where you have high fixed overhead costs. Felix Dennis kept his organizations lean, mean and flexible so they could withstand anything--any kind of financial stresses. And whenever a windfall came in, rather than getting spent covering expenses and overhead, that income dropped right down to the bottom line.

Why can't we keep our households lean, mean and flexible too?

Debt = Fragility
The first and most obvious step most families can take towards making their households lean is to pay down all debts. Debt makes you fragile. It saddles you with non-negotiable monthly fixed costs that swell up your expenses, limit your flexibility, and crowd out your ability to manage inflation.

But believe it or not, debt can be an inflation fighting tool. Let me explain how.

Here at Casual Kitchen, we carry a modest mortgage on our townhome. When we first started seeing a few too many "non-beat-backable" examples of price inflation, like our auto insurance bill, our property taxes and some of the other examples I discussed in Part 1 of this post, we put a plan into place to accelerate paying off our mortgage entirely.

Our plan is to get this cost item paid off and eliminated from our household ledger for good by the end of 2018. This will create significant room in our budget to compensate for quite a bit of other sources of inflation in areas where we have less control.

A quick sidebar. Traditional economic "logic" says that borrowers benefit from periods of inflation. If you borrow money today (assuming you can do so at attractively low interest rates, a not-always-true presumption) you can then pay it back with lower-value dollars in the future. That's what the economic textbooks say at least.

The truth is debt is a fixed overhead cost burden that you are better off not having at all. The money you vaporize to service your debts could can be far better used to fund a huge savings buffer, or to fund investments in long-term, inflation-protected cash flows. Unlike a large debt load, these protect your family, making you more financially robust.

Nearly every household in our country carries a significant level of debt, which means nearly every household lights a meaningful portion of their money on fire, every month, just so they can use someone else's money to buy things they likely never even needed in the first place.

Eliminate all debt. Overhead walks on two legs. Eliminate that overhead and you'll free up room in your budget to handle all sources of inflation and then some.

Now, let's move on to our final and most powerful tool for defeating inflation.

Income generating investments
A detailed discussion on investing is beyond the scope of this post and likely beyond the scope of this blog.[1] But we'll make room here for a few general heuristics you can use to diversify your sources of income using the amazing vehicle of conservative dividend paying stocks.

Remember in last week's post when we were talking about companies with pricing power? Those are the types of companies you'll want to consider for investments. Or, as I phrased it in another post here at Casual Kitchen: "Wherever you find a highly profitable company charging prices well above intrinsic value, forget buying the product. Buy the stock instead."

I'll share a couple of examples from my personal investing activities: my dividend on my Coca-Cola stock has more than quadrupled since I bought my first shares in 1999. Since the financial crisis in 2008-2009, JP Morgan hiked its dividend from a post-crisis low of 5c a share to 56c [ed: now 80c] a share, an eleven fold increase [ed: now a sixteen fold increase].

I have yet to see a product in the consumer marketplace inflate prices at that kind of rate, not even status-signalling iPhones.

Which reminds me! Apple stock paid its first quarterly dividend in 2012, a modest 38c a share. In the five years since, the company has nearly doubled the dividend, a growth rate of some 15% a year.

I don't know if we can expect these types of dividend growth rates going forward, but you can put a relatively high level of confidence on all of these companies, and many others like them, increasing their dividends over time at rates equal to or exceeding inflation. Thus dividend paying stocks should be one of the pillars of your overall investment strategy.

Conclusion and review
Once again, let's return to Galbraith's "at-risk" households: those with no control over their income, no control over prices they pay, and "no capacity to protect themselves by increasing their own returns." While we can't control everything--here and there we will have to eat a price hike--we now have several tools we can use to increase our "capacity" to protect ourselves and our families from inflation:

* Think about competition and substitution as broadly and as empoweringly as possible
* Improve your brinksmanship: increase your ability to say "no" to more and more products and services in the consumer marketplace
* Avoid monopoly and oligopoly providers in as many forms as you can
* Ruthlessly strip out overhead ("overhead walks on two legs")
* Relentlessly pay off all debts (debt = fragility)
* Save more, both into a large emergency fund and into income generating investments
* Don't let your job be a "monopoly income source"--diversify away from it now, even if you do so in small steps at first.

Good luck and get started!


[1] Footnote: Resources for further reading:
For those readers interested in more articles and resources about investing, see:
1) Consumer Empowerment: How To Self-Fund Your Consumer Products Purchases
2) Synergies of Being an Investor AND a Consumer
3) Money Sundays: The "Stoplight Rule" For Creating An Emergency Fund
4) Ask CK: More on Emergency Funds

And, be sure to see my chapter-by-chapter analysis of Your Money Or Your Life, [full archive here], and in particular,
5) Becoming a Sophisticated Investor: Six Steps
6) The Official "Your Money Or Your Life" Reading List
7) Ask Casual Kitchen: Best Investing Books




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You can help support the work I do here at Casual Kitchen by visiting Amazon via any link on this site. Amazon pays a small commission to me based on whatever purchase you make on that visit, and it's at no extra cost to you. Thank you!

And, if you are interested at all in cryptocurrencies, yet another way you can help support my work here is to use this link to open up your own cryptocurrency account at Coinbase. I will receive a small affiliate commission with each opened account. Once again, thank you for your support!

How To Beat Inflation, Badly

Readers, thanks for indulging me while I take a break from writing to work on other projects. In the meantime, enjoy this post from CK's archives!
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How do you deal with inflation and price increases? I've noticed quite a few price hikes over the past several months across the consumer marketplace: in the grocery store, on the menus at local restaurants, in the costs of various services... the list goes on. Some examples from our household:

* Our cable company hiked our internet bill 9%.
* Many product categories in our primary local grocery store have seen price hikes: a few that come to mind: store brand peanuts $2.49 to $2.99 (20%) and then to $3.29 (32% cumulatively), soy milk: 33% ($1.50 to $1.99). pineapples 20% ($2.50 to $2.99).
* Our automobile insurance bill went up a surprise 10% in the last billing cycle.
* Our townhouse community fees increased about 5% last year.
* And our property taxes jumped 8% two years ago as our town put through new assessments.

Of course, let's not forget one of the worst examples of inflation today: increases in health insurance policy premiums, which seem to inflate at a shocking rate each year.

All of this made me want to attempt to collect and organize my thoughts for readers on how best to deal with inflation and price increases. Unfortunately, I can't solve the inflation problem directly, that's the job of all those stone-handed economic geniuses at the Federal Reserve. But I what I can do is share some heuristics and general principles to help us blunt inflation's impact on our household budgets.

Let's start by stealing a quote and a conceptual framework on inflation from economist John Kenneth Galbraith, from his book The Affluent Society:

"Those individuals and groups will suffer most which have the least control over their prices or wages and hence the least capacity to protect themselves by increasing their own returns."

Galbraith ain't the greatest writer in the world, but what he's trying to say here is you want to increase your flexibility on both sides of the ledger--with both income and expenses. Those households without much room between income and expenses, those carrying high fixed costs, those that can't (or won't) save aggressively, and those unable to control their incomes at least to some extent--it's those households inflation hurts the worst.

Don't be that kind of household. To ensure your family isn't like the "at-risk" example Galbraith describes, you'll want to add to your income, cut expenses, and beat price hikes where you can. All three--at the same time.

Okay. Let's move from the theoretical and get into some practical ideas.

The ability to say no
The things we buy in life can be broken down into two categories: things we need and things we don't. Many posts here at Casual Kitchen address how easy it is to confuse needs with wants, and inflation in the price of a given product or service gives us a way to clarify the confusion. The more you can consider something as a want rather than a need, and the more you can simply say "no" to that product or service, the more power you have over the entity selling to you.

Some of our peers tell us they could never part with television. Now, I never judge peoples' horrible media consumption habits, but if that's your position, guess what? To the extent you believe TV is a "need" you lose all your leverage. You lose the ability to use true brinkmanship with the supplier. Yes, you can use all the Ramit cost-savings scripts you like. But if you won't cancel service when it really gets down to it, the company holds all the cards, not you.

Eventually, you're going to eat a price hike.

In contrast, imagine a household that places cable television in the "want" rather than "need" category. In our case, that simple act of mental categorization at first enabled us to keep cable, as the cable company, smelling our utter indifference when we called to challenge a price hike, offered us a hilariously cheap deal. Ironic.

But eventually, as with all monopoly- or oligopoly-provided services (more on this in a moment) the price hikes inevitably resumed, and we simply eliminated the entire cost category from our life. We won the brinkmanship battle because we could always say no. And eventually we did. The more you can improve and expand your ability say no, whatever the product or service, the more power you have over inflation.

Sounds easy, right? The problem, of course, is sometimes there's no competition at all.

Monopoly providers
In our community, internet service is a monopoly, and--no surprise--they've put through multiple price increases in recent years. They do it because they can. It's a reality. We've managed to negotiate the last few away, but this summer they put through a 9% hike that we were unable to beat back.

Unfortunately, some price hikes you just have to eat, and we'll be eating this one. You won't be able to beat back every single manifestation of inflation. Instead, you'll have to make room for the ones you can't beat back by driving down costs elsewhere in your budget.

Oligopoly providers
Oligopolies are markets where there are very few players competing. Here's where we often see creeping inflation and the dreaded "pricing umbrella," where the most dominant company in an oligopoly hikes prices and the other competitors follow along. It's not collusion exactly. It's not like these companies get together in a smoky back room and agree to hike prices in advance (which is illegal). They are, however, still free to watch each others' pricing decisions in the open market, and either follow along or not.

Branded consumer products companies tend to be worst offenders here, which is why you want to try and both avoid their products and invest in their stocks. More on that next week in part two of this post.

Substitution/Competition: broadening our primary weapon
It's an elementary economic concept to know that the more competition there is in a market, the lower prices will be, and the less likely there will be inflation. I wouldn't be teaching you anything by telling you this--you already know it.

What I want readers to do instead is to view "competition" as broadly as possible in all consumer marketplaces.

Branding is one way companies try to artificially limit competition. If you only buy Bumblebee Tuna for example, you're enabling a type of mini-monopoly market, and setting up a possible pain point for inflation in the future. On the other hand, if you know the real truth about canned tuna, and thus are indifferent to branding, you can switch.

And the ability to switch or substitute is a consumer's primary weapon of empowerment. The question is, can we think about substitution in ridiculously broad terms, and impose more competition across more markets--and thus increase our overall power as consumers?

Let's go over an example of what I mean. One of the most basic substitution examples, one you'd find in an introductory economics textbook, is the idea of substituting chicken for beef based on whichever meat is least expensive. But Casual Kitchen readers steeped in the practice of almost meatless cooking should be able to broaden the substitution possibilities far, far further, by rotating in laughably cheap vegetarian meals for some meat-centered meals.

If you think about it, this makes meat providers "compete" far more expansively. They're not just competing against other meat providers, we're making them compete against vegetables too! In other words, you've created circumstances where all of these food providers have to compete against each other for your food dollars. And this gives you more options and flexibility than ever.

Interestingly, one of the primary flaws in measuring inflation decades ago resulted from the government failing to take into account the substitutability of many products in the consumer marketplace. Heh. We won't be making that mistake.

Substitution and competition can be thought of still more broadly, at all levels of the consumer marketplace. For example, think beyond the mere product level. Competition and substitution can be found at the store level too: If any store hikes prices beyond what you think is reasonable, go to another store.

So, we now have our first set of weapons for combating inflation, and here's the general heuristic for readers: source as many of your "needs" from markets that are competitive, and for each need, have as many substitution possibilities as you can, in as broad a sense as you can. To the extent you can expand the envelope of competition and substitution across all things you buy, you will massively increase your leverage and flexibility over price inflation.

Next week we'll look at still more ways to beat inflation in Part 2: we'll look at the issue from the income and employment side of the ledger, and we'll consider some unusual ways to think about overhead and investing. Stay tuned!


READ NEXT: Ten Book Recommendations (Eleven, Actually)

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You can help support the work I do here at Casual Kitchen by visiting Amazon via any link on this site. Amazon pays a small commission to me based on whatever purchase you make on that visit, and it's at no extra cost to you. Thank you!

And, if you are interested at all in cryptocurrencies, yet another way you can help support my work here is to use this link to open up your own cryptocurrency account at Coinbase. I will receive a small affiliate commission with each opened account. Once again, thank you for your support!

Will An Expensive Experience Be Worth It? Seven Heuristics

Readers, thanks for indulging me while I take a break from writing to work on other projects. In the meantime, enjoy this post from CK's archives.
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Since my last post on forgotten restaurant meals, I've been thinking quite a lot about the value of experiences, and I've come up with a list of rules of thumb to help assess whether an experience will be worth the cost.

This is of course a food blog, and therefore much of this thinking is geared towards food experiences, but I think today's post could be broadly applicable across all sorts of experiences.

You'll notice the appearance of my trusty 80/20 Rule in this list, along with several other counterintuitive (and even one or two contradictory) thoughts.

One final note: My goal isn't to be prescriptive--I'm not here to tell you what to do. My goal with this post is to help you think about what gives you real value in life and thus help you think about what's truly worth the extra money.

1) Money spent on experiences you don't remember is wasted money.

2) The salience or "rememberability" of an expensive meal or experience has to do with its infrequency, not its absolute cost. Expensive dinners out several times a week are likely to blend together, be forgotten--and thus become a waste of money.

3) Therefore, if you truly value expensive restaurant meals, have just a few per year. Frequency and salience are inversely proportional.

4) Rethink what paying for an experience means to you. Will you remember this experience? Will it be salient to you in a year or two? Or three? This might be a better measure of value to you than the cost.

5) Likewise, regular restaurant meals that you have for no reason at all will probably end up being utterly forgotten.

6) You can waste enormous sums of money on regular "forgettable" experiences.

7) By cutting out one or two weekly "forgettable" dinners out, you can save an enormous percentage of your entire food budget without sacrificing any happiness whatsoever.

Readers, what would you add? And which of these do you agree with or disagree with?

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You can help support the work I do here at Casual Kitchen by visiting Amazon via any link on this site. Amazon pays a small commission to me based on whatever purchase you make on that visit, and it's at no extra cost to you. Thank you!

And, if you are interested at all in cryptocurrencies, yet another way you can help support my work here is to use this link to open up your own cryptocurrency account at Coinbase. I will receive a small affiliate commission with each opened account. Once again, thank you for your support!

The Value of a Forgotten Meal

Readers, thanks for indulging me while I take a break from writing to work on other projects. In the meantime, enjoy this post from CK's archives!
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I had an interesting moment of clarity about the true value of restaurant meals when I recently went through a pile of credit card receipts. In that pile were receipts from fifteen or so restaurants we had been to the year before.

These dinners occurred anywhere from nine to twelve months in the past, and yet I hardly remembered any of them. Heck, I couldn't even remember the names of some of the restaurants, much less what kind of food they served. And yet the aggregate cost of these culinary experiences was hundreds and hundreds of dollars.

You'd think after lighting all that money on fire I'd remember more of these experiences, but sadly, I don't. The ones that really stuck in my mind boiled down to a couple of really fancy restaurant meals we had, Laura's 40th birthday dinner, and the spectacular all-you-can-eat ribs we had last fall during our visit to Belgium. That's three or four restaurant meals--out of fifteen. [Ed: Now, years later, I can't even remember Laura's birthday dinner. Sobering. I still remember the rib dinner in Belgium though.]

In complete contrast, I remember nearly every dinner party I've hosted at our home, going back many years. Those dinners were all truly salient and meaningful experiences, full of good conversations, good eating (well, I did make the food after all) and good times with friends. And yet the entire cost of all the food--for everyone--for a dinner in our home was usually far less than what Laura and I would end up spending on just ourselves for the average forgettable restaurant meal in this forgotten pile of receipts.

Readers, get ready, because here's the punchline of this article: you will completely forget most of your restaurant meals, making them an utter waste of money. Only a select few of your dinners out--the ones with particularly special circumstances--will stick in your mind.

Moreover, you'll get more value from your experiences by going out to eat only for really, really important occasions. Otherwise eat at home. And host lots of dinner parties. You'll spend a lot less money, and you'll keep more meaningful memories.

What's the point of spending extra money on an experience if you're just going to forget about it?


READ NEXT: When Restaurants Stop Being Worth It

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You can help support the work I do here at Casual Kitchen by visiting Amazon via any link on this site. Amazon pays a small commission to me based on whatever purchase you make on that visit, and it's at no extra cost to you. Thank you!

And, if you are interested at all in cryptocurrencies, yet another way you can help support my work here is to use this link to open up your own cryptocurrency account at Coinbase. I will receive a small affiliate commission with each opened account. Once again, thank you for your support!

Survivor Bias: Why Big Food Isn't As Evil As You Think

Readers, thanks for indulging me while I take a break from writing to work on other projects. In the meantime, enjoy this post from CK's archives.
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Lots of food writers and bloggers, myself included, love to criticize Big Food. It's such an easy target. After all, shouldn't everyone be against an industry that earns billions by force-feeding us unhealthy foods?

Of course, you can only make a statement like that (and keep a straight face) if you view the world with a conspiracy-theory mentality. If that's your primary mindset, stop reading this post right now. Because I am about to suggest an alternate explanation for the realities of the food industry--one that doesn't involve the a priori assumption that our destiny is under the control of an evil cabal of greedy food lords.

A warning though: this explanation involves a quick detour to statistics class, and a quicker detour through my former career on Wall Street. But in just a short few minutes, you'll see that someone else is behind the curtain selecting the foods on our grocery store shelves.

My quick detour starts with a financial question: what happens to a mutual fund that really sucks? (Don't worry, this will be brief. I promise.)

Well, a mutual fund can get away with suckola performance for a few years, but if it significantly underperforms its peer group for much longer, it will be closed down and killed off. It gets pulled from the newspapers, its performance record vanishes, and it gets washed down the memory hole as if it never existed.

Here's the point: this regular mercy-killing of bad mutual funds creates a deeply misleading picture of past performance. Since the worst-performing funds are regularly removed from the data set, the past performance of mutual funds in general looks better than it actually was. What you see isn't really a true picture of past performance--it's just the past performance of the survivors.

Statisticians call this phenomenon survivor bias, and it gives a whole new meaning to the expression "past performance does not guarantee future returns." (Even though I left Wall Street more than a year [edit: 10 years!] ago, I still throw up in my mouth a little bit whenever I hear that awful, awful phrase.)

Okay. The point of this article isn't to tell you to be suspicious of the mutual fund industry, that's just a freebie side benefit you get from reading a food blog written by a retired Wall Street analyst. The point is to apply this concept of survivor bias to the food industry, and specifically to the foods sitting on our grocery store shelves.

Many of us like to think that all the deliciously unhealthy foods in our grocery stores are there because evil food companies engineer them that way on purpose. What we don't see, and what few of us think about, are all the foods that weren't quite popular enough with consumers, and were therefore killed off. The food industry is littered with the corpses of thousands, perhaps tens of thousands, of foods that have come and gone. Just like underperforming mutual funds, these unpopular or ill-conceived food products die off because they didn't perform well.

If you were to look over the thousands of foods that came and went over the past 50-75 years, you'd find foods of all types. Some would be healthy, some extremely unhealthy. Some would be terrible and tasteless, some would be delicious but for whatever reason unpopular. Some of these foods never made it past regional test markets or focus group testing. Some had huge ad budgets behind them, while some quietly came and went with no ad spending at all.

In every case, however, what really mattered was this: consumer demand was insufficient to support the products that didn't survive. And so they died. The remaining foods on our grocery stores shelves, however unhealthy they may be, are the product of survivor bias. It's quite simple: the foods most heavily demanded by consumers always survive.

So, who's really behind the curtain choosing the foods on our grocery store shelves?

It's us. We are behind the curtain. That's right: fattening and unhealthy foods are on our store shelves because we put them there.

This is why consumers have such a critical role in deciding what is available to us in our stores and markets. Exercise your power by spending your money accordingly.

Readers, share your thoughts!

Note: I owe a debt of gratitude to two exceptional books by Nicholas Taleb: Fooled By Randomness and The Black Swan. Both were instrumental in helping me think through issues raised in this post. Things are not always as they seem.





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You can help support the work I do here at Casual Kitchen by visiting Amazon via any link on this site. Amazon pays a small commission to me based on whatever purchase you make on that visit, and it's at no extra cost to you. Thank you!

And, if you are interested at all in cryptocurrencies, yet another way you can help support my work here is to use this link to open up your own cryptocurrency account at Coinbase. I will receive a small affiliate commission with each opened account. Once again, thank you for your support!

Psychological Hunger... Compared to the Real Thing

Readers, thanks for indulging me while I take a break from writing to work on other projects. In the meantime, enjoy this post from CK's archives.
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If you've ever heard someone say "I'm starving!" take three minutes to watch this monologue by comedian Louis C.K.

Let's start off by just spitting out the truth: Hardly anyone is ever really "hungry" in the genuine sense of experiencing starvation. Like Louis C.K. says, if you ate today, you really shouldn't say you're hungry.

But then again, we do feel hungry. It's a feeling, and it feels real. In fact, it feels so real that we almost always obey it by eating! Come to think of it, one way to think about obesity is to see it as an unlucky intersection of three things: wide food availability, our survival instinct, and the strong emotional experience of the "feeling" of hunger.

So, if you want to really learn about the feeling of hunger, if you want to learn how to sit with the feeling--even to get comfortable with it, instead of reacting to it or fearing it--I urge you to experiment, gradually, with intermittent fasting techniques.

We all know, in the logical part of our brains, that humans can easily go days without eating. Days. Now, we're finding mounting evidence that occasional fasting is actually healthy for the human body. And the entire discipline of intermittent fasting is built around this steadily growing body of evidence.

What I've found surprising in my experiences practicing intermittent fasting is how fasting helps you explore the emotional side of hunger. Over the past several months I've felt a lot more around the edges of the "feeling" of hunger. I've learned it simply isn't what I thought it was, and I've learned to differentiate it from true hunger. The two are most definitely not the same.

Even when I've really pushed myself and attempted fasting windows of twenty or twenty-one hours, the psychological feeling of hunger has become an interesting experience for me, and not something I react to with fear or panic, like I most certainly would have in the past. (For more context on this subject see this post.)

I've encouraged readers here to experiment with intermittent fasting, and I want to encourage it again. It doesn't just offer health benefits, and it doesn't just help you burn body fat. It teaches you not to fear the feeling of hunger. That alone makes it worth it.

Now, instead of saying, "I haven't eaten since 2:00. I'm STARVING," you might find yourself merely thinking, "I haven't eaten since 2:00." You won’t feel the need to tack on the (attention-getting?) phrase I'm STARVING at the end, because it doesn't merit being said.


READ NEXT: Book Review: The New Evolution Diet by Arthur De Vany


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You can help support the work I do here at Casual Kitchen by visiting Amazon via any link on this site. Amazon pays a small commission to me based on whatever purchase you make on that visit, and it's at no extra cost to you. Thank you!

And, if you are interested at all in cryptocurrencies, yet another way you can help support my work here is to use this link to open up your own cryptocurrency account at Coinbase. I will receive a small affiliate commission with each opened account. Once again, thank you for your support!

Techniques and Practices of Voluntary Discomfort

Readers, thanks for indulging me while I take a(n increasingly long!) break from writing. In the meantime, enjoy this post from CK's archives.
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I thought I would articulate in a post some of the techniques and habits I use to embrace the important Stoic concept of "voluntary discomfort."

If you recall from our other discussions of various aspects of Stoicism: voluntary discomfort is a tool of enjoyment, as counterintuitive as that may sound. The idea is simple: if you (temporarily) give up a pleasure, or (temporarily) deny yourself a comfortable experience, you'll appreciate and enjoy that experience far more--and far more profoundly--when you resume it.

Short-circuiting hedonic adaptation
We humans adapt quickly to pleasures and comforts. Honestly, it's rather disturbing to see how things that once gave us immense pleasure rapidly become expected, required, even "needed." Worse, our minds quickly redraw a pleasure baseline from any new pleasure or comfort, which means in order to experience the same level of pleasure or comfort in the future, we constantly need more. We can see easily how this drives various insane societal behaviors such as consumerism, the constant pursuit of the new, status-signaling and Veblen-esque conspicuous consumption.

If you think about it, the Stoic practice of voluntary discomfort is essentially a lifehack for short circuiting hedonic adaptation. A two-thousand year old hack!

So, here are a few examples of how I "do" voluntary discomfort, ranging from the seemingly silly to the significant. I'd be grateful if readers would share their ideas in the comments… I'm always on the lookout for new ways to apply this incredibly useful Stoic tool.

Going without my usual near-daily glass of wine for a few days in a row:
Once again, we very quickly adapt, hedonically speaking, to any situation. I've discovered that when I consume alcohol daily, I deaden the very pleasure I chase.

Intermittent fasting/delaying a meal:
I wrote briefly about this concept in my post Waiting Until We Are Hungry Before We Eat. Few things heighten the satisfaction of a meal like genuine hunger.

Taking a cold shower:
Nothing--and I mean nothing--better enhances your appreciation of a nice hot shower the next day. When I wake up and realize "Hey! I don't have to take a cold shower today!!" it's the start of a very good day.

30-day trials of giving up something pleasurable or comfort-inducing:
I've given up chocolate, alcohol, sugar and junk food on various 30-day trials over the years. These are both tests of will (that I derive pleasure from, interestingly) and they deepen my appreciation of the thing I give up.

Turning off the air conditioning on a hot day/Leaving the heat off on a cold day:
On a really hot day, have you ever left the AC off until you can hardly stand it, and then turned it on late in the day? This is a silly--yet not silly--example, but it just shows how a comfort briefly withheld becomes a comfort we stop taking for granted.

Days/weeks of spending very little money:
Here at Casual Kitchen, we generally make a point of reducing our spending during the summers. We cook simple, low-cost food at home, we avoid meals out, and we try to do less.

Other possible examples:
Eating the same meal several days in a row
Wearing uncomfortable clothing
Walking instead of driving
Waking up early/not sleeping in
Going a period of time without social media


Readers, I'm always looking for new ideas to exercise voluntary discomfort--what ideas can you share?


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