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June 2018


Accounting for every wobbly kilo

Nury Vittachi

Hong Kong’s humorist on the eye-opening parallels between dieting and accounting



My wife's magazines make me laugh. There are 30 pages of “learn to love yourself as you are,” 20 pages of “lose 5kg in two weeks,” 40 pages of anorexic models, and 20 pages of recipes.

When I told a colleague I wanted to lose two or three kilos, she offered a tip: “Put a large mirror by your dining table and eat all your meals naked.” Nice idea, but it would be hard to get buy-in from my wife and children.

Looking for better advice led me to stumble on an interesting and true story.

A guy called Mike Lee, due to have a beach wedding, decided to get in shape. A tness trainer handed him a pencil and a book of numbers, telling him: “Calculate the calories of everything you eat and deduct the energy burn of every physical movement you make.”

DING! Mike had a ash of inspiration.

Getting in shape is accountancy! It’s a bookkeeping exercise in which you maintain a live and continuously updated balance sheet with daily reports.

Being a nerd, he wrote a program that automated the process, calling it “my tness pal,” and later sold it for almost half a billion U.S. dollars.

What made it so popular?

Unlike calorie counting books, Mike’s program is like a human accountant, getting to know you, anticipating what you’ll get up to, and doing all the math. You don’t have to keep typing in stuff because it learns your eating habits and takes your activity data from your phone or Fitbit.

A gym-bunny acquaintance told me that lots of tness gurus use the accountancy analogy these days. “Your body is the company, your food the investment, the energy you burn the production, and the return is a healthy body,” she said.

But of course almost everyone over-invests. “Eat too much food and move too little and you will end up with a budget surplus: fat,” says Internet tness writer Scott McDermott.

Ah! Is that where the analogy breaks down? Excess fat is bad for your body – but having too much money is good for your company, right?

No. “Research shows that having too much cash on hand is almost as bad as having too little,” says a 2017 CNBC analysis of the subject.

Digression: Did you know that the Germans have a word for eating to de-stress yourself? “Kummerspeck” literally means “griefbacon.” If you point at a German’s bulging midriff, he or she will say: “My life is stressful: this is the bacon of grief.”


“Your body is the company, your food the investment, the energy you burn the production, and the return is a healthy body.”

Anyway, here’s a list of Three Dieting Thoughts And Business Parallels.
1) “I dieted all morning. Am I skinny yet?” Business parallel: Both dieters and business people expect instant, visible results – and will be disappointed.

2) “I don’t need a personal trainer as much as someone to follow me around and slap the doughnuts out of my hand.” Business parallel: This is basically the CFO’s job in any company, right? Saying “No” to the CEO’s pet projects?

3) “I’m feeling fat today, so I am going to make myself feel better by eating this family-sized tub of ice-cream.” Business parallel: If consumers don’t like the CEO’s product, he or she feels affronted and makes more!

The tough truth is that losing a couple of kilos is always harder than you expect. One colleague suggested that I buy that Samsung Galaxy smartphone that makes you look skinnier in photos. I said: “But the downside is that you can NEVER meet your family members face-to- face again.”

“How is that a downside?” he asked.

In the end, I decided to skip the diet and take a philosophical stance instead. I shouldn’t complain about carrying a couple of extra kilos because it wouldn’t be fair to everyone else if I was this intelligent, good-natured, and humble – and slim too.

And if anyone comments, I shall simply point to my stomach and tell them: “This is the bacon of grief.” 


Nury Vittachi is a bestselling author, columnist, lecturer and TV host. He wrote three storybooks for the Institute, May Moon and the Secrets of the CPAs, May Moon Rescues the World Economy and May Moon’s Book of Choices