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The Economics of Fitness - Final Results

So Can Economics Help You Lose Weight?


Back in February of 2008, I decided to take my own advice from How Economics Can Help You Keep Your New Year's Resolutions and use economics to meet a personal goal. I described the goal in My $1200 Weight-Loss Gamble:

The Goal: Starting on March 1st, I must lose at least one percentage point in body fat, month-over-month, for the next four months. My body fat percentage is currently in the ballpark of 21 percent.

Why: After spending a year ill I was diagnosed with celiac disease. Changing my diet improved my health and my appetite. I have a lot of friends and family who felt bad for my situation and kept buying me candy in order to make me feel happier. The candy worked, but it's making it so that I can't fit in my clothes; I have been gaining 2-3 lbs a month, with no signs of slowing down. This needs to stop.

Penalty for failure: Each month where I do not have at least one percentage point in body fat less than the previous month, I will pay a fine of $300 (USD).

The Results

I started with a body fat percentage of 20.79 percent. For each of the first three months, I managed to exceed my goals:

March 2008 - Goal: 19.79 percent. Actual: 19.23 percent.

April 2008 - Goal: 18.23 percent. Actual: 17.84 percent.

May 2008 - Goal: 16.84 percent. Actual: 16.62 percent.

June 2008 - Goal: 15.62 percent.

My progress began to slow down, so I made two moves in order to ensure I succeeded in the final month.

I had realized that an excessive number of calories were coming from red wine consumption. My solution:

"This is probably an overly drastic solution. I am trying to make sustainable changes to my lifestyle and this one may not be sustainable. But I thought I would try it anyway.

I resolve, that until July 8th, I will completely abstain from alcohol. In order to make that stick, I need a penalty. As a member of the Pigou Club, I thought this solution was appropriate:

For every day I drink alcohol, I will send $100 to NoPigou founder Terence Corcoran."

I did not have to pay out.

My second move was to join a personal training studio. This may seem like a bit of a cheat, but just having a gym membership in, and of itself, does not guarantee fitness given the high gym dropout rate and the high number of people who do not drop-out but do not attend the gym enough to make working out worthwhile. I see the gym membership and the challenge as being complements; the challenge ensures that I will show up for training.

So how did the last month go? Well. Incredibly well. So well, in fact, that I realized that no one would believe my results without 3rd party verification. I decided to have my results verified through a physical.

My own results were suggesting that my body fat percentage had fallen under 14 percent during the first week of July. Measured a week later using different equipment, the results from my physical were a shocking 12.1 percent! See for yourself Here. (PDF)

My other results from the physical were not so impressive - my back is still lousy (which I knew about) and I have the arm strength of a small child. In my defense, for the physical I had to fast for over 12 hours, then have a lot of blood taken out for testing. I had a small yogurt and orange juice, then had to bike for 18 minutes before doing the strength test. But even with all that, my results are still embarrassing. I know what my next challenge is going to be.

In Summary

Economics can help you reach your goals. In the span of 4 months, I lost over 17 pounds of body fat, gained about 7 or 8 pounds of muscle and feel absolutely terrific. I would highly recommend this method to all. Just consult your doctor first.

What's Next

I am planning on writing a book about the economics of why people struggle to lose weight - and how economics can help them get back into shape. It will cover the economics research of issues such as hyperbolic discounting, time-consistency, opportunity cost and strategic precommitment and how understanding them can help us make better life decisions. Think of it as Fit or Fat meets Freakonomics. If you would be interested in reading such a book, I would love to hear from you.

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