The Economics of Weight Loss

Being a hardcore economist, I strive to apply the laws of supply and demand and hedonic calculations to my everyday life. As nerdy as it sounds, it sometimes pays off thinking this way.

Take the example of weight loss, for instance. For years, I’ve struggled with my weight. I’m 5 7″ and 118 pounds, which many people would say, “What are you complaining about?” Well, 100 pounds is the desired weight for any Asian girl, and unfortunately I’m far from that aspiration.

Whenever I’ve tried to lose weight, I found myself hovering at 115 pounds, never able to drop below that weight. So I’ve decided to apply the laws of economics to dieting to burn off the extra calories (and not to mention brain cells).

To start, let’s graph the relationship between the amount of food a person consumes and how much he weighs. We all know that if a person consumes more calories than he burns, he will experience weight gain. On the other hand, a person who consumes fewer calories than he uses will lose weight.

In Diagram 1, we see that that horizontal axis represents a person’s weight, and the vertical axis measures that amount of a person’s daily calorie intake and expenditure.

For the purpose of this exercise, let’s assume that calorie intake does not vary with weight, so that calorie consumption is simply a horizontal line. The tilted line that cuts across the calorie consumed line represents calorie expenditure. We assume that a heavier person will use more energy than a lighter person in his daily activities. Thus the line of calorie expenditure has a positive slope because of it varies positively with a person’s weight.

The point of intersection between calories consumed and calories burned – W* in Diagram 1 – is called the steady-state level of weight. This is the point where a person’s weight does not fluctuate over time. If a person starts off at a weight less than the steady-state weight, then calorie intake will exceed calories burned, and he will gain weight. On the other hand, if a person starts off at a higher weight than steady-state, then calorie intake will be lower than calories burned, so he will lose weight.

Moreover, this figure predicts that if a person’s calorie consumed increases on the whole, the entire horizontal line is shifted upwards, gravitating towards a higher steady-state weight. This is depicted in Diagram 2, where the calories consumed line is shifted upwards, resulting in a higher steady-state weight (movement from W1 to W2).

By the same train of logic, if a change in the environment or lifestyle shifts the calories burned line upwards (to the left of the original line), then there will be a lower steady-state.

Applying this theory, I’ve lowered the amount of my calories consumed as well as calories burned, shifting the calories consumed line downwards and the calories burned line upwards. This results in a much lower steady-state weight. This is shown in Diagram 3 – My Diet Plan by the movement from steady-state weight W1 to W2 after the shifting of the calories consumed and calories burned lines down and to the left, respectively.
So what does that translate to in real-life terms? Well for starters, it means eating fruits for breakfast, salads for lunch and oatmeal for dinner everyday.

It also means using my brain cells more often than my body (i.e. sitting idle on my chair for an extra few hours everyday cracking at those old economic books). Believe it or not, I was able to shed 5 pounds in two weeks! Granted, it may not be the most healthy-oriented way of weight loss, but it just goes to the show that economics can be applied to everyday life.

Tummy tuck is a common plastic surgery procedure that comes in great use during weight loss theory.


Fiona Scott graduated from the University of Melbourne with a degree in Mass Communication. She founded in 2015 after working as a content analyst for many years.

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