Wag More, Bark Less

by Russ Roberts on November 9, 2011

in Health

This post is an update on my fitness and diet regime. Earlier report is here. And way below the fold, I will add some thoughts on Jewish philosophy and diet and health. If either of those themes is your cup of tea, read on.

Nine weeks ago I began going to the gym six times a week. On three days, I ride a stationary bike for 35-40 minutes. Every five minutes of that routine I raise the difficulty level and pedal like crazy for one minute. During the regular pedaling, my heart rate is about 115. During the one minute more intense pedaling, it’s around 130. Occasionally, I substitute a class for the bike. The classes are hard. Riding a bike might be good for your heart but I’m not in shape.

The other three days, I lift weights. On the machines, I do leg extension, leg curl, leg press, chest press, and cable rows. Then with free weights I do a barbell press, lat raises and curls. I finish with ab crunches on a mat. For the weights, I typically do 15 reps at a lowish weight I can do comfortably, 8 reps with a heavier weight, then end with 4 reps at an even heavier weight. (Suggested by Art DeVany in his book.) I’m not strong. But in ten weeks I’ve seen steady improvement.

On the diet side, I’ve cut almost all sugar and almost all carbs. Not completely but very little of both. No junk food at all. Almost no potatoes, rice and pasta. If it’s served. I have a taste. But no fries. They are a great weakness. I eat lots of protein, fruit and green vegetables.

I’ve now lost 21 lbs.

It’s mind-boggling that I can lose 21 lbs without really dieting. My portion size is down a little but what has really changed, because of the elimination of carbs and sugar, is the urgency of my appetite. The other night my wife and I went to a play, coming  home around 10:30. We usually make omelettes and a salad for a late dinner like that. My wife mentioned how tired she was. I said, Let’s just skip dinner.

Those four words have never come out of my mouth. I would have been happy to eat. But I was happy not to eat. It is that change, along with a higher energy level that has been the biggest effect of my new diet and fitness regime.

When I came out of the gym this morning I was in an exuberant mood, looking forward to the day. On the car next to mine was a bumper sticker I love–Wag More, Bark Less. Meaning–be content and don’t complain. It’s a philosophy I try to hold to but it doesn’t always work. I have much to be grateful for, but being human, I get angry at times, annoyed, frustrated. I bark and forget how much there is to wag about.

But when I saw that sticker I realized that over the last nine weeks I’ve wagged a little bit more and barked a little bit less. Some of that is the pleasure you get from any kind of progress, especially when it can be quantified. Stepping on the scale makes me happy. Working with heavier weights makes me happy. Exercise produces chemicals that make you feel good. But there’s something else going on because of the change in diet.

In the old days I’d come home from work starving. I’d look for something to munch on before dinner. The longer I was home, the hungrier I felt. Sometimes I’d be so hungry, so eager to eat that I’d be short with my kids or my wife. Inside me was a voice saying come on come on come on come on let’s eat.  And I’d bark at a kid about something. I’m ashamed of that behavior but it used to happen. Not all the time. But too often. I’d tell myself, that’s not me. That’s my hunger talking. What a weird and pitiful excuse. I’m in a bad mood because I’m hungry? What kind of a justification is that for being easily annoyed or frustrated? But I felt it inside and tried to control it with mixed results.

That anxiousness I once felt before a meal began hasn’t happened in the last nine weeks. Food satisfies me in a way that it never did before. I don’t eat the foods that make me unsatisfied. My wife makes delicious home-made pizza. But I’d want at least three pieces and I’d be happy to have a fourth. No portion really satisfied me. Now I don’t eat any pizza. Big improvement. I still like to eat but I never find myself gorging or grazing, two habits that used to cause me to eat without really paying attention.

A common piece of diet advice is to eat slowly and savor your food. But when I eat carbs, I can’t. It doesn’t work that way. Now that I don’t eat carbs, I can do it. and it works. I’m thinner and I bark less.

Now for the Jewish part. If there were another fold I’d put this below it, so if you’re not interested in religion or spirituality, thanks for reading this far.

Chassidic philosophy encourages us to live joyously. Leading a religious life, which has unique challenges, is not supposed to be a burden. You’re supposed to fulfill the commandments with joy. Wag more, bark less. Another aspect of Chassidic philosophy is that we have a physical side and spiritual side. Judaism sees our physicality as an opportunity and not a curse or a burden. We are supposed to use our spiritual side to elevate the physical side and make it holy. Judaism is not ascetic. Jews are supposed to enjoy the pleasures of this world but in a holy way. This is one of the great challenges of a serious Jewish life. Nachmanides says you can be a glutton with the permission of the Torah, meaning you can keep all the commandments but still not be very holy in the way you eat or approach other aspects of physical existence. In particular, you can keep kosher but gorge yourself, pursuing physical pleasure for its own sake.

What strikes me about the change in my diet and exercise is that it has helped me restrain the physicality of hunger in a way that has made me a more pleasant person to be around at dinner time. I know it’s only chemical but I think that’s exactly the point. The change in my diet has made it easier for me to keep my physicality in perspective.

Are those changes real? Are they universal? I assume we all have different metabolisms especially in how we react to sugar and carbs. Does everyone who changes their diet the way I have feel the reduced anxiousness of hunger? I’d be interested to hear from you in the comments if you’ve made these changes yourself.

And maybe it won’t last. Maybe I’ll backslide on the diet or get tired of going to the gym six times a week, especially when I hit a plateau. I’m writing this post partly to help encourage me to stick with it. Here’s to wagging more and barking less.



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Bret November 9, 2011 at 1:40 pm

Consider planning for what to do when you run out of body fat. You may not “fall off the wagon” or “hit a plateau”. When I was in a similar situation as you years ago, ultimately I lost all the weight I wanted and was still not hungry and still had energy but started feeling kind of strung out. It was tricky to transition so you might want to think about it.

Dave November 9, 2011 at 1:49 pm

Are you really restricting your carbs that much, as in very few fruits and vegetables as well? If so, perhaps you may want to consider easing them back in (holding total daily calories constant). It’s more the breads and corn chips that you want to avoid, I think, and fruits and vegetables provide natural energy, nutrients, antioxidants. Congratulations on your progress.

Russ Roberts November 9, 2011 at 1:54 pm

Just edited the post to mention that I am eating fruits and veggies. Just cutting way back close to zero on bread, rice, pasta, and potatoes.

Rob November 9, 2011 at 8:23 pm


So I’ve never understood this. Why do you want to deprive your body of complex carbs? I have always thought of them as healthy fuel. I am a cyclist and a typical diet among recreational riders and especially races involves a lot of pasta and whole grains. Any insights you have would be appreciated.

Apolloswabbie November 9, 2011 at 9:31 pm

Rob, I can’t answer for Russ, but there’s no metabolically compelling reason to eat carbs, complex or not. It’s rational to eat a certain amount, say 50g/day, and up to 100g/day, but if the problem is weight loss, carbs are not helping you. If your problem is getting down enough calories that you can work not very hard for long durations (oxidative energy pathway work like endurance riding), grains can solve the problem by allowing you to down a bunch of calories quickly, but there was a tour de france team that went grain free this year – and did well.
For an in depth look at problems with grains, try http://www.robbwolf.com.
But the real answer is in Russ’ article above – after reducing carb consumption, he feels better, body mind and spirit. A lot of people with a fat accumulation problem have the same experience.
So if you are doing great on grains, go for it, but don’t assume that means anything about anyone else’s experience.

vikingvista November 10, 2011 at 11:30 am

Carbohydrates are more readily metabolized than fat, even though fat has a higher caloric density. As your body becomes carb-depleted, it starts metabolizing fat. And the body (particularly the liver) stores a great amount of carbs. So the basic idea for weight loss is to starve your body of carbs, so that you burn off your fat.

For calories, first your body accesses carbs, then fat, then protein. So if you are athletic, you probably have the different problem of maintaining ENOUGH calories to fuel your activities, so that you don’t starve and start burning protein (including muscle mass). In that case, you want your body to have readily accessible calories, so you want to store up on carbs.

Basically, if you burn off all your daily caloric intake through regular vigorous physical activity, you’ve already found the best solution, and none of this discussion likely pertains to you (although genetic hypercholesterolemia might still be relevant). So, enjoy your Big Mac and fries, and good for you.

Apolloswabbie November 10, 2011 at 7:19 pm

No big macs and fries for me, I try to stick to food.

vikingvista November 10, 2011 at 7:38 pm

There is considerable nutritional value in a Big Mac. There is also quite a bit more of some things, like fat, than most people should consume (considering what else they eat in a day, and what their activity levels are).

Brad Hutchings November 9, 2011 at 1:51 pm

Congrats Russ. Glad I read past the second fold, because it was about the first time in years I’d seen the word “physicality” actually used correctly. Mostly now, it’s misused to describe how linebackers brutally stop oncoming running backs.

I did this about 15 years ago, and mostly maintained the diet and exercise routine for a decade. I’ve slipped a lot since then, and often think about getting back into that routine and dropping 20 or 25 pounds. I still walk 15-20 miles per week with a large and often rambunctious dog, and know from when I go into the gym and do cardio that I’m in better shape than I expect, but I could do much better.

The toughest part is really the social part. Friends and family get together every week for dinner, not shopping or bowling. Especially during the holiday season, get-togethers revolve around food. And really good food. Don’t underestimate the accomplishment of sticking with your diet and keeping your family around day to day! That’s where most give into temptation.

John Lynch November 9, 2011 at 1:55 pm

Russ, as someone who’s seen his weight oscillate quite a bit, let me offer you a friendly word of caution on declaring victory too soon. It may simply be that you have more self-control or self-discipline than I do (very possible), but my experience is that the easy part of weight loss is initially losing the weight. It’s easy to get excited about a new exercise routine or new dietary choices. They seem to be working well, you feel better, and (most importantly) you see rapid progress. Then at some point, you hit a wall. The hunger that you thought was gone comes back, the excitement and energy from your exercise isn’t there, and you haven’t made any progress towards your target weight in a few weeks.

This has always been my problem. I’ve gone rapidly from 222 to below 200, then back up to 210, then down to 179, then back up to 200, then down to 185, then up to 210. The first few weeks, even months, for me are never the hard part (once I get committed). Every time I think “Man! This time is different! This time I’ve figured it out!” And so far, I haven’t managed to make the lifestyle improvements stick. Human psychology is funny that way. We want to believe that this time around, we’ve got the formula just right, that we’ve permanently improved ourselves, that our initial success is due to more than just a temporary enthusiasm. And who wouldn’t want to believe these things? It’s a very seductive set of beliefs.

I wish I could say this in a way that didn’t sound depressing or discouraging. I don’t mean it to be. And I’m sure you’ve already considered these points. And maybe you have indeed found a better way. Maybe for you it is different. I hope it is! Consider this a friendly warning to steel yourself in the coming months and years. Good luck!

shawn November 9, 2011 at 2:32 pm

I found dieting to be much as you described…and, while I realize that I’m pretty much doing exactly what you said (“this time, it’s different”), it was realizing and buying in to what carbs were actually doing to me, and the risks they pose, that let me turn the corner. So, it stopped being “if I eat all this pizza, this often, I’m going to gain weight”, and started being “these carbs are pretty much the devil.”

cthorm November 9, 2011 at 1:57 pm

Russ – you should give Pilates a try (with a Reformer, not just on a mat). If you go just 2-3 times a week I guarantee you will get even better results than your existing regimen. You’ll also get the added benefits of improved flexibility and joint health. I’ve been an avid weight lifter since I was 14, but standard weight lifting/machines can easily get your joints out of balance and leave you prone to injury.

shawn November 9, 2011 at 2:06 pm

I think I’m with cthorm on this one….either pilates, or crossfit. Unfortunately, both are quite expensive, compared to a freeweight-based gym membership.

Yes, yes, I know you can do crossfit with minimal equipment…but, at least for a while, I personally would need that group motivation to stick with it, and not want to just go back to lifting things up and putting them down.


cthorm November 9, 2011 at 2:22 pm

I definitely concur on the expensive part. If I wasn’t gainfully employed I wouldn’t be doing Pilates, but I think it’s probably within Russ’ means for sure.

I haven’t done Crossfit yet (I have friends who do it) but it looks great. Very challenging though and I can’t imagine it’s a good place to start. The same goes for the P90x training regimen; I’ve done it and I’d recommend it if you’re disciplined, but it’s a bit of a pain to get a space in your home properly outfitted to do P90x. I can’t recommend the diet for P90x enough though, it really is extraordinary.

shawn November 9, 2011 at 1:59 pm

Awesome, professor Roberts. After a while, you and I probably wouldn’t even recognize each other, despite several classes together: following a low-carb diet, largely based on Taubes/Fathead, I’ve lost 65 pounds over the last 7 months; from ~280 (yikes!) to ~215. It’s been incredible, and my attitude toward food has largely mirrored yours; I’m almost never starving, and largely enjoy the taste, rather than the satiating ability, of food.

My loss has mostly plateaued at this 215, but I haven’t even added in exercise yet. That’s step two, and I largely did it because I wanted to prove to people (somewhat) that diet is the VAST proportion of weight loss.

shawn November 9, 2011 at 2:19 pm

oh; also, last november my cholesterol (overall) level was 212 (didn’t have an hdl/ldl done then). 2 weeks ago it was 155.

morganovich November 9, 2011 at 2:07 pm

as someone who used to eat 5-6000 calories a day trying to keep my fat above 4% (i was a serious bike racer and trained 25 hours a week), notions that you are going to “run out of fat” are ridiculous except at the very extreme margin.

you just up you calorie intake.

even very low fat levels will power you fine. at 180 pounds at 5% fat, you have 9 pounds of fat, over 31,000 calories. the idea that you are too low fat for energy is silly when you look at it that way. look at the pro bike racers, their fat and their output.

that said, once you get where you need to be in terms of weight or start upping your cardio to longer workouts, you will want carbs. it’s the kind of carbs that matter.

carbs right after a workout will help you recover faster. there is a 30 minute window right after you work out where you can refill your muscle glycogen at a phenomenal rate. after that, you are going to have a harder time. this is a bigger deal if you just did a 6 hour workout than a 60 minute one, but it does make a real difference.

get a list of foods by glycemic index. some of it will surprise you. most fruit is fine. fructose is pretty low. potatoes are wickedly glycemic. so are some veggies like carrots. anything marked “enriched flour” or “high fructose corn syrup” is a disaster. stay away from it.

greens are fine and helpful. eating a lot of protein means you need fiber.

if you are still in weight loss mode as opposed to looking for performance and muscle gains, you may want a fiver supplement, especially if you use creatine. keeps you regular.

if you need calories, use oils. you can take unsweetened almond milk and blend it with spirulina, whey protein, and flax seed oil to get calories without carbs.

add in bananas if you are using it for recovery.

keep in mind that a lot of the early atkins weight loss is water. carbs bind it into your system. it’s worth tracking body fat. it’s a much better metric than weight.

inexpensive bio-impedance scales are available all over. they are accurate within a couple points even at the low end.

Mat Siscoe November 9, 2011 at 2:08 pm

As a casual reader, I wouldn’t presume to offer advice, but I will say – what you’re doing sounds strikingly like the Paleo/Primal diet. My experience is exactly the same as you, down to the details about hunger and need for food, temper when hungry etc…

Good on you – great to hear people getting healthy in a way that their body was designed for. The tenets you’re following work for virtually everyone, and for those that they don’t there is usually an underlying medical issue.

It gets easier, which is the best part. But if you ever need motivation, remember the energy. If a craving pops up, I’m able to deal with it by remembering how much better I feel now.

Dom November 9, 2011 at 2:10 pm

I’ve been on the South Beach diet (low carbs) for about two years now. In the first 10 months I went from 195 to 155, my current weight. At no point did I go hungry, or even try to reduce my meals, although I found that smaller portions satisfied me. My problems with BP have dropped and the doctor took one of the pills away. (I still take 5, but that may change too). Because of your first post, I’ve started heavy duty aerobics 4 times a week, and would like to move to 6.

Backsliding from the diet simply won’t happen. The thought of being heavy again disgusts me, and besides, I seriously enjoy the foods I eat (although I do miss my pasta). Going to the gym — yeah, I’ll probably back off when the winter starts up.

Karl Smith November 9, 2011 at 2:13 pm

In reference to reducing the sugar and carbs and feeling better

Yes, this is almost universally reported, as is the reduction in hunger.

Does it last. The evidence seems mixed.

Some people say that it lasts forever, others say they adjust to the new normal.

Seth November 9, 2011 at 5:26 pm

11 years and counting for me (knock on wood tap-tap).

morganovich November 9, 2011 at 2:21 pm


think about some carbs pre workout, preferably something balanced with a few quick ones and some more complex ones like malodextrin.

you body burns carbs to produce energy. you can turn protein into carbs, but it’s harder on you. too much of it and you will place a heavy burden on your liver and kidneys over time.

Dom November 9, 2011 at 2:31 pm

“…you can turn protein into carbs…”


shawn November 9, 2011 at 2:33 pm

i think that was “protein into *energy*”

Dom November 9, 2011 at 2:32 pm

Sorry. I just read this at CarbSmart: “…the liver converts an average of 58% of the protein we eat into carbohydrates, and that the carbohydrates-from-protein are handled by the body just like “regular” carbohydrates.” Boy, the things you learn on the web!

morganovich November 9, 2011 at 2:42 pm


sounds like you got your answer.

the pathway works like this: proteins and fats get turned into acids. those acids get turned into carbs.

this has a significant effect on body PH if you keep to a no carbs diet.

over the long run, that’s a lot of liver stress.

the high acid levels also tax your kidneys.

eating a lot of foods that push ph back up (like kale, mustard greens, etc) will help with the kidneys (and the acid clearance from muscles), but not the liver.

shawn November 9, 2011 at 2:47 pm

true story. about 4 months into low-carb, I had pretty serious joint pain in my ankle. turns out it was gout, which can be caused by low carb diets and subsequent rapid weight loss.

Dom November 9, 2011 at 2:57 pm

So are you saying we need *some* carbs, in order to prevent the body from producing its own, which in turn taxes the liver and kidney? If so, then what is the right amount?

Thanks for the info, by the way.

morganovich November 10, 2011 at 11:41 am


the answer to your question is complex and goal related.

the real thing to think about is not carbs but insulin. not all carbs are equal.

you eat carbs. you body then either burns them or stores them. to burn them, you use glucagon, to store them, insulin.

insulin response is governed by glycemic load. glycemic load is the glycemic index of the carbs X the amount of carbs.

you can eat a lot of low GI carbs, like yogurt and not spike insulin levels.

the hunger you get after eating sugary foods is the excess insulin in your body looking for somehting to bind to.

your body did not evolve eating the kinds of carbs we have today. processed flour, high fructose corn syrup, and foods with tons of added sugar are quite new. our bodies have not caught up.

if you jam your insulin levels up, you store sugars as fats.

drinking a mountain dew will do this. so will eating a potato.

eating yogurt or oatmeal will not.

milk has a lot of cartbs, but they have a low gi, so the GL winds up low.

protein is not an efficient body fuel to create energy.

you need to break it down then turn it into carbs. atkins without exercise tends to eat muscle. the same process that turns steak to energy turns hamstrings to energy too.

thus, for atkins to work best, you need to keep you muscles in a state of repair and growth so they are not consumed.

this has the added benefit of adding muscle mass, which increases your resting metabolic rate (RMR) and will help with future weight loss.

eating only protein can get tough over time. you tax the liver and acidify the blood considerably. depending on your natural chemistry, this may or may not cause problems for you.

you can prep for, execute, and recover from workouts faster with carbs.

when i used to bike race, i would often do workouts in the 6 hour range. i’d eat 100-150 calories of carbs every 20 minutes during the workout to keep energy up and avoid bonking.

then, post workout, you consume a quick shot of very high gylcemic sugars to deliberately spike your insulin levels. then you eat a big pile of carbs and protein 20-30 mins later.

this replenishes muscular and liver glycogen and a very high rate and makes you ready to do it again tomorrow.

eat just protein, and you will wind up stiff and lethargic. it’s too difficult to turn that much protein into gylcogen.

this is not nearly as big a deal for workout under 2-3 hours that will not deplete you body glycogen in the first place.

i’m not really sure what your goals are, so i’m not really sure what to advise.

the more serious an athlete you are, the more you need carbs. i have found that the trick is to understand carbs, not avoid them.

Falcon November 9, 2011 at 2:39 pm

Congrats Russ. Really fantastic to hear about the progress; keep it up!

W.E. Heasley November 9, 2011 at 2:44 pm

21 pounds lost! Wow. You are doing great!

Will the next Hayek video be a workout video?!?

Jon Murphy November 9, 2011 at 4:55 pm


Scott G November 9, 2011 at 2:50 pm

I’m impressed Russ. I could not do what you’re doing. I love carbs and pizza, and will NEVER give them up. I get bored of the gym after a few months and eventually stop going.

Not everyone is the same. When I see a really muscular guy on the street I wonder how he can stand going to the gym so much just to make his muscles big. I feel the big muscles are not worth putting up with the boredom of the gym.

I still eat really healthy. I find nothing wrong with eating carbs or homemade pizza. I exercise 45 minutes a day, five times a week, via riding my bike to work. By the end of the week I’m exhausted.

The downside to my exercise regime is the danger of riding a bike on government-provided roads. I wish roads were privately owned and priced. I wish it were possible to ride a bike to work without the risk of having a spaced-out driver flatten me.

I get grumpy when I’m hungry and I don’t understand how you’re able to not be grumpy when you’re hungry now.

The main reason I exercise is to make myself feel better, sleep better and eat better. If I don’t exercise I don’t sleep well and don’t eat the right stuff. Then everything goes to hell.

Thanks for sharing and I hope you keep up the new routine.

McBrideR November 9, 2011 at 2:52 pm

I think an open invitation for advice at this point is not likely to be helpful. But, clearly you receive and process information somewhat differently than I. Personally, I think that “it is as simple as burning more calories than you take in” is technically correct, but practically useless (or worse) as advice. I am not at all a fan of counting calories. Genearlly, the human body has an amazing ability to minimize calory usage when it somehow sees fit to do so. And, although I look at the “calories burned” indicator on the treadmill or eliptical walker, I am well aware that most of my calories are going to get burned outside the gym. Resting metabolic calory consumption can be pretty high. Much of what you are currently doing helps boost resting metabolism rates, hence the feeling of extra energy.

Glad your routine is working out for you and paying back your investment in time by enhancing the value of your other time.

CuriousTask November 9, 2011 at 2:53 pm

I think you’d be surprised how little of your weight-loss success is due to the exercise. It may be a big contributor to your new endorphin high but it is unlikely that aerobic exercise contributes to this kind of short-term weight loss. Count your calories burned, the math doesn’t add up. You’re losing weight because you cut out the sugar and you’re measuring and paying attention.
Long term you can add muscle mass which can raise your metabolism and lower your set point a bit. But that effect probably hasn’t shown up yet. Congrats btw, looking forward to the Taubes dialog.

Joss Delage November 9, 2011 at 3:34 pm


As Russ describes it, this is closer to a HIIT routine than aerobics. (I agree with you that aerobics are an inefficient way to loose fat or gain muscle.)


morganovich November 10, 2011 at 11:45 am


then you have never done hard aerobic exercise.

look at a pro cyclists legs and i think you may revise your views.

morganovich November 9, 2011 at 3:05 pm


i think you may have that wrong.

first off, a lot of early atkins weight loss is water.

second, if you burn 500 cal/day X 6 days week, that’s essentially a pound a week of fat loss.

that’s 9 pounds in 9 weeks. add in 6-7 of water, and that’s going to be most of it.

if he’s bigger or riding harder and burning 1000 instead, well, that’s almost 2 pounds a week.

it’s not hard to drop 2 pounds a week just from exercise.

sure, dropping calorie intake matters and will help, but exercise is the much better route to long term weight loss.

you build more muscle. that increases your resting metabolic rate.

just dieting, especially at crash diet levels, tend to up body fat %. if you body thinks it’s starving, it conserves fat and burns energy hungry muscle.

moving from over eating to eating reasonably will help, sure, but go much below your RMR and you are generally in trouble long term.

that’s how you get these skeletal people with high body fat %, no strength, bad skin, and piles of health problems.

Ryan Vann November 9, 2011 at 3:07 pm

Seems like HIIT regime plus a primal/paleo diet to me. Do you read any of Eades books on dieting?

Brent Buckner November 9, 2011 at 3:23 pm

Thanks for the follow-up, glad it’s going well for you.

When I have what I think is a good exercise schedule going I’m pretty sure my fat oxidation is improved and my mood is less likely to be hit by a blood sugar low. If the brain isn’t getting a good amount of glucose it shouldn’t surprise us that food becomes an elevated priority and mood becomes more testy.

I know that diet also impacts me. Eating such that I avoid insulin spikes and crashes helps with mood on any given day – and I suspect that there’s a longer term effect too (e.g. lower glycemic index eating improving fat oxidation).

subrosa November 9, 2011 at 3:25 pm

Russ, your experience with following a low carb diet has been my experience. Two things that have helped me: (1) I eat a tablespoon of coconut oil between lunch and dinner and another on two hours after dinner. It really does help with any hunger issues. (2) I “brainwash” myself almost daily by listening to low carb podcasts like Jimmy Moore’s LLVLC podcasts. It reinforces that I am eating healthful and not just doing it to lose weight. This is especially needed when I go a few weeks without loosing any weight. Looking forward to the Gary Taubes interview.

Joss Delage November 9, 2011 at 3:31 pm


Congrats. I have been researching, then embracing, a “more paleo” lifestyle since I heard DeVany on your podcast in March 2010. I’m now much leaner and much, much stronger.

Regarding your exercise regimen, take a look at barbell programs (google “Starting Strength”). No machine can match the satisfaction of deadlifting 100kg or squatting your bodyweight. Also, look up “tabata interval training” for a more efficient stationary bike regimen (not for everyday!).

Good continuation with your progress. Remember – stronger people are more useful (and they’re harder to kill).

Miles Stevenson November 9, 2011 at 3:54 pm

Fine Russ! I’ll go to the gym again today even though I don’t want to. But when Skyrim comes out on Friday and my vacation starts, I’m not leaving my desk until all the dragons have been slain!

All kidding aside, I’m glad to hear you are feeling good. You’ll need your energy for the next rap video you are now obligated to make.

Steve Cronk November 9, 2011 at 4:00 pm

Congrats on the progress. Russ. One tip I have is to replace some of that gym time with play time. Join a martial arts school, get a bike, play some pick-up basketball; these are the things that will keep you looking forward to your workout when you inevitably lose a bit of willpower or get busy.

khodge November 9, 2011 at 4:23 pm

I was pondering your post and an earlier post by Don kept coming to mind:

Steve S November 9, 2011 at 4:35 pm

Congrats Russ. I do 5-7 days a week at the gym/outside activities, and have been at it for over 3 years now consistently. A few tips for avoiding the plateau or getting stale (taken with a grain of salt as a) I’m not a licensed trainer and b) I take a pre-workout energy supplement so whether or not you call that “cheating”, it’s pretty easy for me to always feel “in the zone”):

1. When lifting, you should generally start with your largest muscle groups (chest, quads, back) and work your way down to more minor muscles (bicep, calf, hamstring, abs). You seem to already be doing this but it helps keep your minor muscles fresh as “stabilizers” when you are doing the heavy, big muscle lifts like squats and bench press.
2. My preferred cycle to keep the weights interesting is to start with 2 sets of 12-15 for recovery, flexibility, then move down to 3×10, 3×8, 4×6, 4×4, 6×3 (everything up to 4×6 for 4-6 weeks at a time, last two for only a couple weeks at a time). You can just keep repeating the cycle every 4-6 months and you are always moving up/down in weight to keep it fresh.
3. The more “fun” lifts for me involve less weight and more balance, and are good for your joints and all of the little stabilizing muscles in your body when you do eventually go up in weight. Any lifts you can do on top of an exercise ball, dyna discs (those little air filled rubber discs), standing on one foot…all of this helps you focus on doing the lift slow and controlled (and really works your abs while you try to stabilize) instead of jerking the weights around like some people are prone to do.

Okay I could go on for hours so I’ll stop there. Keep it up!

Sam November 9, 2011 at 4:37 pm

Just another data point:

About 13 years ago (Spring 1998) I started avoiding starchy carbs. I easily lost 20 lbs and also noticed a remarkable increase in my energy level. The effects have continued all these years. For a good bit of that time, I enjoyed the energy and stayed trim without any regular exercise. Perhaps it doesn’t work for everyone, but I’m quite sure it has worked for me.

Paul November 9, 2011 at 4:51 pm


Way to go! I’ve been paleo since March of this year. I was fit and happy before, but this has taken it to the next level. My energy level is high and steady throughout the entire day. You are right about weight lifting. It just feels good to lift heavy things. I find myself becoming a bit evangelical about this because I feel that high carb intake is a likely cause of all the diseases of civilization that affect prosperous societies. Between paleo and delving into Stoicism, I feel calm, happy, and energetic 98% of the time. Here’s to the good life!


Jon Murphy November 9, 2011 at 4:57 pm

Russ, when you say you go to the gym 6 times, do you alternate days? Like One day bike, the next day weights? Or do you do 3 days of bink in a row and 3 of weights?

Russ Roberts November 9, 2011 at 5:03 pm

I alternate days. Bike weights bike weights…

Greg G November 9, 2011 at 5:43 pm

Good work Russ. Keep it up. I find the best way to avoid unhealthy foods is to fill up on healthy ones.

loveactuary November 9, 2011 at 6:54 pm

I’m surprised no one’s asked the big question: how has your scotch intake been affected?

also, if you like indoor bikes you could check out my new blog on spinning (indoor group cycling): http://bikeurious.blogspot.com

Keeping the blog is one way that I help myself stay in shape :)

Russ Roberts November 9, 2011 at 7:22 pm

I had cut back a little on scotch before this regime change. I still have a shot or two a week.

I’m thinking of trying spinning. I’ll keep you posted. Thanks for the intro on your blog.

Rob November 9, 2011 at 8:27 pm


Spinning is great. I recommend investing in the shoes. Visit your local bike shop and they should have some recommendations for you. Also, once you get used to them in the class, if you transition to biking out of doors in the summer, the shoes and pedals will transfer right over.

Doug November 9, 2011 at 8:32 pm

Congratulations, Russ! I’m 50, and though differences exist, including that I have been more physically active, I am about where you are as to trying to get an overall plan together to stick with for the long haul. We are thinking about many of the same issues, almost all the same issues.

I had planned to post more later, but don’t hold me to that. Maybe on a later blog. I have learned most of what I have through experience and the knowledge that you accumulate over time. (I am not a professional or expert.) I agree though with what you are doing and what you have said. Your exercise routine is almost exactly what I did directly out of high school, though it was lifting weights and running for me, and depending on the time of year, it might be just one or the other. I see routines like that recommended a lot for older people, which I like, since I did it for so long, and easy for me to pick back up.

There are so many things you can do with weights.

I wanted to add just a couple of quick remarks.

First, there was a great article and video in the NY Times Magazine this last Sunday (I believe), posted online last week (11/2):

The Once and Future Way to Run

You don’t run anymore but anyone who walks can benefit from that article. It also includes a routine anyone might do, as well as a lot of information about running shoe technology and where things have been going the last couple of decades. I don’t have Vibrams yet, but I worked on changing my gait the last few months consistent with the article, and for good and necessary reasons. An injury like mine could take 2 years to heal, if it ever does for an older runner like me. I am happy to say through appropriate workout, rest and recovery, is healed after 5 months. I’ve also heard great things about the book Born to Run, written by the author of the article.

Anyway, this is at the cutting edge of changes that are currently taking place in running and running shoe technology. Next year I will probably buy some Vibrams (or whatever) and this winter I will probably do some barefoot running on an indoor track. I sometimes lifted weights the last few months with just socks and no shoes. But probably most important is that I changed my gait (learned to walk:), so I am not putting undue pressure on my heal in my padded running shoes.

Again, this may not relate to you so much, except that as you get older especially, bone, and connective tissue, stress and structure is often an issue, particularly for anyone who is carrying some extra weight. And if you were actually going to lift a lot of weight (which I don’t expect that you will, I’m just using this for an example), you would want to have a period of “anatomical adjustment” before you do, specifically to build up connective tissue before you start lifting more, and hurt yourself. I’m talking primarily about the bottom of your foot and your Achilles tendon here, but this is actually pretty important generally, that modern running shoes are designed to protect but that can have exactly the opposite affect.

Incidentally, my injury wasn’t from running, but from some repetitive lifting on a cement warehouse floor over the last few years. (Had I been running then also, perhaps the greater range of motion would have prevented it.)

Second, I think that is a great exercise and diet program you have going. Go with what works, and what works for you. Like others though I believe you might find it too repetitive and boring over time, such that you stop.

You will probably want to make some variations as you go along. I have never been able to do aerobics indoors on machines for an extended period of time and find it difficult even to run indoors. One thing I might do though is to figure out how the different machines work, even if I don’t use them much. Again, recently I also found that a great use of the indoor track for me was running or walking barefoot. Just that minor change had a huge impact on my mental outlook and enjoyment (and I truly feel I am getting way more now out of my gym membership).

Like others have suggested, you might try more free weights, or even push ups and pull ups or lunges that challenge an older person’s flexibility (like me) as well as your balance. I need also to lose some weight which will help, and I think there is a positive feedback loop in play here. I will also learn what I can do with the exercise ball, like sit-ups, and how to do them properly, which is another area where the weight loss should help.

Another thing that keeps me interested and active is keeping current and doing things right, like reading that NY Times article.

As great an article as that is, I knew basically the mechanics of everything it said from what I had read previously and my own experience. I get an added feeling of competence and a true understanding of medical issues like the one with my foot, and what is going on biologically. I know far better than I used to what’s going on, what to do, when, and when to rest.

Third, I read recently that something like 80 percent of people who lose a lot of weight (e.g., 50+ pounds) gain it all back later. Absolutely key to me is to be involved in an exercise program at all times, I believe. If I am not physically active, I think it is just expecting too much that I can keep my diet under wraps to the degree necessary. Forget whether it is running, biking, lifting or whatever (and the impact on you mental outlook, and hunger), it is just that many more calories I can eat and not have to worry about.

Again, congratulations and best of luck! I appreciate the information you have posted here and hope you keep it up.

SheetWise November 9, 2011 at 9:28 pm

Congratulations! It’s all good.

I make it a little easier on myself. I scout out a friend who’s in the same shape I am, and make a $K wager with them who can lose 30# first. The incentive of money and pride is hard to beat — and it has worked for me — but it has never become a lifestyle. I’ve tried a lot of diets — including low carb — I even fried egg rolls wrapped in a “dough” made of crushed pork rinds. Go figure. In the end … it only comes down to calories. Once you get that, you can eat whatever you want. Of course, you quickly learn which foods have few calories — and which sauces that taste good have few calories — and eat a lot of no calorie foods with no calorie seasoning. Then there are the “prepared” foods to fill you up like Jello made with Splenda. They work. But my favorite is cucumbers with salsa. You can eat that almost all day and never gain a pound ;)

Apolloswabbie November 9, 2011 at 9:42 pm

SW, Congrats on your success. However, I predict Russ’ approach will deliver better long term success – he’s eating real food, it’s what the body was made to eat. I think incentives are a great way to learn new behaviors which may contribute to long term success, but the best incentive is to eat food which does not result in rapid reoccurrence of hunger, which satisfies the body’s nutritional needs, and which is in itself satisfying to the eater; especially after sugars are reduced in one’s diet.

SheetWise November 9, 2011 at 9:59 pm

I agree. As I said, it has never become a lifestyle. I’ve listened to Russ’ podcast with DeVany several times, and I get the message — but I haven’t been good at dancing the dance. I feel great when I’m at the weight I want to be — so good I quit. Hence, round X.

richard November 9, 2011 at 9:31 pm


Here is some (small piece of advise)

You cycle 3 times a week and you lift weights 3 times a week. That’s too much. You are not 18 anymore, exercising 3 times a week should be enough. Also if you loose 21 lbs in 9 weeks: that’s a bit fast. 1 lbs per week should be the goal. The problem is what happens when you go back to a more normal schedule. Chances are you will quickly gain the weight back so it will be no more than an exercise in discipline.

Further, lifting weights does not cause weight loss. It increases your muscle tone and that may be very nice for a man -you feel stronger- but you don’t burn fat. Also you say you ride the stationary bike for 35-45 minutes, increase the level every 5 minutes and then ride like crazy for a minute. That’s not optimal.

1. You start burning fat after 30 minutes. The first ~30 minutes is burning carbohydrates. You won’t loose any fat during that.
2. If you ride like crazy your heart rate goes up and that will get you in better shape. But no weight loss. Only increasing your heart rate is not very optimal. You should also increase your lung capacity. (Heart-lung capacity). Getting out of breath. It is called ‘interval training’ and usually it involves running-sprinting-walking-running-sprinting-walking etc.
3. Better is to extend the rides to 1 hr but don’t go all out. If you want to go crazy, do it the last 5 minutes.

However, most important of all is that you have fun doing it and you keep on doing it. The intensity is important if you are an athlete, the discipline is important if you just want to get a bit in shape and loose some weight.

So much for my 2c’s

Apolloswabbie November 9, 2011 at 9:38 pm

Richard, this might be the worst exercise advice I’ve ever heard (primarily because what he’s doing is obviously working and it is silly to argue with an approach that works for the one who’s trading his life energy to get those results).
The problem is that the science of diet and exercise is poor and as a result the mis-information – and justification for argument – is everywhere – much like economics and the conjecture of anthropogenic global warming.

richard November 10, 2011 at 10:44 pm


Ok, fair enough. But then you agree with me that we should have a look at the results -say- 6 months from now or even better: two years from now?

Let’s be a bit more specific: I think Russ will injure himself within a month or two (knee problems, foot problem, shoulder or lower back or so) and that’s the end of the exercising. After that he will regain his weight within a few months. Also a good chance he will rupture a muscle that will not heal completely.

I don’t want to be negative, but pushing a 57 year old man who is out of shape, drinks alcohol regularly and has not done any exercise for the last decade or so through a 1 hr/day, six days a week training will end up in tears. I’m pretty sure about that one.

Sorry to be a bad sport. ;-)

Apolloswabbie November 9, 2011 at 9:34 pm

Congratulations Russ! I have heard this narrative many times and coach many to this same outcome. I read Gary’s book at least four times and have blogged about it and debated the pros of it many days. I’m not sure that carb restriction is the right answer for all folks, but it is for many. I hope your success continues and you see marked improvements in your health markers going forward.

Apolloswabbie November 9, 2011 at 9:44 pm

Russ, I look forward to your future posts on this topic, and about your reading of “Good Calories Bad Calories.”

Skinny Dave November 9, 2011 at 10:35 pm

I have a feeling your interview with Taubes is going to be a hit.

I went carbless for a few months and dropped a bunch of weight even without the exercise. I doubt it was all water, but that was probably some of it. I found that I was thirsty all the time. Also, my body just looks more muscular. Sort of odd.

Good luck staying with it. Pizza is tough to give up forever.

SheetWise November 9, 2011 at 10:47 pm

“Pizza is tough to give up forever.”

I LOVE to make pizza. I’ve been making them since my daughters had all of those boys around. I learned to make “personal” pizzas so I could feed them all and everybody got what they wanted. Since then, I’ve learned to do a thin personal crust made with a mix which is primarily soy flour — about 100c + toppings. If you’re ever in the east valley of Phoenix, I know where we can find a good wood fired pizza oven …

indianajim November 9, 2011 at 11:27 pm

Congratulations Russ! I’m about your age, and have a similar story of weight loss: Four months ago I was 185 and now am at 165. Like you I have cut a lot of carbs and am working out more often. Like you, I feel much more optimistic. Carrying around that extra 20 lbs. everywhere was, as I see it now, really a drag. Good luck maintaining your program and reaching whatever weight you deem best for your means and ends.

Roman Richardson November 10, 2011 at 1:08 am

Good on ya, Russ.

My wife has Hashimoto’s thyroiditis and what we have been told is “genetic high blood pressure” and she is a scientist by trade. Over the years we went first low carb (not completely carb free) and had great results both in weight loss and in overall health (confirmed by blood work analysis of both hers and mine). After she did more research, including reading the book “Wheat Belly” and the research it was based on, we have gone gluten free and while our weight loss has continued we have both increased our health greatly. Her “genetic high blood pressure” has dropped thirty, yes 30, points and we both feel better than we have in years. Her doctors have told her that they knew of the link between gluten intolerance and high blood pressure but could not “officially” suggest it because there isn’t enough published clinical research on the subject. One of my wife’s colleagues may just be the first to do just that as she has taken an interest and such things are her area of study/research.

My advice would be to try going gluten free for a few weeks and see what you think. It certainly can’t hurt you as long as you are eating a solid “protein and two veg” diet, and the potential benefits if you are gluten intolerant can be dramatic.

It has looked like I tolerate glutens much better than my wife, but we both feel better and look better than we have in years.

Anyway… “long time listener, first time caller” here. Keep up the good work, and thank you for your continued work!

Take care,

Chucklehead November 10, 2011 at 2:40 am

You are a better man than I. Keep it up.

Chromatistes November 10, 2011 at 3:35 am

Well done! Having followed your excellent example two months ago, I’m 7kg lighter so far. There’s an obvious parallel with balanced budgets – calorie intake is the main driver. May we look forward to publication of the Cafe Hayek Diet Book?

Best regards,

Chucklehead November 10, 2011 at 9:15 pm

The Cafe Hayek Diet is simple. There are no waiters, and nothing has emerged spontaneously from the kitchen. I have waited years for a cappuccino, to no avail.

Johnny B November 10, 2011 at 10:20 am

Russ. Don’t forget that you can substitute those carb calories with good fats like grass-fed bison and other grass-fed meats. I’ve been on a high-fat, high-cholesterol diet for more than two years now, and I’ve never felt or looked better (I’m 49). And my recent heart calcium scan revealed zero blockage! You just have to eat good fats like pastured eggs & butter and coconut oil — never corn or other bad oils, including canola!

Can’t wait to hear Taubes.

Daniel Shapiro November 10, 2011 at 11:02 am

Russ, you appear to be following what is called the Zone Diet. Congrats on the weight loss. If you want to read the science behind the Zone, read any of the Zone books, by Barry Sears.



John Stalnaker November 10, 2011 at 12:03 pm

Russ – Are you planning to have Gary Taubes on EconTalk? I changed my diet similarly to yours after reading his two books, had similar results, and was similarly surprised at the dramatic drop in my hunger. I’m not only eating less but enjoying it more, in that the range of food that I am eating has broadened – more different kinds of meat and cheese, for example, & lots of different kinds of omelets.

Arend November 10, 2011 at 12:30 pm

It’s no problem to eat low-carb, but it’s good to reload once every two weeks or so. Especially (sweet) potato’s are not bad for you as they are not grains and relatively low carb (20% of weight instead of 70-80% with bread and pasta). Once you’ve hit your desired body weight 75-100 grams of carbs a day is fine. Low-carb is good to regain insulin sensitivity and reprogramming your mitochondria into fat burners. Once you’re fit you can eat carbs in a normal fashion again (though not the 200 grams plus advised by GSEs).

Doing primal/paleo for 6 months now, lost like 20lb. As I already was normal weight (172lb now 154lb @ 1.80m), I eat a lot more carbs (banana, potato, sushi!) to sustain weight.

Good look with your endeavors in this regard Russ!

Mike.R November 11, 2011 at 2:30 pm

Congrats Russ. Your Econtalk podcasts with Nassim Taleb and Art De Vany made me curious about this path and since tinkering with the Paleo diet/lifestyle I have lost 15lbs and achieved “Preferred Elite” status on my life insurance policy with no exercise. I convinced my mom to try it and she lost 20lbs and got off cholesterol meds.

Modern nutritional “science” is full of so scientism that it’s hard to know what to believe. You would think think it would be easy to figure out because like economics you have data to work with. You should be able to set up an experiment, make a prediction, and measure the result. But again here here you also have an oversimplified model of a very complex system and so many players with biases and self interests dishing out advice.

That’s why I think it’s so interesting to look at the dietary advice/outlook that has developed in religious/belief systems. The Orthodox Christian tradition has a lot physical (including dietary) traditions. I have heard it explained (and I am sure many different interpretations and I only state is as one interpretation that the reader can take or leave) that this is reflection of a Semitic understanding that you can’t really separate body/spirit (fesh/mind, body/brain) and to do so is applying an incorrect (Platonic or Enlightenment) model to reality. We would say that you are ensouled flesh, or a spiritual body, and that mind/nouse/spirit/soul/psyche is all wrapped up with the blood and guts. That’s why it matters what you do with your body. The way you eat affects the way you feel (and vise versa) and what you do (and vise versa) and ultimately who you are. Maybe that’s why there is a placebo effect. Maybe that’s why we have neurons in our stomach.

Some people assume that these are rules that are dictated by some authority but I am convinced that they emerge from the collective practical experience of many individuals that have acheived certain spirtual heights.

Contemplationist November 11, 2011 at 5:15 pm


I’m surprised it has taken you so long! Welcome to the club! I thought after interviewing Arthur De Vany, you would be trying his ideas out.
BTW its not just “carbs,” but that’s the next phase of the evolution of your diet. For now, enjoy the first phase :)

Mike Wetzel November 12, 2011 at 12:24 pm

I read this post with the greatest of interest. First, congratulations on your weight loss and more importantly on maintaining the self-discipline necessary to adopt and continue your new diet and fitness regime. Most excellent!

I am a forester. I am a “dirt” forester. A “dirt” forester is a forester who spends most of his income generating time walking around outside doing forestry things in the forest. Because I live in South Carolina, I work outside year round (An aside: On occasion I harness my iPod to my body and listen to Econ Talk podcasts while doing relatively mindless work to keep my mind occupied. I listened to your September interview with Professor Frank yesterday.) I workout most mornings – calisthenics and very light weights. I run 6 to 7 miles one to three times a week unless I am training for a marathon. Then I run more miles per week. I own 22 acres of woods and pasture with the accompanying maintenance and project chores. My point is that I am physically active most every day. While not overweight, for several years I had been carrying about 8 to 10 pounds more than I wanted to carry. Lack of exercise and inactivity was not a problem for me. Overeating was my problem, or more accurately eating too many calories, especially carbohydrate calories was my problem. A slowing metabolic rate contributed to the problem. I first noticed this weight gain and hard to lose it phenomenon in my mid-50s. At the end of this month I will turn 60. My retirement situation and inclination to continue to do what I love to do is such that I cannot and do not want to retire until I am at least 70. Managing this weight issue was and is of significant concern to me.

I am a Roman Catholic. Not long ago I started reading about the disciplines of the cloistered monastic orders – ancient and contemporary. The contemporary orders of interest to me follow the ancient disciplines. Those disciplines call for physical labor, adequate but not excessive caloric intake, and at least seven hours of sleep obtained on an early to bed, early to rise schedule. Christians, too, are instructed to live joyously. St. Paul advises us to rejoice in all things.

The Bush-Obama recession caught up with my consulting forestry business this year. I have had to get by on substantially less income than I have been accustomed to earning. Rather than complain about my situation I have chosen to be content and not complain. Christians, also, are instructed to be content and not worry. Jesus promised God would take care to provide for us as he provides for the lilies in the fields.

So, earlier this year after business started to suffer I put all these seemingly miscellaneous parts together and dropped about 8 pounds in two months. Unlike you I have not foresworn carbohydrates. In fact as I compose this message I am drinking cream laced coffee and eating a from scratch brownie loaded with flower and sugar which my wife made last night. But I am eating many fewer carbohydrates and I am eating more fruit and high protein foods. I feel much better. I am not as hungry as I used to be not so long ago. The changes are real. Are they universal? I do not know, but I suspect for otherwise healthy people it is.

Eat smarter, exercise, wag more and bark less. Good recipe for a good life.

Less Antman November 16, 2011 at 8:31 pm

Russ, your diet is great: the folks that are ruining our health with corn sugar, wheat flour, and processed soy are the three primary leeches in the USDA’s farm subsidy program, so any diet low in these isn’t just better for our bodies but also more libertarian.

But your exercise program could benefit from Ecclesiastes 3:3. After you take the time to tear down your muscles in the gym, you need to allow them time to build up. Most people forget that they don’t get stronger in the gym, they get weaker. They get stronger during the interval between sessions, when the body responds to the stress by rebuilding the muscles damaged during the workout. Every gym session tears muscle fibers, intentionally, and your body works on recovery for 4 to 10 days after that.

Personally, I prefer 3 to 5 slow-motion machine exercises to failure in 2 minutes (the approach recommended in Body by Science by Doug McGuff and Starting Strength by Fred Hahn, among others), because I like being in-and-out of the gym in less than 20 minutes, but the studies seem to indicate that almost any weight work that tires your major muscles will work AS LONG AS YOU GIVE YOUR BODY ADEQUATE REST BETWEEN SESSIONS.

Consider replacing most of the gym days with a stroll outside wagging your tail at people and taking in Vitamin D. Then you can work more intensely on your 1 (or 2) gym days to get better results with less injury risk. To everything there is a season. Turn, Turn, Turn.

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