Wanna lose weight? Bet on it
Dieters have a new way to motivate themselves to shed excess fat: betting money on it. Thanks to a growing number of websites that enable people to make bets and track their progress, hopeful weight losers are betting against one another to see who can lose the most weight.
The new trend, featured in today’s New York Times, first surfaced about six months ago. By now, at least three websites facilitate dieting bets: StickK.com, fatbet.net and makemoneylosingweight.com.
Research shows that betting on losing weight can be surprisingly effective. People may begin with the the goal of losing weight, but before long winning the bet becomes the big motivator. In some cases, lots of money may be at stake. The Times describes one example of a winner-take all weight loss competition among nine employees, each of whom put in $100. The biggest loser netted $900.
Richard B. McKenzie, an economist and frustrated dieter, placed a bet with a friend that he would pay her $500 if he didn’t lose the stubborn last ten pounds that had always eluded him. Writing in the Wall Street Journal, he described how effectively the bet nudged him to get serious. “After signing the contract, I was equally amazed at how the looming $500 payment affected my behavior. While on my diet, I judged practically everything I ate in terms of how much it would ultimately cost me,” he wrote. “After gaining a pound on the first day after signing the contract, I joined a gym, perfectly happy to pay the steep rates. Why? Because the price of the gym membership went down with my pact. The membership could, and did, help me reduce the probability that I would have to make the $500 payment. I also extended my exercise walks through the woods because, I figured, I was being paid, effectively by myself, to go the extra miles.”
A study at the Philadelphia Veterans Affairs Medical Center, published in the December issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association, found that dieters with an economic incentive were far more successful at shedding pounds. After 16 weeks, a control group lost just under four pounds, compared to 13 to 14 pounds in the two groups with monetary incentives. About half of those with money at stake met their 16-week goal, compared to only about 10 percent of those with no financial incentive.
The strategy isn’t new. In the United Kingdom, a bookmaker names William Hill has been taking bets since around 1993 from people who want to gamble on their ability to lose significant amounts of weight, according to a recent report on NPR. In about 80 percent of cases, the betting house wins and the dieter loses.
Even for successful losers, the trick remains keeping the weight off. The Philadelphia VA study showed that seven months after the 16-week weight loss program, many successful losers had begun to gain the weight back again. Still, putting money at risk can be a powerful motivator. You can literally bet on it.
© 2009 PDQhealth
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