Incentive-based weight loss

Sarah Schultz

Do you have weight to lose but aren’t really motivated to do it? Would you like to go on vacation, get some new clothes or win money?

All of this is possible if you keep your eyes on the prize. According to an article featured in Bicycling Magazine (January/February 2014), people often choose immediate gratification over a benefit they have to wait for. Have you ever seen the videos where a group of children are asked if they want one cookie now or if they want to wait and have two cookies in 20 minutes? Almost all of them choose to have the one cookie immediately. That is how we are wired. But what if we broke that pattern? Current research shows that material rewards help people lose weight and keep it off.  What if you promised yourself a little reward for every five pounds lost and put that money away so you could treat yourself when you reach your goal?

In a study by Steven Driver, MD, (Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine) researchers tracked 100 obese volunteers as they tried to lose four pounds per month for one year. Half of the participants could win $20 each month if they met their goal and if they didn’t they had to pay $20 instead. The other half of the study participants had no reward or penalty. The incentive group lost nearly four times as much weight on average and 62 percent completed the program. Only 26 percent of the controls stuck with it.

The larger the incentive the more likely it will lead to behavioral changes. Use mini-rewards to reach the goal (i.e. $20 for every five pounds lost). Mini-rewards also help you maintain focus towards the ultimate goal. You will feel a tremendous sense of accomplishment with every goal that is met and seeing that piggy bank grow will keep you motivated towards your prize. Once you reach your goal devise a plan to keep you there (i.e. if I am within two pounds of my goal weight each month, I will put another $10 in the pot monthly). Everyone’s financial situation is different. Put enough in the pot to keep you motivated so that the goal is achievable. If you want to lose 50 pounds and also want a $1,000 bike or a trip to the Bahamas, things aren’t going to add up in the end if you put away $10 per pound lost.

Penalties appear to be effective in reaching your goals, as does group settings like office-pool-type (Annuals of Internal Medicine). There are many web sites and apps to keep you on track. Here are a few: – Four-week challenges, pay to get in, if you lose 4 percent of your body weight you split the pot. – Get a group together and the losers pay up. It doesn’t have to be money based either; the penalty could be bringing someone a healthy breakfast. – Commit to work out and get paid by those who don’t. – 90-day challenges – You can donate to a charity or person if you don’t meet your goal.

What prize are you eyeing up now?

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