Jamie Rosen

Think You Can’t Lose Weight? Wanna Bet?

February 1, 2012 at 10:45 am , by

Having trouble slimming down? Staying the course is tough even when you know all the tricks: diet with friends, announce your goals and commit to a workout schedule. But raising the stakes might help. A new crop of dieting sites does just that by offering a chance to make money for the weight you lose—or pay up if you don’t.

We know supportive social dieting sites and apps that help you track your meals can be helpful, but weight loss gambling? It may sound weird, or even slightly shady, but research supports it: People with a financial incentive lose more weight, according to two studies.

“But it’s not as simple as just paying people to lose weight,” says Leslie John, Ph.D., a professor at Harvard Business School who studies behavioral decision-making. “What we found is that people actually hate losing money even more than they like making money. They hate that regret, so when you use that as leverage in a weight-loss scheme, it works.”

DietBet is the newest site to allow users to bet on their weight loss. The goal is to make dieting a game, according to founder Jamie Rosen. One person plays the role of organizer. She invites others to join and sets how much everyone has to put in the pot. Then, the goal is to lose either 8 pounds or 4 percent of your body weight by the team weigh-in at the end of four weeks. You split the money among the people who reach the goal.

Another site, HealthyWage, offers longer challenges and bigger payouts. To participate in their 10 percent challenge, you put down $100 and if you can lose 10 percent of your body weight in six months you can double your money. Their BMI Challenge is geared toward people with a Body Mass Index over 30. It’s free to participate, but if you get your BMI down to 25, you win $100. Or if you want, you can put down $300 and win $1,000 at the end of the year. To win the cash you have to verify your weight regularly at your gym, doctor’s office or Weight Watchers meeting.

About 25 percent of the people who pay for the BMI Challenge win the money, says co-founder David Roddenberry. Given how hard it is to move the needle on BMI, that’s pretty good.

But the biggest draw for HealthyWage is their Matchup game, played in groups of five for three months. You pay $60, and your team competes against 150 other teams to see who can lose the most weight in three months. The team that comes in first wins $10,000.

Maybe 10 grand is a bit of a lofty goal, but still, the model seems to work thanks to the added social components: teamwork and competition. “Having teammates counting on me really made a huge difference,” says Pat Grimes, who lost 44 pounds and was on this month’s $10,000 team. “The money is out of the question without everyone doing their part.”

Mom blogger Amy Oztan started a DietBet with a few other bloggers earlier this month, and has lost almost 9 pounds. “There were so many times when I wanted to just say screw it, but I didn’t want to be the loser,” she says.

These are just two of many sites out there. There’s also FatBet (which wins the prize for best tagline: “You Bet Your Ass”), GymPact (which charges you when you don’t make it to the gym) and Stickk (which allows you to choose from a variety of goals like losing weight or quitting cigarettes).

No one’s placing any bets, however, on whether the weight loss will last. That’s another story.

Photo copyright infomages—Fotolia.com.