Dieting Incentives

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Extreme diet. Source: Thrice 18/3 hide caption

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How many pounds did you gain on your last diet? Yo-yo-ers know what I'm talking about — after you shed the initial 5, 10, or even 20 pounds, it's only a matter of time before you gain it all back, and then some. We often blame the diet for being too extreme, impractical, or not conducive to our daily lives over the long run. And that's probably the case 9 times out of 10. But maybe there's another culprit behind our dieting woes: the absence of a strong incentive. Well, today we'll talk to one economist (yes, economists diet too) who decided to put his money where his mouth is. In an op-ed for The Wall Street Journal entitled, "Dieting for Dollars," Richard McKenzie agreed to pay his friend $500 if he didn't loose 9 lbs in 10 weeks. Too easy, or easier said than done? Listen in to find out. And we'll see if he was able to keep the weight off. In the meantime, tell us, what incentives do you use to lose weight?



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I've always been physically active, and have tried to not drive my car and walk or ride my bike to work or errands as much as possible. My weight has remained constant for 10+ years, and I pollute the planet less!

Sent by Sandi | 2:49 PM | 1-15-2008

A friend told me about a Jewish businessman who put several thousand in escrow with an attorney--if he didn't turn up with a physician's statement of his weight loss by the deadline date, the money would be paid to the American Nazi Party. He made it!

Sent by Ralph | 2:52 PM | 1-15-2008

My sister thinks about exercising as "buying herself 48 hours of heart-health." That approach has helped me focus on making time for exercising and losing weight as a result.

Sent by Anika C. | 2:55 PM | 1-15-2008

Richard may not have to pay by March 1; however he'll go back up again. No extrinsic rewards or punishments will ever work. Being fit and eating healthy has it's own rewards.

Sent by MO | 2:55 PM | 1-15-2008

Over the past two years I've rewarded myself with a massage for every 100 miles that I biked/walked/ran, and it's worked! I increased from 100 miles to 400 miles in a year.

Sent by Cecilia | 2:58 PM | 1-15-2008

I bought a gym membership and the services of a trainer. I didn't want to waste my money or upset my trainer so I showed up!!! 25 lbs. lighter and 3 years later I know how to use the gym equipment and I have a good healthy habit. Mother of 4 and 58 years.

Sent by Donna | 2:58 PM | 1-15-2008

I used a large financial incentive with a "little sister" (big brother/big sister). IF she reaches age 25, prior to marriage without ever having been pregnant, I will gift her $1000. So far, so good...

Sent by Mary Ellen Peterson | 3:02 PM | 1-15-2008

I had to lose 20 lbs. for a project "Reclaiming Paris" (where I was transforming myself into Paris Hilton in an attempt to make her a better person...) I only ate 1500 calories a day. And worked out 2 hours a day. Every day I posted to my myspace blog ( everything I ate and how much I worked out and how much I weighed...

I lost the weight in 2 months.

Sent by Laura Milkins | 3:02 PM | 1-15-2008

Richard McKenzie is not only wrong but irresponsible to suggest that people with who have drink alcohol,or gamble or eat compulsively can solve those deep rooted problems by entering into some sort of a bet!
It would have been better for Mr Mckenzie to say that the economic incentive may be a catalyst for change for those who do not have self destructive tendencies, but to say that all some booze hound needs to do is to pay a higher price per drink dose a disservice to himself and those that need help.
And shame on NPR for letting Mr McKenzie go un-challenged!

Sent by Leonard DeGrace | 3:30 PM | 1-15-2008

McKenzie characterizes Weight Watchers meetings as "seances". What I gather from this is that for him, a social support network is a mystifying thing. For many, having a group of people who are going through similar struggles is very useful, not only for the emotional support, but for the myriad suggestions they will get for how to attack the issue. In fact, this "make a bet" idea is not in any way new. If the game angle works better for him, fine, but his sneering attitude toward other people's chosen processes leaves me with the impression that he thinks people ought to be able to fix their problems all on their own, it's all a matter of will power and a reward/punishment structure. In which case, he needs to spend some more time researching human behavior.

Sent by Kathryn Burlingham | 4:24 PM | 1-15-2008

An economic term for this bet is "commitment device" which can be defined as a tool that people that people use to commit their future selves to a desired behavior. I have patent pending on a weight loss travel club that uses this concept. For example dieters sign up to lose 15 lbs in say 4 months. They weigh in and buy a $300 share of a travel voucher. The travel service groups similar dieters into pods of 5 members. The pod then owns a $1500 travel voucher. After the period of weight loss the service then weighs the dieters again. The dieters who have made weight then get an equal share of the voucher. Dieters who don't make weight forfeit their share to the group. The vouchers and added money are then are used to buy travel through the travel club. The service makes money through the sale of travel. The travel is an additional positive reenforcement for successful dieting.

Sent by Padraic McCahill | 7:24 PM | 1-15-2008

McKenzie will gain it back. A financial incentive may have helped him to lose the weight, but what's his incentive to keep the weight off? Does he plan to keep on paying his friend for the rest of their lives?

The best incentive for losing and then keeping it off is for health and well being. Looking good, feeling good and being healthy are incentives that last a lifetime.

As for Weight Watcher "seances," what an idiot. He has no idea what support groups mean for people who share a similar struggle and use that time together to learn from and share with each other. BTW, I'm not a WW member, but I know the value of a support group.

Another financial incentive is to invest in a gym membership, personal trainer sessions or dance classes. If I've invested that money, I will go.

As for his comment that losing weight is painful? How so? Exercising? No pain, no gain isn't true. Find an exercise/activity you like. Hunger? The correct food choices mean you lose weight and don't go hungry, and your taste buds and tummy are still happy.

I've lost 50 pounds and five sizes by participating in activities I enjoy and by changing my diet to a healthier one. My incentives are that I look better, feel better and am far healthier.

I suggest you contact him at the end of the year and see what his weight is. I don't think he'll be as smug as he is in this interview.

Sent by Michelle | 6:50 PM | 1-19-2008

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