Outwith - Dieters who don't lose the pounds lose dollars instead
FOR Samwoo Ee, the first bet was just a warm-up. Ee, 30, works at an internet company in SoHo and had been competing with a colleague to see who could lose more weight. But they had both stopped going to the gym because of long hours at the office.
In search of more motivation, they turned up the pressure by entering into a formal one-month wager to see who could cut the higher percentage of their body mass index.
"It got pretty competitive," said Ee, who weighed 248lbs. "We used to do push-ups every hour in front of each other's cubicles. And he used to leave really good chocolate on my desk."
His co-worker, Daniel Fries, won the first month after losing about 16lbs to Ee's 10, and Ee paid him $20. Then, Ee said, "it got serious."
Six co-workers joined them in another weight-loss competition. There were weekly weigh-ins by an outside record keeper. Ee finished second after losing an additional 4lbs.
It was an eight-player example of a diet bet, in which those seeking to lose pounds give themselves a new incentive: money. If they don't lose more weight than the competition, they lose cash. Internet sites that facilitate diet betting have seen an increase in traffic, and recent studies have supported what Ee and his co-workers discovered: diet bets work for many people who couldn't seem to shed pounds any other way.
"Diet betting is definitely becoming more popular among friends, relatives and co-workers," said Joy Bauer, author of Joy's Life Diet: Four Steps To Thin Forever and founder of Joy Bauer Nutrition, a firm with offices in Manhattan. "It makes life easier if everyone around you is cutting calories, and the amicable competition keeps people driven. You are less likely to eat bad things from the candy jar."
Most participants in diet bets agreed that while losing weight was the ultimate goal, winning the bet and pocketing the winnings soon became the main reason they stuck to their diets.
"I wanted to win, and I blew everyone away," said Christopher Fallon, 36, a medical sales representative from West Orange, New Jersey. Fallon participated in a three-month diet bet with nine other colleagues, everyone contributing $100 to a winner-takes-all pool. At a sales meeting a few weeks before the end of the bet, Fallon's rivals realised he was way ahead.
"When I saw Chris at the gym at 6am looking skeletal, I knew it was over for me," said one colleague, Carolyn Kramaritsch.
Fallon admitted that he enjoyed vanquishing his peers even more than losing the pounds. "I didn't even need to lose much weight," he said, "but when I saw everyone else, I thought, 'I just won $900!'"
A study in the December issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association found that people who had financial incentives to lose weight were much more successful at dieting than those who did not.
The study created two groups of dieters with financial incentives, as well as a control group.
Dr Kevin Volpp, co-author of the study and an associate professor in behavioural economics at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, said the prospect of losing or gaining money was a significant incentive for dieters, especially when the money was not rewarded until the end of the period.
Weekly feedback was also an important component of the study, as was the very simple fact that people do not like to lose money.
Similarly, two Yale professors, Dean Karlan and Ian Ayres, studied the effects of commitment contracts, applying that research to dieting and developing a business around their theories. StickK.com motivates people to make changes in their lives by signing contracts. If they fail in their goals, it costs them money.
The site takes credit card information upfront and charges your card weekly if you fail to meet your goal. Participants can also designate a friend or charity as recipients of their lost money. As the website states: "Wouldn't it just kill you to hand over your hard-earned money to someone you can't stand?"
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