Friday, February 6, 2009

Economics of Dieting: Bet on Losing Weight

This new article in The New York Times suggests that putting some moolah behind your weight loss goals strengthens your resolve, amps up exercise adherence and improves healthy food choices. And by money, they're not talking about shelling out for a personal trainer, a nutritionist, a diet book or an online plan. They're talking about a promise to pay up (to a friend, coworkers or a website such as When I mentioned the piece to my husband, who's in graduate school studying economics, he was non-plussed. "Yeah," he wrote in an email, "commitment device." For those of you unschooled in the parlance of economists (like, er, me), that's a tool that holds you to a promise. "But what if you don't want to use money, what else could you do instead?" I asked. "You use money BECAUSE you don't want to use it," he wrote back. "You lose something you value if you fail to perform." So, this is no-brainer stuff to economists, but I find it fascinating. When you put money behind your weight-loss goal, you're automatically invested in the outcome.

So, why is this different than money you'd spend on a trainer or nutritionist? It's different because you pay a nutritionist or trainer no matter how much weight you lose or don't lose. They may yell at you if you're slacking off with workouts or sigh when your food log goes off the rail, but the "cost" to you is already gone the moment you paid for their help. But if you say, "I'm going to lose the $1,000 I pledged if I don't make my goal," then you're way more invested in the outcome. And if you add the element of competition by pooling funds with coworkers or friends in a weight-loss challenge, you up the ante even more. Not only are you going to work hard to avoid losing the cash you put in the pool....but now you have the opportunity to make money.
In this case, loser takes all. Photo grabbed from Shirley Two Feathers on Flickr. Posted by Liz


  1. I saw this story and was going to say something about it. You beat me to the punch, awesome!

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