Diet Betting

There’s a whole new way to lose weight – and it’s neither a new diet plan nor a new exercise routine. Ladies and gentlemen, introducing the wonderful world of diet betting.

Game on

"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. "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."

It’s all about the money

Diet bettors admit though, that while their goal ultimately is was to lose weight, winning the bet (and the money of course) became the main reason why they stuck to their diets. Christopher Fallon, 36, a medical sales representative from West Orange, N.J. Shares his experience. "I wanted to win, and I blew everyone away." Fallon and nine colleagues took on a 3-moth bet, with each participant contributing $100 to the winner-take-all pool.

A few weeks before the end of the group’s 3-month bet dieting period, Fallon’s co-employees saw that he’ll come out on top. Carolyn Kramaritsch, a colleague of Fallon’s said that "When I saw Chris at the gym at 6 am. looking skeletal, I knew it was over for me." Fallon admitted that he enjoyed defeating his colleagues more than losing all that weight. "I didn’t even need to lose much weight," he added, "but when I saw everyone else, I thought, ‘I just won $900!’"

Studies

Recent studies showed that diet-betting works for plenty of people who, for some reason, couldn’t lose pounds via other means.

A study published in the December issue of the American Medical Association found that people who had financial incentives were much more successful in losing weight than those who did not.

The study formed two groups of dieters – one with financial incentives, and a control group. Dr. Kevin Volpp, co-author of the study and an associate professor in behavioral economics at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine and the Wharton School, said that the prospect of losing or gaining money was an important incentive for the participants, particularly if the money was not rewarded until the end of the period. According to Dr. Volpp, another important factor in the study was the weekly feedback, apart from the fact that they don’t want to lose their money.

Betting sites

In a like fashion, Dean Karlan and Ian Ayres, a couple of Yale Professors, studies the effects of commitment contracts on quitting smoking. They then tested their theories to dieting, and they developed a business based on their theories. Karlan and Ayres teamed up with Jordan Goldberg, a 24-year old graduate student and founded StickK.com last year.

The website motivates people to created changes in their lives by signing contracts – contracts which would cost them money if don’t succeed in their goals. The site now has more than 23,000 users, 42% of which have contracts for losing weight. The site takes your credit card info directly and charges your card weekly if you fail to meet your goal. You can appoint someone to be your referee, but in the end the site simply takes your word for it.

Bettors can also specify a friend or charity a recipients of their lost money. But more interestingly, they can also choose a for or anti-charity as their recipients. As the site says, ""Wouldn’t it just kill you to hand over your hard-earned money to someone you can’t stand?"

The funny thing is StickK.com’s anti-charities have the highest success rate of all their bets. Goldberm CEO of the company said that "Some people respond better to negative reinforcement." Internet sites which cater to diet betting experienced a surge in traffic.

Other similar websites which include fatbet.net and makemoneylosingweight.com are put up for dieters who want to challenge one another. The sites are free and have formalized the group-diet betting process by creating a forum for tracking weight publicly, as well as setting incentives. Both sites though, do not handle the financial part of the bets.

More on diet betting

Prof. Geoffrey Greif of the University of Maryland School of Social Work and author of "Buddy System: Understanding Male Friendships" said "Betting makes the approach to weight loss more acceptable for men. These guys are repeating what they did as kids on the playground to see who can run faster or throw the ball harder. And it’s also a safe way for men to be close."

Which is not to say that women aren’t into this whole diet betting. Ms. Carol Lewis, 45, a part-time worker for the Federal Reserve in Boston made a bet last summer with her husband. "He sent an e-mail challenge to me: 12 pounds for him and 6 for me" shared Lewis. They went to fatbet.net to formalize their bet.

Their deal was for Ms. Lewis to wear a shirt that said "I lost a fat bet to my husband. I am a big loser" to their son’s soccer game. The couple both lost some weight, although her husband lost more. Lewis is now part of a new deal with other people.