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Can you lose weight faster if someone pays you to do it?

Wagering on Weight Loss

Financial and other rewards in behavior modification programs aren't new. And as it turns out, money works in the weight game.

According to recent research from the Mayo Clinic, a little competition in the form of a healthy wager can lead to greater success in diet and exercise efforts than when money isn't on the line, although the weight may not necessarily come off faster. During the 12-month Mayo Clinic study, obese participants who were paid to meet weekly weight-loss goals and to attend regular counseling sessions lost four times more weight than participants who were not given financial incentives [source: Nainggolan]. Another recent study, this one published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, found that obese Americans given financial incentives to lose weight were five times more likely to meet their weight-loss goal than their peers without the money motivation [source: Sayre].

Financial incentives -- and disincentives -- motivate people when they're immediate, and ultimately because we want the payoff more than we want to snack. But what happens when we're off a weight-loss plan, maintaining weight rather than losing it? Participants in a 32-week study were, like in the Mayo Clinic study, more successful meeting their one-pound-per-week weight-loss goal and keeping that weight off for eight weeks when given financial incentives, losing more weight than participants who were not given financial incentives. After the weight-loss program ended, though, so did their motivation to maintain the weight loss, and those who'd lost weight in the study gained back pounds [source: John].

Financial incentives for weight loss are gaining popularity in the real world, not just in studies. Looking to bet you'll lose 10 pounds in the next months? Sites such as HealthyWage and DietBet, among others, allow users to wager their own cash against meeting their weight goals and participate in challenges and other reward-based programs. Your employer may also have incentive programs, betting that you will change your bad habits based on the rewards they offer -- as many as, if not more than, two-thirds of employers offer some sort of employer-sponsored incentive-based wellness programs [source: Scherzer]. These programs include everything from cash rewards and gift cards to health insurance discounts and other perks to encourage employees to maintain a healthy BMI (as well as meeting other health goals such as quitting smoking).