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

For many people hoping to shed extra weight, it can be difficult to stay on track. Money may be just the motivator they need.
For many people hoping to shed extra weight, it can be difficult to stay on track. Money may be just the motivator they need.
© Walters

Heads up, American adults -- chances are good you're overweight. Maybe even obese.

More than one-third of American adults are considered obese -- that means that more than 60 million people in the U.S. have a body mass index (BMI) greater than 30. And more are considered overweight; about 58 million adults have a BMI that falls between 25 and 29.9. While there is debate about using BMI to quantify health, the simplicity of the formula (kilograms divided by height in meters squared) makes it a quick way to place people on numerical spectrum for general assessment.

It's not only a love of fast food that's weighing the U.S. down (more than $190 billion is spent at American drive-thrus every year), it's also a lack of exercise -- although the fries aren't helping. Twenty-five percent of American adults lead completely sedentary lifestyles; and even if you're among those who are active, more than three-quarters still don't meet the minimum recommended daily exercise goals (that's 30 minutes of moderate physical activity, five days every week, plus strength training exercises twice a week) [sources: Get America Fit Foundation, CDC]. We're falling short, not necessarily on our desire to lose weight -- it's one of the most common New Year resolutions -- but on our motivation to do so.

Experts tell us that when we're readying to make healthy lifestyle changes, it's important to set a realistic goal, commit to that goal, and stay motivated about reaching that goal. They don't usually recommend adding a financial incentive as motivation to get the job done, but could it help? Growing evidence suggests it just might.

When it comes to self-motivated weight-loss plans, it's reasonable for most adults (not everyone, so always talk to your doctor first) to try to lose one pound – or about half a kilogram) per week over a period of six months. But studies have found that people who participate in a structured weight-loss program, rather than on their own, are more successful, losing an average of 18 to 20 pounds over a six-month period -- but not just any weight loss program will work. Successful behavioral weight-loss programs don't just reduce the number of calories eaten and increase activity level, they also have regularly occurring group meetings with weight-loss peers and professionals, as well as daily and weekly goals to meet.

While the only equation to losing weight is to burn more calories than you eat, there are tricks that might help -- and sometimes, that might mean betting on yourself (or betting against yourself -- whichever works).