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If motivation could be sold as a pill, we would all eat right every day and get plenty of exercise. The fact that we don’t always do those things isn’t because we don’t understand the importance of a healthy diet and physical activity for good health; we just have a hard time staying on track day in and day out. That’s why figuring out what motivates you is a prescription worth filling!
Do you think being paid to lose weight would motivate you? Studies are beginning to show that money is an incentive for weight loss, but there’s more to the payoff than you might think.
A recent study done at the Mayo Clinic found participants who knew they would receive $20 each month if they reached their weight loss goals lost more weight than those who received the same education and behavior modification program but had no financial incentive. The interesting thing about money is that it not only motivated the subjects when they were earning it for losing weight, but also when they had to pay a $20 penalty any month they did not meet their goals. At the end of the program, those who paid penalties actually lost more weight than those who had no money at stake!
Another study based on an employee-sponsored weight loss program at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia found competing for a bigger financial reward was a better motivator than working toward individual goals. In this case the subjects were divided into two groups. Half of them had a chance to earn $100 a month if they met or exceeded their individual weight loss goals. The remaining participants were randomly assigned to teams with five people in each, but they were not told who their teammates were. What they were told is that only the people who met or exceeded their monthly goals would have a share of their group’s $500. This meant that if only two people achieved their goals one month, they would get $250 each. After six months the team participants lost more weight than those who had the chance to earn $1000 a month by reaching their individual goals. One reason for the success of team members is that they remained more motivated over the six months than those who did not have a chance at the bigger rewards.
While it is easy to conclude from these studies that all we need to do to get people to lose weight is offer them a financial incentive, that notion misses a very important piece of the puzzle. The money only serves as a motivation to do the work that leads to weight loss. For example, maybe some of the subjects in these studies set their alarm an hour earlier so they could go to the gym before work. Maybe they planned their weekly menus before food shopping or started keeping track of everything they ate. Maybe they started other calorie-lowering strategies like substituting a no calorie sweetener, like SPLENDA® Sweeteners, for sugar. So, while money was likely an incentive, what may have really helped people over time was the chance to form new eating and exercise habits. And once those new habits were in place, they became their own rich reward.
That’s what we have learned from members of the National Weight Control Registry who have successfully lost weight and kept it off for more than five years. Success comes to those who make changes they can live with. Using a low calorie sweetener, such as SPLENDA® No Calorie Sweetener is just one strategy, and it may be one you live with to help you reach your goals, too.
For further info. on this topic, read my previous blog post on this topic: “How Counting Calories is Like Saving Money.”
Robyn Flipse, MS, MA, RDN, “The Everyday RD,” is an author and nutrition consultant who has headed the nutrition services department in a large teaching hospital and maintained a private practice where she provided diet therapy to individuals and families. With more than 30 years of experience, Robyn is motivated by the opportunity to help people make the best eating decisions for their everyday diet. She believes that choosing what to eat should not be a daily battle and aims to separate the facts from the fiction so you can enjoy eating well.
- Driver SL, Hensrud D. Financial Incentives for Weight Loss: A One-Year Randomized Controlled Clinical Trial. J Am Coll Cardiol. 2013;61(10S):Moderated Poster Session
- Kullgren JT et. al.(8). Individual versus group based financial incentives for weight loss. A randomized, controlled trial. Ann Intern Med. 2013;158(7):505-514