Thursday, November 18, 2010

Weight Loss Incentives

Fifty days ago, I wrote about some calorie math, explaining why it is easier to lose weight by changing your diet than by working out. At that time, I wrote:
Consider two facts:

1. A person must burn 3500 calories more than he/she consumes to lose a single pound of weight.
2. A 230-lb man (that's me) can burn 184 calories running a mile (Go to the website. Type 230 in for the weight, 8 minutes for the time, and look for "Running 7.5 mph").

That means that I would have to run 19.02 miles at 8 minutes per mile to burn enough calories to lose a single pound. For someone who is out of shape (and looking to get into shape), that seems like a lot of work to go from 230 pounds to 229 pounds.
I wasn't arguing against exercising, but I was pushing against the point of view that exercise is sufficient to lose weight. A good diet is even more important.

Since that post, I went on the "half-muffin diet" and I have been exercising every day. Yes, that means I can't test my own hypothesis. Losing weight was more important to me than distinguishing between ways to lose weight.

How has it gone so far? Fifty days ago, when I said I weighed 230 lbs, I rounded down. I actually weighed 232.2 lbs that morning. Today, I weighed 209.0 lbs, well on my way to my goal of 190 lbs.

As I have an appreciation for economics and incentives, you may wonder if I have used some commitment device to stick to this diet-and-exercise plan. To be sure, I have a healthy appreciation for commitment devices. They can be successful if committing to something is difficult.

But this time, I haven't put money on my weight loss regimen. No side bets. No checks to be cashed if I don't meet my goals. Nothing like Ian Ayres carrot-and-stick approach to maintaining his own weight:
The results are in. I’m happy to report that my eBay auction ended with a winning bid of $282.85. Twenty-three bidders put in a total of 45 bids. The bidders were a mixture of seasoned eBay users (some with more than 150 eBay purchases) and newbie eBay users.
Ayres was reporting on the results of an auction of his "right to regain weight." If in any week, he weighs over 185 lbs, he will fork over $500 for missing his commitment that week. He has committed to this incentive for a year (52 weeks). 49 days ago, I wrote about what I thought about Ayres contract with himself. In short, I like it, but not if he loses himself over the holidays.

So, what did I do to lose weight if there isn't a commitment device involved? Although I haven't put money on the line, I have done one thing that Ayres has done in his own weight-management quest. I have made my weight fluctuations more salient to myself. And, that has made all the difference (for me).

Since September 27th, I have been weighing myself daily and recording my weights in a spreadsheet. This has been an incredible source of short-to-intermediate feedback on how my weight loss has been going, and if you're planning to lose weight, you should do something like this to track your progress. In my opinion, short-to-intermediate term feedback is an excellent input to achieving a long-term goal.

Of course, Ayres has taken his progress-tracking to a rigorous new level. He has a Wifi-enabled scale that automatically posts his weight to Twitter. My scale isn't as fancy as his, but I expect that it will keep helping as long as I keep stepping on the scale.

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