Losing Weight for Money: Weight Loss Challenge Apps
A weight loss challenge app?
What in fresh hell is this?
I was watching TV the other day when an ad for a company called ‘HealthyWage’ came on. I honestly couldn’t believe my eyes – a company is actually paying people to lose weight.
It sounded shifty AF, so naturally, I jumped into action.
What is the HealthyWage weight loss app?
HealthyWage is a weight loss challenge app where you can bet that you will lose a certain amount of weight within a time duration that you choose. Your pounds-lost bet must be at least 10% of your weight, so if you’re 250 pounds, your bet must be that you’ll lose at least 25 pounds.
HealthyWage also offers ready-made weight loss challenges, such as their $10,000 ‘Team Challenge’ in January. The team of 5 who loses the most weight as a % wins the jackpot.
You’re betting against yourself with HealthyWage. However, you can recruit other people to do a group weight loss challenge, and because everyone contributes money, the pot can be humungous. If you all lose weight, you all split the pot. If you recruit people into HealthyWage, you make a small commission. Sounds sort of MLM-y.
As soon as you sign up, you owe HealthyWage money. Bets start at $100, and you first pay the app exactly what you bet. So if you start with a $1000 bet, you pay it up front or in monthly installments. The more you put in, and the more pounds you bet you can lose, the more you can win.
If you lose the weight, you earn your money back.
If you lose more weight than you bet, you earn even more money. There’s even a bonus for extra weight lost.
If you don’t lose all of the weight you bet, you don’t win anything.
And the company is very clear about this: there are never any refunds given. For anything. In their own words, “We believe strongly that an important part of the service we provide is a negative reinforcement that helps you avoid procrastinating and quitting, which would be undermined if you could simply change your mind or find an excuse to quit. Moreover, our pricing is based on actuarial models that assume no refunds. There are no exceptions except in rare, evidence-documented medical situations – email us at firstname.lastname@example.org if you think that applies (but please prepare yourself for the likelihood that there will be no exception granted).”
You can extend your weight loss challenge if you reach the end and haven’t lost the required amount, but you have to pay for that extension.
Here’s the example the company gives on their site:
“Mary starts a six-month HealthyWager paying $50 each month to lose 50 pounds with a prize of $1,000. She realizes she will not hit her goal in time, so she buys more time. She will then pay an additional $50 each month for another 6 months (for a total additional investment of $600). If she wins, she will get her original $1,000 prize amount (she will not get her $300 additional investment back).”
But for shits and giggles, I’m going to give you an example of my own:
Ted bets $5000 that he’s going to lose 15 pounds in 3 months.
Ted ends up losing exactly 15 pounds in 3 months. Ted wins his $5000 back, because he lost the required number of pounds, no less, no more.
But wait! Ted doesn’t get $5000. He gets $5000 minus the federal and state taxes he has to pay on this ‘income,’ (taxed as ‘contest winnings’) whatever they may be. And, if next time, Ted chooses a group weight loss challenge, HealthyWage will also takes a 25% cut of the pot. Because ‘admin fees.’
When you participate in a HealthyWage weight loss challenge, you get access to a ‘coach,’ who doesn’t have the qualifications to help you with anything diet-related. Just saying.
HealthyWage isn’t the only weight loss challenge app out there, and these sorts of challenges aren’t new.
Recently, a follower of mine sent me a photo of a ‘calorie burn challenge’ going on at her gym.
As in, whoever works out the most and burns the most calories in a certain period of time, wins the challenge.
Barf. I totally lost the photos she sent me from it so I can’t post them. Grrr. And I forget who it was! If she’s reading this now, please DM me!!
HealthWage functions on the philosophy that betting money will be the motivation that people need to lose weight. They cite a 16-week 2008 study in JAMA that suggests that having financial incentive increases the likelihood of a person losing weight. This may be so, but the exact same study also found that participants didn’t keep the weight off after the 16 weeks ended. More research also suggests that these people are no more likely to keep the weight off than those who didn’t receive any incentive.
Uh. Okay. Because guess what?
DIETS DON’T WORK.
There are so many things wrong with the money-for-weight loss situation. So many things.
It teaches you absolutely nothing about nutrition.
You don’t learn anything about food or nutrition by participating in a weight loss challenge. Coaches and other participants are probably more likely to encourage bad habits and give misinformation about eating.
It’s tempting to game the system and resort to unhealthy behaviours, especially with incentive to do so.
HealthyWage tells participants that unhealthy behaviours like starvation aren’t allowed, and if someone loses too much weight in a week, they can be disqualified. That being said, who’s monitoring every individual person in every weight loss challenge? Isn’t the very essence of a weight loss challenge to lose as much weight as possible, and doesn’t HealthyWage incentivize weight loss even greater than the person bets on, by offering a bonus for it?
They’re practically endorsing the very behaviour they warn against. Lame…and dangerous.
It uses weight as the only measure of success, which is ridiculous.
Just because you lose weight, doesn’t mean you’re healthier or happier.
And weight loss in itself is complex. Predictors of weight gain and loss – social determinants of health, such as socioeconomic status, education level, living situation, among others – plus genetics, can be huge barriers for individuals trying to make changes to their eating habits and their weight.
None of these are taken into account in any weight challenge app, of course, but can dramatically influencer the outcome. It’s not all about lose weight = you’re a winner and don’t lose weight = you’re a loser.
What does losing weight for money do to your relationship with food? It can turn food into the enemy that stands between you and a win, which isn’t exactly a healthy way to think. Weight loss challenges pit you against your body, which IMO is a pretty crappy way to treat yourself.
The company is obviously making bank on the fact that peoples’ weight loss goals are unattainable, unrealistic, and frequently made out of desperation.
Weight loss challenge apps like healthyWage wouldn’t exist if they weren’t making money. But the developers of these apps know very well that a large percentage of people are unlikely to succeed in their goals.
It’s sort of gross that companies are making money on peoples’ failure to lose weight, am I right?
In short, these apps and weight loss challenges themselves, whether they’re calorie or pound-based, aren’t likely to result in anything long-term and sustainable. They can also have a detrimental effect on your relationship with food and your body.