5 Reasons Why Getting Paid To Lose Weight Doesn’t Work {Plus How To Make It Successful}

Would getting paid to drop a few (or lots) pounds help motivate you?

What about motivate you to keep it off?

With sites like…

Diet Bet

Healthy Wage


Fat Bet

It’s easy to see that betting away your weight is becoming more and more of a trend. In fact, businesses have been using incentives to help their employees drop pounds for years now…

Over 86% of large employees offer some sort of incentive program.

The Power Of Being Paid For Weight Loss

It sounds awesome, lose some weight, get a bonus. In theory it is great.

Who doesn’t love cash!?

Study after study after study shows that offering financial bonuses improves the likelihood of losing weight!

I mean, look at Hollywood… shake some money in their faces, and stars will get whatever body you want them to have.



Of course the same is true for us “normal” folk. Perhaps not to the extent of Matthew Mcconaughey… but it’s a perfect example.

Sounds awesome, right? You lose weight, and you end up with a fatter wallet.

To talk specifics…

this study found that 62% of participants that were offered incentives achieved their goals, versus only 26% were successful out of the group that did not receive financial incentives.

You don’t have to be good at math to know, that’s a big difference!

There are two successful weight loss incentive programs that are most popular at the moment…

  • The deposit approach (like DietBet) where you put down your own money into a pot, and then if you meet your goals you earn back that money, plus the money that is either matched by your company or you split the pot of money from those that did not meet their goal.
  • The there is the straight awards approach which the company gives you a reward for weight loss at each weigh-in. Your personal money isn’t on the line.

Personally, I immediately thought that the deposit approach would be far more successful because people don’t want to lose their own hard earned money. But turns out that people don’t care where the money comes from, as long as money is won. Both have proven to help weight loss equally.

It seems, being bribed works.

At least for short term weight loss.

Why Getting Paid For Weight Loss Isn’t Going To Help Obesity

One dollar banknotes tied up with measuring tape against white background

Research doesn’t lie (okay sometimes it does but now when results are the same time and time again).

If you want to lose weight or you want your employees to lose weight, putting together an incentive plan isn’t a bad idea.

At least for short term success.

This past weekend, Dan and I sat together after our climbing workout (more on that tomorrow) and discussed weight loss payment award programs.

What got us on such an electric topic? We were watching part of the World Cup Game and from there we began talking about Europe.

You see, I remember reading some time ago that the UK’s NHS (National Health Service) has been trying to start it’s own incentive program for the country.

Their obesity numbers are going up and up just like ours, and they have decided to take on a more pro-active role to try and turn their unhealthy country around.

And while I give them credit for having such gusto, I can’t help but wonder… is it worth it?

I don’t think so, but let me explain…

5 Reasons Incentive Programs Won’t Work

Plus How We Can Make Them Successful

1. Research Shows It Doesn’t.

Research shows getting paid helps to drop weight, but what about keeping it off?

Luckily, studies have been done on this too!

And it’s not good.

It shows that individuals are successful at losing weight, but once the program is over, the odds of them gaining the weight back is incredibly high… like over 80%.

2. What About Maintenance?

Incentives are great, but what about educating people on long term health? After weight loss is achieved, the incentives are dried up. There are no more fancy dollar bills being flashed, so motivation goes out the window.

Here’s what I think:

I know that people prefer immediate satisfaction, but what if their incentive prize money is put away for 9 months. And only after 9 months, if they have kept the weight off are they able to collect?

What if after that 9 months, their money has been collecting interest?

9 months of weight loss leads to a much better chance that the weight will remain lost!

3. They Don’t Educate.

Here’s the thing… everyone knows the secret to losing weight:

Eat less, move more.

It doesn’t take a brain surgeon to figure that one out. But what people don’t know is how food affects them, their bodies and their health. They don’t know how to properly go from a weight loss program, into a mantenece mode. It’s that period that destroys so many success stories.

Weight loss isn’t about just losing weight, it’s about learning how to be healthier, being mentally ready for a different lifestyle and it’s a psychological battle as well.

If these areas aren’t addressed then it’s pointless to try and lose weight.

Here’s what I think…

If you want to see real results, then instead of paying people to lose weight, pay for them to attend weight loss education classes. Something similar to AA meetings so that they can address fears, confidence, cravings, and learn how to properly fuel their bodies.

4. They Promote Weight Gain.

If a company gives $50 extra a month or more to lose weight, think about how many people will suddenly feel an urge to gain enough weight to be allowed into the incentive program.

If people were willing to gain hundreds of pounds to go on to Biggest Loser, I can only imagine how many people will be willing to put on weight for a raise at work.

Here’s what I think:

Instead of awarding people that need to lose weight, award the people that work hard to be healthy. Change the system around and encourage people to live an active, healthy lifestyle.

Perhaps give tax breaks to people who workout at least 2 or 3 times a week. Give extra PTO to employees who receive a clean bill of health at physicals…

I am a huge believer that people should be rewarded for good acts. Rewards those that lead by example.

Is that crazy?

5. Just Another Yo-Yo Diet.

I always tell clients… they didn’t gain their weight overnight, and they aren’t going to drop it over night either. Yet many incentive programs work like the Biggest Loser, urging participants to drop weight by whatever means possible in order to hit specific numbers of lost pounds each month.

Goals are great of course, but this simply teaches them that anything goes.

Just like any fad diet, incentive diets can be lumped in the “yo-yo” category. You lose weight by cutting calories severely, which then lowers your metabolism so that when the weight is gone and re-introduce a normal diet back into your life, the pounds rush right back on.

Here’s what I think:

If an incentive program is going to work, then perhaps give a proper nutrition program to follow. And in order to collect, those on the program must follow the nutritional guild lines and provide proof (some how) that they have stuck to it. That means no fat loss pills (sorry Dr Oz), no extremely low calorie diets, etc.

Real nutrition, real food for real results. That way they may just be able to lose weight and have the knowledge to keep it off.

And the metabolism!

I know this is quite a conversational piece. I am aware that some people may completely agree and some people may think I’m crazy. It’s cool! We’re allowed to have different views, and I would love to hear yours!

Do you think paying people to lose weight is a good way to help battle the obesity issue? Would you lose weight if someone offered you $100?


  • I think this is so true. I have friends who do the “Biggest Loser” at work. THey starve themselves or do the lemon and cayenne drink diet so they can win. They are shocked when it all comes back on plus some when they stop!

    • Thats so sad that people will go through so much for some moolah and then just go back to their old habits 🙁

  • I really liked this post, instead of just pointing out the flaws in paying people to lose weight you suggested ways to make it more effective. I do like the idea of money incentive to lose weight but I agree with all the things you said about educating people to help them make it long term. I actually wouldn’t lose weight for 100 dollars, I’m happy with my body and the way I eat and I don’t think I’d enjoy going on a diet.

    • Thanks Abi! I wouldn’t either!

  • Heather

    I entered a healthy wage challenge with some friends a few years ago. I lost a lot of weight in a very unhealthy way and gained it all back, plus some. Losing weight has to be about a lifestyle change. It’s the only way to lose the weight, keep it off, and not wreck yourself. It’s definitely hard work either way, but doing it the right way is well worth the effort! 🙂

    • Exactly, lifestyle is a must! Otherwise we kill ourselves for no reason!

  • ugh if people gain weight just to lose more… well that’s ridiculous! lol

  • Sheena

    Oh my goodness this topic makes me so frustrated! We do a “shake the weight” challenge at my work and one year the winner basically starved himself, won enough money to go on a cruise and gained it all back, pretty much all on the cruise. And now he looks the same as before the challenge.

    I also e-mailed our wellness committee and proposed partnering with a local gym and running a fitness challenge instead and received the response “this challenge is not based out of our site so we have no control over it.” OH MY GOD! Just makes me want to scream at them but they just don’t care. But they did put up a poster in the cafeteria saying “Talk to a dietician free at 1-800-….” I should start hanging up workout posters.

    • Sheena

      P.S. I also don’t agree with pure weight lost challenges because you run the risk of losing muscle just to meet a goal.

    • Shake the weight challenge? thats hilarious, makes me think of the shake weight, and then I think of Ellen making fun of the shake weight. If you haven’t seen it, google it! hilarious!

      Yes posters! Go for it!

  • Oh I totally agree with this! I have been hounded by Dietbet to join them in a challenge and I just don’t agree with the program. Loosing weight is great but starving to get there by this date is not any thing I want to be associated with. Weight loss needs to come over time and slowly these bets just make me nervous. If they work for some people fantastic, but I just don’t think they work long term.

    • I am the same, I have been approached by DietBet too and keep turning them down. No thanks on the starvation point of weight loss!

  • Eveliz

    You make very valid points and I totally agree to “here’s what I think” areas. We (America) needs to focus more on how to live a healthy lifestyle. We focus too much on how to get results NOW instead of properly educating ourselves, learning how to eat, finding a work out regime that works best for ourselves, etc. I think you should take lead on developing an incentive program 😉

    I think paying people to lose weight is a good idea BUT the program has to be legit. I really think that it should encourage a lifetsyle change and not a fast track way to lose weight.

    • I agree, we are a country of now now now! We need to chill and think about ourselves in the long term sense. Thanks Eveliz!

  • A few years ago, my company held a “Biggest Loser” contest. We only had it one time. Since then, they had things like Couch to 5K, free Zumba, free yoga, etc. I’m not physically there to participate, but it seems like most of the programs didn’t have a ton of people… most who did the employee wellness activities were already pretty active and just looked at it as something extra. We did have a company-wide 5K, that was fun and I did that.

    I think bets and contests put too much emphasis on the scale and weight. Everyone needs to just emphasize being active, watching what you eat, etc, more than just the number on the scale. I think it drives people to unhealthier habits as well.

    • Exactly! Every contest we do, we make fitness performance a major part of it to stress the importance of improvement! That’s cool that your company has so many great fitness classes!

  • What a great post! I know companies that give people incentives just to go to the gym. They don’t have to lose weight or anything, just go spend time at the gym. I thought that was pretty great.

    • Sheena

      I like this idea far better!!

    • Thanks Erin. I agree, to get perks from just being active is awesome!

  • yes, thank you! they don’t educate at all. I don’t like to wager weight, i like to GAIN health

    • I love it… to gain health!

  • I agree – $$ for weight loss is definitely a short term “treat” – you’re not going to get paid to stay at your goal weight. You need to focus on how great you feel at the weight you want to be at! 🙂

    • Yes a treat for sure, like birthday balls! 😉

  • Hello,
    Great article. Being healthy is better way to get rid from obesity which most of us do not care. Everything is so true.

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