Experts and participants weigh in on this money-driven method for slimming down.
DietBet is a social network-centric, app-based weight loss program where participants bet a certain amount of money—typically between $20 and $50—that they’ll lose a certain percentage of their body weight in a certain time frame. The people who achieve the goal get their money back—plus they split the money from those who don’t achieve the goal.
According to DietBet.com, more than 400,000 people across 90 countries have used the program to shed a combined 5 million pounds, with winners receiving more than $21 million in the process. Its popularity and proven track record for success are certainly enticing, but there are a few things you should consider before jumping on the DietBet bandwagon.
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First, it’s helpful to understand why DietBet may be such an effective weight loss tool, and which types of people may find the most success with it.
For starters, there’s the commitment factor.
“There’s the hope that you will follow through on a behavioral change [exercising more and eating healthier] by committing to something,” says Dr. Ariane Machín, a clinical and sports psychologist who also specializes in eating psychology.
The aim with the DietBet process, says Machin, is that you would go from external motivators for change [e.g. dieting in order to win a monetary prize] to internal motivators for change [e.g. dieting because you enjoy the benefits of a healthier lifestyle].
The specific goals and hard deadlines of DietBet can also provide a boost. The program offers two different challenges—the more popular four-week one where participants must lose at least 4% of their body weight in order to win, and a six-month one where participants must shed 10% of their body weight.
“Having structured goals helps you know exactly what you’re going for,” explains Chicago-based weight loss coach and personal trainer Stephanie Mansour. When comparing DietBet to a less rigid, more generalized goal of ‘lose weight,’ “there’s no guesswork involved,” she says.
Plus, the strict deadline of DietBet can incite “pressure in a positive way,” says Mansour. “It provides a sense of urgency” that can combat the procrastination that’s common with any type of difficult goal.
West Virginia-based Destiny Basil, who has joined three separate DietBet challenges since January, says the program helps her break down her goal of losing 100 pounds (which can be “so discouraging”) into smaller, more manageable chunks.
Consistently reaching those small goals adds up to big results. “I’ve lost 35 pounds so far,” she says.
This type of confidence boost can help kickstart a longer weight loss journey. “It could bring up your self-efficacy to say, ‘I know I can do this,’” says Machin.
Although DietBet will be a different experience for everyone, in general, people like Basil who are motivated by performance goals (e.g. hitting a certain weight, or jogging a 5K in a certain time) rather than learning goals (e.g. mastering the skill of deciphering nutrition labels) or fulfillment goals (e.g. finding a form of exercise that makes you happy) will likely find the most success with DietBet.
“It’s important to be in tune with what types of goals you are motivated by,” says Machin.
The money, of course, is another big incentive.
“A lot of us can be motivated by fear,” explains Mansour. “If money is really important to you, the thought of losing that can send you into fight or flight mode.”
And then there’s the social aspect. DietBet challenges are hosted by either the platform itself or by community members, and the size of each challenge ranges from dozens of people to several thousand. Participants are connected with others in their challenge via an online chat portal, where they’re encouraged to post regular updates on their own progress and cheer others on.
“You are around people who have similar struggles and goals and talk the same language,” says Machin. “This can make you feel supported and also encourage you to support others, which makes you feel good, too.”
Alabama-based Julia Steier, a personal trainer and fitness instructor who has participated in several DietBet challenges and hosted one herself in January for a group of 40-plus clients and friends, says this sense of camaraderie and community makes the program an effective, exciting way to kickstart weight loss.
“As an organizer, I got to celebrate when my friends were losing weight, and I was really happy for them when they met their goals,” says Steier.
But the strict goal-oriented structure that makes DietBet so effective for some folks could also create high levels of stress and anxiety for others.
During her second DietBet challenge, Basil reached her goal—but it wasn’t as easy as the first go-around.
“I became a little bit scale obsessive,” admits Basil, who hit a plateau midway through and then “dieted and hit the gym really hard” in order to lose 1.5 pounds in the last two days of the challenge. “It really stressed me out,” she says. [To discourage extreme and unhealthy dieting, DietBet automatically disqualifies participants who lose more than 12% body weight in four weeks.]
“I could see it setting up rigidity about food and exercise that may be hard to break,” says Machin. “It could disconnect you from natural signals about eating healthy.”
Some participants, like Alabama-based Lauren Greene, find the goal of 4% weight loss in four weeks to be unrealistic. Greene joined a DietBet challenge in January, and at the end of the four weeks, lost 5 pounds, which was 2.4 pounds shy of her goal.
“For me, that was not really a healthy weight loss,” says Greene, who compared it to Weight Watchers, which she’s tried in the past and encourages weight loss at a rate of 1 pound a week.
“I may try it again with the expectation that I might not lose the weight, but I would kickstart healthy eating and exercising habits,” Greene reflects.
Mansour considers this goal on “higher end of doable,” and Steier also feels that the 4-week window is “too short of a time period.”
The competition aspect of DietBet could also trigger unhealthy comparisons.
“People might take it too far and get too hysterical trying to beat others without learning good habits,” says Machin. “It could bring up guilt and shame if you’re not where you’re ‘supposed’ to be.”
Losing at DietBet won’t just set you back financially—it could take an emotional toll as well, says Machin.
If the failure is internalized (i.e. attributed to a shortcoming within yourself, like lack of self-control or laziness) rather than externalized (i.e. attributed to an outside factor, like a particularly busy schedule at work that thwarted your fitness plans), it could trigger negative self-talk that might make future weight loss more difficult and daunting.
“From my perspective, this is a short-term goal, and it’s not setting you up for a lifestyle commitment to that goal once the bet is over,” says Mansour. “It could backfire if you feel like you have to continue with DietBet in order to lose weight.”
Before beginning a DietBet challenge, Machin recommends setting learning and performance goals that supersede the specific weight loss goal.
This way, even if you don’t win the DietBet, you can still reap the rewards of achieving other goals, like developing healthy eating habits, or learning how to incorporate exercise into your weekly schedule, she says.
And if you try DietBet and learn that it just isn’t for you?
“Give yourself permission to walk away without shame,” says Machin. Also know: it isn’t by any means the only format or system you can use to lose weight, says Mansour.