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5 Tips for Lasting Success in a Weight Loss Contest

I recently received a SUUUUUUPER annoying email from fitness royalty. This celebrity was inviting me (and probably only 200,000+ of her closest friends) to join her weight loss contest.

Weight loss contests, like those offered on websites like DietBet, are simple enough:

  • Throw in some cash ($10 to $100 or more is common).
  • Snap a weigh-in selfie on challenge day 1.
  • Lose a certain percentage of your body weight within a specified timeframe—typically about a month.
  • Submit a final weigh-in selfie.
  • Split the pot with all other participants who meet the designated weight loss goal.

DIY versions, such as workplace Biggest Loser contests, have also become grown in popularity. These winner-take-all challenges reward the participants with the most significant weight loss.

I completely understand the appeal of a weight loss contest. Roughly half of Americans want to lose weight, and most people I know wouldn’t turn down some extra cash. A weight loss contest offers the prospect of a two-for-one deal!

However, I really don’t recommend them for most people. 

Reasons to Opt Out of a Weight Loss Contest

A weight loss contest may help you drop a few pounds and you might win a few bucks (emphasis on may and might). In my professional opinion, the downsides outweigh the benefits.  

They Focus on Extrinsic Rewards

Extrinsic rewards are those that come from other people—y’know, like cash and prizes.

Competition is one heck of an extrinsic motivator. People who are competitive may go to more extreme measures to win, with potentially disastrous effects.

I once knew a woman who dominated an office weight loss contest, basically by eating nothing but chicken breasts and broccoli for a month. She claimed her cash reward and immediately splurged on 2 dozen chicken wings, a few beers, and a brownie sundae.

You can probably guess what happened next—she ate what she wanted for a few days, thinking she’d eventually get back on the horse. A few days turned into a few weeks, and a few weeks turned into a few months. She ended up weighing more than when she started.

This isn’t even the worst-case scenario. I’ve heard of other people going to dangerous extremes just to win a few bucks and some pats on the back.

It’s just not worth it, friends, unless you can identify some intrinsic rewards and consciously prioritize those over the extrinsic ones.

They’re Sprints

Did you know that about 90% of people who lose significant weight regain it back? There are so many reasons why this happens, but I see it a lot in people who turn to quick fixes for weight loss.

A few programs offer maintenance competitions, but most diet bets are sprints. You give it everything you’ve got, knowing that the finish line is near. If your eye is on the prize, you can’t focus as much on the process. Guess what, dear friends? You can’t sprint forever. You will burn out. Depending on how hard you come off the starting block, you may not even make it to the finish line.

Think back to the chicken and broccoli example from above. My acquaintance was so motivated by victory that she did whatever it took to win. She didn’t stop to think, “hey, I might be able to sustain these changes if I added some fun and variety to my diet.”

And this is a key problem with a weight loss content. When you focus on the finish line, you can forget to adjust your strategy.

Unless you’re cool with regaining those pounds, you’d be better off working on some healthy habits. You may need to adjust as you go, and that’s okay! Think of it like stopping to tie your shoe in a footrace. It may slow you down, but it’ll also keep you from falling on your face.

Still Want to Join a Weight Loss Contest?

I’d much rather see you focus on building healthy habits than join a weight loss contest.

Still, there are a few steps you can take to increase your odds of success—depending on how you define success. These tips probably won’t lead to the biggest weight loss, but they’ll keep you from packing the pounds back on post-contest. A win, in my book!

1.     Make a list of intrinsic rewards. Would losing a few pounds make you feel proud? Would it help you to keep up with your kids? These are more likely to inspire lasting change than a cash payout.

2.     Pass on contests with high antes. The buy-in may help cement your commitment, but you’ll be more likely to use unsustainable methods if there’s the possibility that you’ll lose a lot of money.

3.     Adopt at least a couple of habits that you continue after your weight loss contest, such as filling half of each plate with non-starchy veggies or drinking a glass of water before each meal.  These will make the post-contest transition much easier.

4.     Run your race. Don’t worry about the other competitors.

5.     Think of the end of the contest as a water break. Take a few moments to reflect on sustainable strategies that have worked well for you, and get right back at it.

Friends, have any of you joined a weight loss contest? How’d it go for you? I’d love to hear about your experience in the comments. 

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