New reason to lose weight: betting websites

May 12th, 2009 - 9:45 am ICT by IANS  

By Sophie von Puttkamer
Washington, May 12 (DPA) John Hamaski tried a lot of things to lose weight but nothing really worked. The 38-year-old lawyer from San Francisco began several diets and enlisted in a gym. “It didn’t work, I just stayed fat.” Hamaski, who is about five feet tall and weighs 187 pounds, suffered from obesity.

What saved Hamaski just in time was Fatbet.net. In February he and five friends bet on losing 22 pounds in eight weeks. “I became very competitive, it was a matter of honour,” the Californian says. Every day Hamaski and his friends had to register their weight on the website. They also invited their families and other friends to follow the collective slimming online.

“There was a lot of pressure, I didn’t want to be a loser.” Because of the bet Hamaski forced himself to eat a balanced diet and to exercise six times a week. In the end he actually won the bet. “In April I was down to 164 pounds.”

Hamaski’s story is not an isolated case in the US. Thousands of Americans use websites like Fatbet.net as an option to traditional diet programmes such as Weight Watchers, Atkins and Slim Fast.

“These bets are working wonders. People don’t want to lose and they really succeed in reducing their weight,” believes Fatbet founder Adam Orkand, 40. Since launching the website in January 2008 about 6,000 users signed up on Fatbet.net. Most of them are successful: 80 percent win their bets by losing a few pounds.

But if someone tries to lose 50 pounds at once it certainly won’t work. On average every Fatbet user loses 14 pounds - without paying any fees because the website is financed through ads.

“The most important thing is the wager,” explains Orkand. “It has to be something that you definitely don’t want to lose.” There are no limits, wagers can be anything: Losers have to let their beards grow, sing embarrassing songs in Karaoke bars or run naked through a city centre. But often it is all about honour - or cash.

It is scientifically well-founded that the expectation of winning money helps someone to lose pounds: Kevin Volpp, professor of medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, found that slimming is easier for people if they earn $600.

Volpp’s survey was a role model for Makemoneylosingweight.com. This website exists since the beginning of 2008 and promotes the slogan “You can never be too rich or too thin”. When starting a bet the users have to pay an optional amount of money into a pool. At the end losers go away empty-handed, but the winner takes it all: The money and his weight loss.

A similar concept like the one of Makemonylosingweight.com is behind StickK.com. One third of the wagers on this website are also monetary. But users can decide if they want to donate the money to a charity - or an “anti-charity”, an organisation they really hate. Because of the latter option the George W. Bush library and the National Rifle Organisation (NRA) receive unexpected donations.

But StickK.com is not just about slimming, it is also about getting rid of other vices. Twenty percent of 33,000 users bet to exercise regularly, five percent want to quit smoking. Unlike on Fatbet.net or Makemonylosingweight.com, the StickK-users have to agree a contract which can be terminated only in exceptional cases.

“People need an incentive to stick with it and to achieve their goal,” says StickK founder Jordan Goldberg, 25, in explaining the strict rules.

However, Elisa Zied from the American Dietic Association (ADA) regards these “bet your fat away” websites very sceptically. “They are a helper for those who like to compete with themselves,” the expert says, “but for those who think of it as a quick fix I say forget about it.”

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