This article is by staff writer Adam Baker. Baker recently posted a transparent personal update entitled “When to Quit Traveling“. Today J.D. is very thankful to have staff writers, because his computers (plural!) are on the fritz, and he has no time to write about money…

I struggle with weight. In fact, it’s a far more difficult issue for me than personal finance. Honestly, I’m not completely sure why, but it’s true.

There are many similarities between paying off debt and creating a healthy lifestyle. For starters:

  1. Correcting both issues starts with awareness. The key to turning around my financial life was realizing exactly how bad it was. After that, I was able to connect deeply with the burden that my lazy financial habits created in my life. While I understand that I’m unhealthy, I haven’t fully connected with the burden it brings into my life.
  2. Both issues have simple solutions. Notice I said simple, not easy. Personal finance can really be boiled down to “spend less than you earn“. There are plenty of details, techniques, and strategies, but it all comes back around to that one basic concept. Creating a healthier lifestyle is also simple: Eat fewer unhealthy foods, exercise more. Remembering these simple foundations can help us from distracting ourselves in a search for a mythical secret solution.
  3. Both issues require more motivation than “it’s good for you”. The vast majority of people who struggle with money realize that consumer debt is bad for them. Most people who carry credit card balances know “they shouldn’t”. But this doesn’t keep them from doing it or help them from being susceptible to credit card tricks which can increase their fees. I know my diet is poor and I’m not as active as I should be. Just because eating better and exercising is “good for me”, doesn’t mean I’m going to do it. Sadly, most of us need more motivation (and more specific motivation) to overcome either issue.

Even though intellectually I can identify these similarities, I haven’t been able to bridge the strides in my financial life to my health. I need more awareness and a more specific type of motivation. I recently stumbled upon an interesting concept that may help me with the latter.

HealthyWage.com pays you to lose weight!
Early last week, I was approached by a group of personal finance bloggers who were entering a team-based weight loss contest at HealthyWage.com. Unlike many of the free sites and competitions, this one was different. Teams of five had to cough up $100 total ($20 per member) to sign-up. As a result, there are some big prizes, including $10,000 to the winning team!

The winning team is defined as the team of five that has the highest average percentage weight loss. In order to compete, you have to have an official weigh-in at the beginning and end of the competition at an approved gym or doctor’s office.

In addition, there’s weekly accountability, casual weigh-ins, forums, and conference calls with former Biggest Loser participants and health professionals. The current competition starts May 15th and runs for 3 months.

Aside from this team-based competition, anyone can also attempt to achieve a healthy BMI in order to receive $100 from HealthyWage.com’s sponsors. In this case your physician has to actually phone HealthyWage at the beginning and end of your personal challenge.

For those who want to take it even further, you can pay $300 before you start. If you chose to fork over the money up front and are still able to hit your goal, you’ll receive $1000 back. If you fall short, though, you are out the $300!

I can’t believe I hadn’t bumped into this concept before! I find it extremely intriguing. On their website, HealthyWage points out two recent studies that suggest cash incentives can triple the success of a weight loss program:

For me, there are a couple of incentives beyond just the cash. I’m highly motivated by the accountability in a team-based competition. I won’t want to let my teammates down, especially if at least a couple are motivated themselves. This allows each member to stumble a little, without completely falling off the wagon.

Also, I’m a firm believer in changing your environment when attempting any lifestyle change. The added benefit of conference calls, forums, and the ability to track the progress of other teams lends itself to creating a powerful community interaction. Immersing yourself inside a community like this is a great way to maintain motivation (just like many active members of this community have done).

Potential pitfalls of the model
While I’m already signed up and eagerly awaiting the start of the competition, I do have a few reservations about the pay-for-weight-loss model. While HealthyWage makes an active effort to promote safe weight loss, the “competition” atmosphere may potentially encourage some to go to extremes.

Personally, I’m going to have to be careful about this. I’ll have to work extra hard to prevent burnout and/or risky weight loss results, especially early on. From what I’ve been able to tell, the website and competition provide plenty of resources for help with this.

I also wonder if there will be some amazing results that will turn out to be temporary lifestyle changes. Even if the rate of weight loss is healthy, what will happen to people when the monetary compensation and the competitive atmosphere are gone? I wonder what the success rate will be of those who are able to make lasting, long-term changes.

Even with these two reservations, I’m still excited take part in the competition. I’m going to do my best to play into the strengths, while being aware of the potential pitfalls. For me, if even a small portion of people are positively affected (long-term, positive health changes) then it’s worth it.

I have no affiliation with HealthyWage.com in any way; I’m just a new and eager competition participant. However, I’m interested if any of you have had experience with a similar competition or what your thoughts of the model are!

Who knows? Maybe I’ll be giving an update in three months on how my team (Jesse from Personal Finance Firewall, Brad from Enemy of Debt, and Paul from Fiscal Geek) will be spending our portions of the $10,000 (or more importantly how much better we feel being much more fit)!

J.D.’s note: I, too, have struggled with weight. And, like Adam, it’s actually been tougher for me to tackle than personal finance. I started Get Fit Slowly with my friend Mac, but haven’t written there much in the past year. However, I seem to finally be slowly turning the corner. I’m down 13 pounds this year, thanks to sensible food choices and discovering Crossfit.

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