Are Weight-Loss Wagers Your Best Bet?
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The fear of losing dough is helping some people lose extra dough around their waists. Last year Rick and Kay Woollen of Tobaccoville, NC, signed up for HealthyWage.com, a weight-loss program that allows you (and others) to place cash bets on whether you can finally shed unwanted pounds. The Wollens dropped a combined total of more than 120 pounds—and cashed in on more than $6,000.

“It's a motivator,” Kay, 50, told the Today Show. “You don’t want to lose your own money, and you don’t want to lose somebody else’s.” Even science says a little healthy gambling may pay off: A 2008 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that dieters who had financial incentives—the prospect of gaining or losing money—to shed weight were more successful than those who did not.

HealthyWage.com isn't the only Vegas-style online program. Websites such as Stickk.com, Fatbet.net, and DietBet.com are also looking for heavy-set high-rollers to get in on the game. And for those who aren't inspired by a few Benjamins, there are plenty of other sites (as well as local gyms) offering prizes tailored to your passions, like ChallengeLoop's new yoga-wear-and-gear package, which will be given to one lucky participant of their #yogaeverydamnday challenge for the month of January.

But the cash that you pocket in your skinnier jeans may later go to a larger pair of denim, experts say, because this type of weight-loss program doesn't necessarily teach you how to maintain your loss.

“When you're accustomed to getting external rewards for a behavior—and in essence, tying your behavior to that reward—and then when those rewards cease to exist, it's difficult to sustain the behavior,” says Gregory Chertok, the director of sport psychology at Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation Center in New Jersey. A study from Obesity Review confirms it: Participants who used cash-driven plans to get slim were not able to keep the weight off a year or so later.

The good news, Chertok assures, is if you shift your attention just slightly, then this could possibly work. Here are three ways to cash in on weight loss and really hit the jackpot.

1. Screw the Scale. Sure, you've got to weigh in at some point to check on your progress, but that number is not the end goal. More than anything, you want to be able to step off that scale as a new person, not just looking like one. “Focus on behavioral changes, such as the process of losing weight rather than the outcome,” Chertok says. It'll be way easier to maintain your new weight if you've created real healthy habits that stick.

2. Use Your Network. There's nothing like family and friends who will smack that doughnut right outta your hand to help keep your waistline in check. You know they've got your back, so recruit them to hold you accountable and cheer you on. Better yet, invite them to take the challenge with you and win some fun prizes together! The mindset of not letting your teammates down will help drive you, even long after the challenge is over, Chertok says.

3. Dig Deep. While extra green in the bank is definitely appealing, it's not nearly as powerful a motivator as an incentive that hits closer to home: you. “Make it a personal choice to feel good, be healthier, enjoy life more, and get involved in fun activities,” Chertok says. “When we exercise for intrinsic reasons as opposed to extrinsic ones like looking good or fitting into a pair of jeans, we gain feelings of self-control and autonomy. We do it for us.”

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