Hey all. I’ve been experimenting with using Beeminder to lose weight (https://www.beeminder.com/sohum/weight) and had my first derailment in a while, which prompted me to write this up
We’ve all heard the issue with beeminding outcomes instead of actions. The problem I’ve had with any of the actions you could try to beemind related to weight loss is that either they’re a pain to track (calorie count) or gamable (bites). My psychology is such that if we’re keeping track of something only correlated with the result, I will find a way to game it. (It also bugs me that bite-tracking doesn’t motivate you towards exercise, and while of course full daily calorie tracking would be ideal that’s also so very.)
So what do you have to do to beemind the outcome? You have to make sure that the signals you’re getting from beeminder are a) accurate and b) in enough time for you to do something about them. That means you need to have a good amount of leeway to not get caught in variance (a) but also, for weight, that you start getting useful signals from beeminder months (b) before you actually derail.
My solution is to have a graph with an extremely gentle slope (-0.028kg/week, apparently), an automatic maximum safety buffer of ~5kg (180 days), and a 1kg lane width. That way, when I’m in weight loss mode, the yellow brick line dives down with me—not only acting as a good signal of doing something right, but also ensuring I get signals from beeminder when I slack off afterwards.
So when I do slack off, the gentle slope gives me a lot of time to notice naturally, then start getting blue/orange/red dots from beeminder. As you can see on the graph, there’ve been multiple occasions when that was enough signal in enough time to precipitate a readjustment, and on this derailment, I’ve had multiple months of warning that I haven’t been doing enough.
I think this is the sort of thing that justifies beeminding outcomes: you do actually get a real shock to your system when you screw up, and in a completely ungamable, verifiable way. I can’t pretend this is variance, because there’s months of data points leading here, and I can’t game the metric, because it is literally just my weight. I just simply haven’t been paying attention to my eating and exercise over the past couple of months, and beeminder stung me for it.