Article about this new trend of weight-loss wagering and what a scam it is

It’ll depend on the study of course, but unsurprisingly a holistic approach seems to be the most effective:

numerous studies… demonstrated only moderate success with various types of diet that focus on macronutrients: protein, fat or carbohydrates; but regardless of diet, without a lifestyle change, the weight comes back.

Conversely, several large and recent studies — such as the Finnish Diabetes Prevention Study and the China Da Qing Diabetes Prevention Study — found lower weight and lower incidence of diabetes among study participants many years after the study’s initial completion because the subjects were taught how to lose weight through lifestyle interventions.

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Started reading the article, stopped at the curious mention of a “weight wagering” movement. Googled the phrase, the first result is the article itself, the rest of the top results are PR of one of the mentioned apps. Something is fishy here :slight_smile:


Well, here’s my chart. :slight_smile:


For you folks who have aggressively beeminded your weight (@adamwolf, @apolyton, @dreev, anyone else), have you derailed a lot on that? What was (is) the experience like doing it?

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I don’t think I ever derailed, but I may have once or twice.

At the beginning, I had a lot of support goals. I started with a “only eat french fries x meals per week” goal. Heh. (I could set that rate to 10/yr now and still build buffer.)

The partner graph of weigh_days was essential. You can see my biggest slipup was a month or two in when I hit some milestone weight and had a big meal, and then skipped weighing in one day, and then it stretched to more and more days. I patched that issue up with weigh_days powered by IFTTT (which might not have existed when the goal was born…).


I’ve derailed plenty and it’s overall been drastically, wildly worth it. That’s because there’s no ambiguity that I’d be way overweight if not for Beeminder.

To clarify, I haven’t lost a lot of weight with Beeminder, just prevented my weight from going up without bound, as it has made very clear that it would otherwise do.

I’m very sympathetic to arguments that I could make food and exercise and lifestyle choices that would cause my weight to stay perfectly stable without thinking about it. If the things I do to stay on my Beeminder weight road were onerous enough, I’d prefer to make those choices. But the Beeminder weight graph is highly valuable regardless. I can make better life choices or better arrange my environment and make it easy-peasy to stay on my Beeminder weight road or I can skate the edge and do all the wacky things I do. But either way, not staying on it would be very bad and so it’s very valuable to have that graph. At worst your weight graph is a sanity check that just keeps you honest and ensures that all the other things you’re beeminding are in fact effective at maintaining a healthy weight. At best it’s what makes the difference weight-wise and literally saves your life.

Related question in another thread: Is it possible to maintain a healthy weight in a very unhealthy way?


Honest question: What do you mean by “weight loss” and “scam”?

I haven’t used beeminder to lose weight, but I have used a similar system: a moving-average weight plot (inspired by John Walker’s book, The Hacker's Diet), plus a weight target to get down to, then a weight floor and ceiling to stay within after losing the weight. In mid 2016 I lost 9 kg using the chart. My moving-average (4 day exponentially weighted) weight has been stable at the new lower weight to within a few kg since mid 2016, stable to within one kg since late 2017, and for the last few months I’ve been trying to keep it stable to within 0.5 kg (successfully so far).

All I do, pretty much, is eat slightly less if I’m above my target weight line (which has been the same weight the whole time) – it’s not all or nothing: I eat less the more above the line I am. The “eat more when below the line” part seems to take care of itself :wink: I don’t calorie count because that’s a pain and the chart works as a proxy for calorie intake. My waist measurement seems to track my weight quite closely, but with higher noise. That seems true over all that time period – I don’t measure my waist daily, except for a few weeks every so often to see if it still works the same way as it used to – which it does.

It’s slightly more complicated than that, but only because I’ve learned some intuition about what is real and what isn’t. For example I know pretty closely what weight I expect to be before I weigh, so I know if my raw (not moving average) weight plummets suddenly I’m probably dehydrated. If my raw weight is up significantly several days in a row, I don’t wait for the moving average to catch up before eating less, because I know that’s likely a real change.

Before I started using this system, I was around 10 kg overweight. So not massively overweight, and one caveat here is that recently I hear theories that the biggest you’ve ever been “stays with you” via your metabolism trying to drag you back to that weight by means of increased appetite – best to view that as a good reason to start now than as a reason to give up: Mr. Walker is an example of somebody who was considerably bigger than me for whom this has worked well over a long time period – though I believe he uses a slightly more complicated system involving calorie counting.

For the record – not a terribly important detail, but: by “4 day exponentially weighted moving average”, I mean, in python/pandas: weight = raw_weight.ewm(halflife=4).mean().weight


Presuming one doesn’t struggle with eating disorders, or a disordered relationships with one’s body or weight. (I expect @dreev figured that goes without saying! But I never avoid an opportunity to caveat, clarify, or just generally disclaim. :wink: )


My zoomed-out graph:
(Like Adam, I don’t usually keep it zoomed out, so I won’t bother with a link.)

I hover at about 10 to 15 lbs below starting during normal times. The upwards phases coincide with 3 unusually high-stress events/periods, and tracking made me realize that most of my upwards momentum is around these times, which turned out to be valuable info. It made me update my thinking to reflect the fact that, actually, I have little trouble maintaining during normal phases. (BUT, I tracked and am aware of my max one-day-to-the-next fluctuation and have my goal set up to respect that. If I didn’t, I’d be derailing all the time, whether I’m maintaining or not.)


Here’s my weight history. Two kids, born May 2007 and Feb 2009. That anomalous low point in mid 2006 was after an accident that resulted in having my jaw wired shut for a full month. My set point coming out of my teens into adulthood was around 64kgs. Maintenance got tooth and nail in my 33rd year.


Yeah, I hear a lot of theories like this and they all seem plausible though probably aren’t all true. I agree that the possibility of that theory being true is all the more reason to start now and not let your weight go any higher than it is right now today. Also, probably even if that theory is true your body’s memory is finite and persevering long enough will create a new set point and your body will eventually stop trying to thwart you.

I also recall from The Hacker’s Diet the author’s theory that people have multiple set points for their weight. Like stable attractors or something. You’ll fight tooth and nail to lose weight and then suddenly find it easy for a while when you hit a natural weight that your body likes.

The Hacker’s Diet gives a nice way to compute an exponentially weighted moving average by hand, but of course Beeminder also does that for you!

Thanks! A very important caveat/disclaimer to everything I’ve written here!

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Not as a number one can beemind though

Ah, this took me a while to figure out but I ended up concluding that you can’t/shouldn’t beemind the moving average. I wrote up my argument on the blog some years ago:

PS, You can also see in my graph that I gradually gained weight for a few years (2014-2017) – I was trying to avoid high-stakes beeminding of my weight (or just having high-stakes derailments – i wasn’t always exactly rational about this stuff!). For the last 3 years I’ve beeminded it with $90-$270 at stake and have gradually gotten most of the way back to my ideal weight. I kind of hate it but have to admit that I need to beemind it and that it’s been overall very worth it to beemind it.

PPS, On my zoomed-out graph it looks like steady weight loss in 2019 but it’s so gradual (typically 0.1kg/week or less) that it’s not much different than maintaining. That’s generally what we recommend, weight-wise. Focus mostly on not going up and take plenty of breaks where you make your yellow brick road flat.


Listening to the Hidden Brain podcast that narthur posted recently, I recalled that in fact this really isn’t AT ALL “all I do” – it’s the end result, but that’s not the mechanism. Here are some things that come to mind, there are probably more:

  • Overall: will come as no surprise to people here, but I’m relying on a lot of tricks, not so much on willpower
  • I forgive myself when I do occasionally go out of my limits, but when I’m outside the range, I do treat it seriously, so they quickly come back into range.
  • Expanding on that; when I say “within 1 kg”, I don’t mean that every single day is strictly within that range. There are a few points out of range over a period of months and years – but not many, and again when it happens I take it seriously.
  • The experience while actively losing a significant amount of weight (rather than weight maintenance involving short periods of a week or two of weight loss) of seeing the very predictable impact on the moving average over time of eating less gives you a very motivating sense of control. I say “motivating” glibly, but I’m not sure I fully understand exactly why this is so helpful. Not to be underestimated I think. Walker’s book explains this very well: you may understand this idea intellectually, but it’s worth reading his book to motivate yourself.
  • Expanding on that: I find that knowing that you can get back to the right weight within a week or two makes sticking to eating less for a time much easier. You know at the end of that week or two, you’ll be able to eat what you like and still be doing fine on weight. So the smaller the weight range you pick, the easier it is to stick to, in this sense.
  • I am still somewhat obsessed with looking at the chart every day. I enter my weight and then find myself sometimes staring for minutes at the chart, thinking how many days until my weight is exactly what I want it to be. I think this is a good thing since it still seems to help keep me in line.
  • I weigh myself every day, that helps a lot with the statistics of the moving average, and of course with keeping up the habit of weighing at all, and with having it in your mind that you’re trying to keep strictly to some limits.
  • When I need to eat less, I congratulate myself on having denied myself things. I pick stuff up, think “am I doing this or not?” then put it back on the shelf, and mentally congratulate myself.
  • When I need to eat less, I often stick to exactly the same meals that have worked over time previously: for example I often make salad in basically the same way (though it always has a lot of different ingredients, and they vary depending on what I have, but the routine of making it is very familiar), I eat porridge in the morning with the same amount of skimmed milk in it, I skip lunch sometimes etc. This seems to help because then I know when to stop: it’s when I ate the same as I did on the other days when things were going OK on the weight chart. Knowing that also helps with the effort of stopping eating at the end of the day: you just become familiar with the idea that that’s that for today, and less often have to exercise willpower to stick to that.
  • The rule is clear: the chart has literal (horizontal) red lines showing the weight range I have to stay within.
  • When I was actively losing weight, and then later when I’d tend to yoyo inside the weight range I set myself and was heading down again, I had a cupboard where I put stuff that I could eat when I hit my target. (That was useful at the time, but I’ve mostly weaned myself off that now)
  • Sometimes when I feel the need to stuff something into my face, I make popcorn (no sugar). Incidentally, I’ve also used that as a reward to do just when starting a stint on another habit that I’m aversive to.
  • At some point years ago, I noticed that the same “putting stuff in your face” habit was transferrable from whatever bad stuff I was eating at the time to things like lettuce leaves, and I found that to satisfy the habit surprisingly well. (this reminds me of the stale popcorn experiment from the podcast)

One thing I wonder about with my approach is how healthy my pattern of gaining and losing weight within the range I’ve set myself is. For a few years it’s been to some extent a bit “yoyoing” – but within a smallish (1 kg) range. That’s one reason I’m trying to smooth it out and reduce the range recently (the other is I don’t want to ever have to wait a long time before I can say “sod it, today I’m eating what I like”). But since I don’t know a good explanation why “weight yoyoing” is bad, I really don’t know whether what I do counts as that or not. I think that’s a problem with the emphasis in recent decades on “evidence-based medicine”: Popper told us science isn’t really based on evidence at all, but rather corrected by it. Maybe somebody here knows more about why weight yoyoing is bad?


Here’s mine.

Holiday seasons are always rough, and the first 20 pounds were easy. As I get older it gets so, so much harder to maintain, even with regular exercise and drinking plenty of water. I do think that by this point, though, I can count this as another success for weight loss with Beeminder.


Impressive stuff, @adamwolf !

I’m one of those people that people like you will always hate, in that I really don’t seem to change weight very much (up or down), regardless of what I’m doing. (e.g a year of hard gym work - weight up about 4kg; sick and on chemo for 6 months - down about 1kg.)

I’ve seen lots of possible explanations for this sort of thing, but the one that appeals most is about “NEAT”, or non-exercise activity thermogenesis. Basically the amount of energy you expend just doing day-to-day activity, getting up, walking about, fidgeting, and so on. Lots of interesting papers out there. I think step counters are a prompt to increase NEAT, if they work.


Don’t really have too much to add, but the notion of weight loss being a scam seems so potentially disempowering it dragged me in.

The post that resonates the most with me is @halfplane’s. That’s pretty much how I approach my own health. Weight control has been like learning to drive a stick shift, at some point I had to think about everything, but at this point it is autopilot and consumes next to no emotional energy.

In addition to worrying about keeping my weight down, I have mirror strategies for keeping my muscle mass and strength up. Basically, the further I get away from what I consider acceptable the more psychological pressure manifests to get back in line. I’m pretty intentional about what I choose to believe such that I get that psychological pressure for free. Furthermore, the pressure is pretty healthy because I maintain corresponding beliefs that “I have total control.” If I thought it was out of my control then the pressure would probably send me into some nervous meltdown. I can’t think of anything worse than “you must but you can’t” and I have tremendous empathy for the people who feel that way about weight. I know I have felt that way about other goals and the amount of distress I felt until I could shed that was …oppressive…these are areas I still am struggling to find success in, but the process is at least much happier now.

I remember hearing a one liner about a large observational study (maybe Framingham on heart disease?) where the takeaway was that the biggest predictor of whether someone would gain weight was whether their closest friends were overweight. Given that my entire strategy revolves around a natural emotional pressure this takeaway makes sense to me. I rely on my beliefs and being surrounded by people that think like me reinforces that. The background radiation from my environment keeps telling me it’s true, which creates a self fulfilling prophecy.

From my neck of the woods and friends circle I’ve also seen plenty of success. Closest to home, my girlfriend gained 25 pounds after surgery. She lost it at about 10 pounds per year and is in phenomenal shape now.

Here’s my own graph just for fun. You’ll see it basically just pingpongs within a range of about 10-15 pounds which is what you’d expect given the psychological pressure I mentioned above. Again, I never stress out about any of this because I believe it’s in my control so it’s just a problem to solve like any other.

Here is my girlfriend’s although this misses out on the first 10 pounds she lost because she didn’t start using my wireless scale until well into the process.


Could you expand on that? It sounds interesting and I think I partly understand what you mean, but I think only partially, and I also wonder what the ramifications of it are for you in terms of how you apply it and what effects it has?

Is this an idea you base in part on ideas you’ve got from other people?

Sure, happy to expand. In a nutshell, I think it’s about manipulating what your standards are. It’s really hard to excel at something unless you yourself believe that it not only is incredibly important, but an absolute must. Does it really matter if you wake up early? Does it really matter if you get a promotion? Does it really matter if you do that extra pomodoro? Does it really matter if you’re 10% bodyfat? I’d argue the results you get and your behavior are pretty much the result of how you answer questions like this.

The areas I invariably have the hardest time with are the ones where I can’t convince myself that it truly is a better use of my efforts than something else. I used to work in finance and everyone around me was working 80 hour weeks chasing a huge paycheck. I just couldn’t bring myself to think that was a good trade off so eventually I left.

On the other hand, I have been able to convince myself that some objectively silly things are important. I don’t think you need to be ripped to be happy, but I’ve got it in my head that I should basically be around 10% bodyfat no matter what. I’ve also purposefully artificially conflated my achievement here with other areas. I use it for a general ego boost by saying “hey, you should feel good because something that is tough for other people comes easily for you.” The desire to maintan that creates lots of pressure to stay on the path. Conversely, “if you can’t even motivate yourself to go for a quick workout your entire life is going to fall apart because nothing other than fitness has as direct a link between input and results” hits on the pain side.

Granted, I would never be so hard on myself if I didn’t already believe this was all under my control. Otherwise that’s just a recipe for destroying someone’s mental health. Before I sound like some iron willed badass (if I had a genie this would be my wish), I should also mention that I do very little as the core of my fitness strategy. I intermittent fast (minimal effort once you’re used to it), I lift weights 3-6x week for 10 minutes, and do HIIT cardio 2-4x/week for 10 minutes. While I am addicted to sweets and have eaten entire gallons of ice cream in one sitting, I’ve got a weird quirk where I refuse to spend money on something that poisons me so there’s rarely unhealthy food around. I am purposefully optimizing for the long run and making adherence as easy as possible.

So how do you change your beliefs in an area? In the past on separate topics I’ve done ridiculous things like actually subject myself to multi hour brainwashing sessions over the course of a week(it worked), but if you’re not a total weirdo there is one way that generally is successful and easier than the others.

My advice to myself and others who are contemplating a belief shift is that they need to befriend a peer group that is already excelling. There’s an incredible shift that happens when you get close to someone. You invariably end up giving them some power over your values. As a result, the disparity in your attainment is going to cause tension such that either A) you convince them to lower their standards B) you raise yours or C) you can’t take it anymore and you leave.

For whatever reason, I’ve just done a really good job of hammering these beliefs into my head. I had a few significant events early on where I got lots of reinforcement for initial success. I’ve also got plenty of people in my life who care about the same thing so it would be tough for me to drift since I’d be called out quickly. Eventually this particular area just worked its way into part of my identity.

At this point, you’d have to pry my fitness out of my cold dead hands. It’s why while I graph on beeminder, I don’t bother setting any type of pledge on it because it’s just not necessary. Money is a great way to convince me something is important. It’s a mental hack that something is a “must.” But in this case my beliefs have that covered in spades.