Using Committment Bonds to Lose Weight

(Last week, I wrote about “Lose It,” an iPhone app I recommend.  This week, I want to introduce you to a second weight loss tool.)

At the end of 2008, I decided that I needed to lose weight.  It was time.  Clothes were too tight and, as someone who had turned 42 just a few months earlier, I was starting to think about being around for my kids and grandkids, etc.

I had inner motivation to succeed, but I didn’t have any real “kicks in the butt,” such as an upcoming event or, thankfully, drastic health problems.  Through work, I was introduced to a web site called “” and became convinced that this site could offer the motivation that I needed.  In the end, it did. provides a mechanism through which people like you and me can make commitment bonds.  In a commitment bond, we agree to do something on a regular basis.  It might be exercising, walking the dog, reading to your kids or studying for the bar.  If we don’t live up to our commitment, then we agree to pay a certain amount of money. allows you to select your goals, the time frame, and your amount donated, and offers options for payment, be it to a charity or to another person against whom you are competing.

In my case, I agreed to a commitment bond ( calls them “contracts”) to lose one pound a week for 20 weeks.  If I didn’t stay on pace towards my goal, I would contribute $75 for each week I was behind.  When I weighed myself each Thursday, I updated my weight at the site, and my wife (the “referee”) validated the entry.

The notion of a commitment bond is based on a scientific concept called “loss aversion.”  Loss aversion is the fact that we feel the pain of loss more than we do the joy of a gain.  In terms of weight loss, loss aversion suggests that paying me $75 to lose a pound a week is a great incentive, but it isn’t as much of an incentive as taking away $75 if I don’t stay on pace.

Not convinced?  Think about it this way:

  • I start both diets even, no money gained, no money lost.
  • If I sign up for a reward program and decide to stray off plan, I’m really no worse off.  I never had the money in the first place.
  • If I sign up for a commitment bond and decide to stray off plan, I am worse off.  I’m out money.  I have greater motivation and incentive. has three other features that are intriguing.

  1. It offers basic community functionality.  This was important to me, because I told friends and relatives about my goals and encouraged them to sign up as a supporter.  Once they registered, they received emails telling them about my success or failure.  Who wants to fail in the eyes of friends and relatives?
  2. It allows donations to charities, but also to “anti-charities.”  If it’s more motivation, you can agree to donate, for example, to the Clinton Presidential Library or the Bush Presidential Library, one of which is likely an anti-charity for you.
  3. When you sign up for a commitment bond, you give your credit card number, so the money is automatically deducted when you fail to miss a goal.

There is no doubt that some payment programs work for people to lose weight.  And certainly commitment bonds at are based on honesty in reporting.  Cheating can, and does occur. But, if you take the commitment bond seriously, invite friends as online “supporters,” and sign up for a meaningful amount ($75 per week would hurt me), I think this is great motivation.

How did it work for me?  I lost 20 pound in 20 weeks with a total payout of $75.  Some days, I exercised morning and evening, just so I didn’t have to payout that money.