January weight-loss challenge

UPDATE: check my progress via this link!

I want to lose four kilograms in January. I’m old enough to realise that midriff fat is not only unsightly but a health risk. I think I know the incentives that will make losing it a cinch.*

That’s not to say that losing 4 kilos is easy. But I have a three-pronged strategy that I believe will work on me.

1. Cash incentives. Humans hate losses more than they enjoy gains. I pledge to pay $500 in penalties if the 4kg is not lost by the morning of February 1. This is the concept behind the website stickk, set up by Yale Economics Professor Dean Karlan, which currently has $16 million of incentives pending. Enforceable contracts are powerful incentives.**

2. Writing down everything I eat, and its kilojoule content. I’ve done this before when I’ve wanted to lose weight. It works in two ways – I learn a lot about portion sizes, and what snacks are “bad value”; it also discourages me from eating something, because I know I will have to write it down and add it up at the end of the day.***

3. Transparency. I will create a separate page on this blog in which I will place a daily photo of my scales. Public enforcement alone can be insufficient, as News Limited economics editor Jessica Irvine so publicly proved at Dietonomics. The long-abandoned blog’s three weeks of sad posts stands as testimony to the difficulty of losing weight. But I think it will add to the power of the other two prongs

But that’s not all.

Just to ramp up the suspense, the donation I give if I fail will be to the Motoring Enthusiasts Party.  “Ugh!” I hear you say. “You are a sicko… Why would you want to donate to them?”

My response: “Precisely.”


The Motoring Enthusiasts could not be further from my affections. The thought of a slice of my recent redundancy payment going to them will be a strong motivator in case anyone opens a Haighs Dessert Block in front of me during January. The Motoring Enthusiasts will not see a cent. This is my pledge.

If you would like to get involved, please do so! Pledge a goal and an incentive and I can report your progress too. Doesn’t matter if you’ve missed the start of the month.

Weight Dec 31: 78.5kg

*Classic economic models of human behaviour do not make such a distinction between short-run and long-run incentives. Economics says if you are a bit overweight, that reveals a preference for being fat. Thomas the Think Engine adopts a more nuanced theory of human behaviour, including the possibility of hyperbolic discounting.

** This blog is run on these methods. As a self-manager, I know I want to post daily by 12.30pm. But my tendency is to procrastinate. So I must pay a $60 fine to my significant other if the blog is not updated by that time. Works a treat.

*** I’ve done this before when I’ve wanted to shed a few kilos, and I’ve learned a lot of very disappointing things about cheese.

EPILOGUE: I made it. See my progress at this link!

Published by


Thomas the Think Engine is the blog of a trained economist. It comes to you from Melbourne Australia.

11 thoughts on “January weight-loss challenge”

  1. But will you really give a donation to the motoring enthusiasts party if you fail?

    There has to be an economic theory that says its fine to break a contract if the sanctions for breaking the contract are less than the cost of compliance.


      1. Putting $500 in such wrong hands would be dreadful, but worth it in the cause of strengthening your own – you can do better with integrity than they can do with the money. I would say good luck, but with that kind of bargain I’ll just say make sure you damn well get it done :-P Love your thinking!


  2. Wow, a kilo a week is a big ask. Lots of luck. Look @ freedieting.com. You will need to consume less than 1700 calories a day to loose 1kg a week. Or do a lot of exercising.


  3. Good luck!

    If it looks like you might have to donate to AMEP to maintain your integrity we can talk about much you can safely dehydrate yourself to keep your integrity. It would be outside the spirit of the challenge but within the rules. Something to have in your back pocket!


  4. I was on a similar mission at the start of 2013. I’ve got 3 tips. First, portion control – we don’t need big serves of food to get through. Your stomach adjusts to smaller portions easily (within reason). Second, skip the beer – plenty of kilojoules in beer. Third (related to the second point), make water your drink of choice. In fact, if you’re hungry, drink some water first, then eat because it helps your stomach feel full. I’d be interested in the health effects of a possible donation to the Motorists Party – I suspect it could be an instance of an ‘overincentive’, leading to poor health outcomes from not eating at all! Good luck.


  5. Ditto what Adrian said. Weight loss is 70% food and 30% exercise and portion control (along with eating slowly) is the key. I would love to join you, but my goal is actually to put on 2 kg to reach 80 kg, something I’m less experienced with so I’m not going to put any financial incentives on it.

    Good luck on your quest.


    1. Hi Daniel, thanks heaps for your comment! Beeminder looks really cool. I think the advantage of my approach is there is a certain amount of social re-inforcement. Some of my friends probably don’t care if I pay $x to an internet company, but they are willing to leave me hungry if it keeps money out of the hands of a cause they dislike! It becomes a talking point too, and that also helps keep the project on the straight and narrow…


Leave a Comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s