4 Proven Weight Loss Tips From Behavioral Economics

In the world of business research, many scholars are increasingly hinging their hypotheses on sociological and psychological experiments, seeking a true handle on what motivates executives, employees, consumers, and policymakers.  While the goal is generally to help businesses run more effectively, the research often leads to findings that are useful to our everyday lives, too.  For instance, the following experimental studies imply several simple weight-loss tips.

TIP #1 Put your money where your mouth is.   Leslie John, now an assistant professor at Harvard Business School, led an experiment at Carnegie Mellon in which subjects essentially went double-or-nothing on a diet bet.  A group of obese hospital patients agreed to a deposit contract, banking a small amount of their own money into a pot each day during a 32-week weight-loss trial.  The research team agreed to match the deposits dollar-for-dollar; the patients were allowed to deposit up to $3 per day.

If participants reached their weight loss goal by the end of the trial, they got to keep the money, thus doubling their deposits.  But if they failed to reach the goal, they lost all the cash.  Meanwhile, a control group of participants entered a weight loss program with no financial incentives.

The researchers found that the financial incentive group lost significantly more weight in 32 weeks than did the control group.  (Unfortunately, much of the weight came back after the eight-month trial was over.)

For a detailed account of the experiment, read Financial Incentives for Extended Weight Loss: A Randomized, Controlled Trial[1], published in the June 2011 edition of Journal of General Internal Medicine.

TIP #2 Fill your backpack with rocks.  A research team from Harvard and the University of Central Florida tested the theory that the physical feeling of weight is associated with the emotional feeling of guilt.

The researchers asked 67 college undergraduates to complete a series of tasks that involved recalling past guilt-inducing behavior, confronting an opportunity to cheat, and choosing whether to eat a piece of chocolate or an organic fruit strip.  The catch:  half the students went through the experimental session wearing 15-pound backpacks, while the other half wore 5-pound backpacks.

The results showed that participants wearing a heavy backpack indeed experienced higher levels of guilt than the light backpack wearers.  More importantly, the backpacks affected behavior. Those wearing a heavy backpack were more likely to choose healthy snacks over potentially guilt-inducing fattening ones.

For a detailed account of the experiment, see The Burden of Guilt: Heavy Backpacks, Light Snacks, and Enhanced Morality[2] by Harvard Business School Associate Professor Francesca Gino, Maryam Kouchaki (Harvards Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics), and Ata Jami (the University of Central Florida).  The article will be published in an upcoming issue of Journal of Experimental Psychology.

TIP #3   Adopt the body language of a CEO for a minute or two. Harvard Business School Associate Professor Amy Cuddy joined researchers from Columbia University to test how body language affects body chemistry.  Specifically, they wanted to suss out the beneficial effects of so-called power poses adopting various stances that make people look confident even if theyre not feeling confident.

Writer Julia Hanna described the experiment in an HBS Working Knowledge article[3]:

Cuddy and coauthors Dana R. Carney and Andy J. Yap of Columbia University detail the results of an experiment in which forty-two male and female participants were randomly assigned to a high- or low-power pose group. No one was told what the study was about; instead, each participant believed it was related to the placement of ECG electrodes above and below his or her heart.

Subjects in the high-power group were manipulated into two expansive poses for one minute each: first, the classic feet on desk, hands behind head; then, standing and leaning on ones hands over a desk. Those in the low-power group were posed for the time period in two restrictive poses: sitting in a chair with arms held close and hands folded, and standing with arms and legs crossed tightly. Saliva samples taken before and after the posing measured testosterone and cortisol levels.

Medical studies suggest that a high level of cortisol, known as the stress hormone, leads to an excess of abdominal fat so lowering cortisol levels is a good thing.  Sure enough, Cuddy and her team found that high-power poses increased testosterone levels by about 19 percent and decreased cortisol levels by some 25 percent, for both men and women.  (Low-power poses, on the other hand, decreased testosterone and increased cortisol levels.)


  1. ^ Financial Incentives for Extended Weight Loss: A Randomized, Controlled Trial (www.hbs.edu)
  2. ^ The Burden of Guilt: Heavy Backpacks, Light Snacks, and Enhanced Morality (www.hbs.edu)
  3. ^ HBS Working Knowledge article (hbswk.hbs.edu)

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  1. Reply

    Does Anyone Know The Top Secret Fat Loss Secret Who Would Be Willing To Share It With An Overweight Teenager? I am a 15 year old, overweight girl. I hate it when people make fun of me because of my weight – it is so embarassing! I would like to know the top secret fat loss secret from someone who is willing to share it with me. I can’t afford to buy the book, or else I would. I’m desperate. Any help will be greatly appreciated. Any fat loss tips, too.


      • HealthNut
      • January 31, 2013

      Go wheat free. No pasta, pizza, bread and so on. And no food after 7 p.m.
      I know a woman who lost 60 pounds a month on it. She did nothing else!
      and as for your book – go to a bookstore and browse it. Or go to amazon.com, find it and then click “search inside this book” – you will be able to read an extract.

  2. Reply

    How Do I Get In Shape Over The Summer? I weigh 130 plus pounds and I’m 13 years old. But the 130 pounds is mostly fat. By fall when school starts again, I want to have lost some fat and gained some muscle. Every day I play DDR (Dance Dance Revolution) on difficult, and it is difficult, I sweat my butt off every time. I also go to the pool and swim 24 laps every other day. But I haven’t seen any results. Should I keep doing what I’m doing, or should I add something on? Please give me some fat loss tips, thanks!

      • HealthNut
      • January 31, 2013

      First of all…good for you for working out and taking charge of your health. I am sure you are a beautiful person.
      How’s your diet?
      Are you eating enough protein? Are you eating a lot of empty carbs like pastries….? How’s your sugar intake?
      Sometimes the scale doesn’t change but our bodies do. Try taking measurements. I had lost 13 inches off of my body….but only 10 lbs on the scale.
      Keep in mind that muscle weighs more than fat.
      Keep a food journal – it will hold you accountable. Look up online how many calories you should eat based on your age, height, weight, and activity level.
      Hope this helps sweetie and best wishes.

  3. Reply

    What Should I Be Careful About When Buying Fat Loss Supplements? I am going to start going to the gym after a year of absence, and I want to lose the weight I gained fast. I’ll buy supplements like proteins, vitamins etc. I’ll also buy fat loss supplements, but as I’ve never bought these before, I don’t know which ones to get.

      • HealthNut
      • January 31, 2013

      You got it right, avoid the supplements with ephedra and other stimulants such as caffein. If you are looking for the best way to loose weight, check out this blog


      Here you can learn the secrets how to loss fat permanently

      Hope this help,

  4. Reply

    What Is Are Some Of Your Favorite Weight Loss Tips? What are some of your most succesfull weight loss tips?? I have my few that I live by, but I am looking for some tips on cutting down. Please only share different/ unique tips.
    I know about all the common ones…. lots of water lots of rest six small meals etc.

    thank you so much in advance!

      • HealthNut
      • January 31, 2013

      Hi CollegeGirl

      In my opinion, no weight loss tips are truly successful on their own. Lots of water is not necessarily a good way, because how much water a person needs depends on the BMI of the person. 6 small meals maybe hard at times, especially when you are stuck at school or office and have no chance to eat, and then you need to eat more when you have the chance. Well, dieting is a good way to lose weight, but then it is hard to stick to a diet. For example, something like this:

      2 egg, low fat Cheddar cheese omelette – 320 calories
      2 slices wholemeal toast with thin smear butter – 200 calories
      Large slice melon – 47 calories

      Spicy Turkey Salad recipe – 304 calories

      Muesli or honey nut Health Bar “Sainsbury” – 180 calories

      Baked potato with 100g “Heinz” baked beans &/or Cottage cheese if desired – 300 – 400 calories (350 average)
      Large helping salad fruits &/or vegetables – 100 calories

      Another weight loss tip is to do interval and turbulence exercise.

      Turbulence Training is a fresh plan that requires finishing three 45-minute exercise sessions each week with marginal equipment. It is an increasingly trend-setting fitness plan with the intention of helping you in the reduction of weight.

      Interval training is the fitness world’s equivalent of a visit to the in-laws. The shorter and more intense the visit, the better. An interval is a short period of exercise performed at a given intensity for a specific length of time. Each interval is separated from the next interval by a short rest or lighter activity. There are no strict rules on how long or how intense the interval must be, however, changing the interval length or intensity changes the way your body works and responds to exercise.

      But people have a short willpower. It may be strong at the beginning but will eventually fade as time goes on- as they realize that going on a diet is not actually as easy as they think it is. Of course, the strength of willpower differs from one person to another. This is the reason why there are people who can actually maintain a diet and exercise program for 1 year and there are people who can only maintain it for few months. Nonetheless, willpower is a big factor that dictates someone whether to continue losing weight or not.

      And in my opinion, besides sticking to a diet and exercise plan, it is the ultimate willpower to stop yourself from overeating that is the #1 tip to lose weight. But that is the hardest part if you are accustomed to eating lots of food even though your body does not need it. It is partly because of the delicious taste of the food causing a craving for more. There are certain ways to fight this craving ad I found one that maybe helpful. It is a type of chocolate that can actually suppress your appetite. It will can provide Good Energy that promotes a healthy weight by providing energy while burning fat. And it helps suppress cravings for sugary snacks.

      Good luck!

      PS: Information on the Special Chocolate that I mentioned can be found on the website in the source box. Recently, they are giving away a one month free trial.

  5. Reply

    How Should I Train For Cross Country Running And Loose Weight?? I am overweight and want to start cross country in fall (end of august/ begining of sept. so 4-5 months) I can’t run for more than 300-600 feet at a time and need to build up to the 3 mile (5K). I need training tips and weight-loss/ fat loss tips. Any help is appriciated!!!!
    Dani, I know you answered my other question. I was trying to get a variety of answers.

      • HealthNut
      • January 31, 2013

      The best thing would be to start jogging now. Start at a managable pace and go for as long as you can. You just have to build up to it. When I started running I could only do a mile, after a while of doing that and gradually adding more distance, I got up to 4 miles. As far as weightloss – cardio is the best way, so stick to the running. Try a stationary bike if you can’t get outside much, but cycling on a stationary and running are completely different, so you definitely want to train with running.

  6. Reply

    I Am 5foot 11 Inches Tall And Weight 230lb. Can Any Body Give Me Some Weight Loss Tips Or Diets? Hi. I am a 15 year old kid, who is 5’11, 230lb. And I need some weight loss tips before school starts. I work out alot. I play high school football, and competitive baseball in the summer. During football I lose all of my weight, but after that I gain all of my weight for baseball season. Please HELP!!! What can I do?

      • HealthNut
      • January 31, 2013

      No fats , no sugars and no junk food plus all the exercise you can manage ,

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