Hard Commitments for Weight Loss

Course excerpt from Behavioral Strategies for Weight Loss

Hard Commitments for Weight LossHard commitments are the reason we don’t speed, steal from the store, or cheat on our taxes – because we’d rather not pay the fine. And hard commitments do shape behavior. Smokers smoke less when hit with a hefty tax on cigarettes. People do drive slower in school zones when the price of a speeding ticket is doubled. And if you have to blow into a breathalyzer to start your car – a very common DUI penalty – you are lot less likely to drive drunk.

So the question is: which commitment works better? Asking just this question, RAND Corporation tested both hard and soft commitments on participants’ savings behavior, and came to this conclusion:

“Hard commitment accounts may not appeal to impatient individuals, those who do not anticipate their own self-control problems, or to the poor for whom restrictions on scarce funds can be particularly painful. We test a new ‘soft’ commitment account that asks borrowers to think about their savings goals, how it would feel to achieve them, and make a pledge to work towards these goals (potentially increasing one’s intrinsic motivation), yet has no external restrictions on savings behavior. In a six-month randomized savings experiment we find that such soft commitments can significantly increase amounts saved on day one relative to either a hard commitment account (with external restrictions on withdrawals) or a traditional savings account. Additionally, the soft commitments significantly increased final savings balances relative to no form of commitment and were particularly effective for impatient individuals. However, despite the inherent illiquidity, the hard commitment account proved most effective in building savings balances amongst our participants at the end of six months” (Burke, et al., 2014).

Hard commitments may not appeal to those who don’t anticipate their own self-control problems. If there is anything we should know about weight loss, it is that it is precisely a problem that catches our self-control off guard. We simply don’t anticipate that the juicy burger will be that much harder to resist when it is right in front of us, or that going for a run will not feel as good when we are doing it versus when we think about doing it, or that the minute we start to doubt our ability to reach our weight loss goal we will convince ourselves that a bowl of ice cream after dinner won’t really matter much. And because we don’t anticipate the way our self-control will be affected, we probably also don’t anticipate just how much self-control we will need – or the type of commitment that motivates it.

An article titled, “Put Your Money Where Your Butt Is,” found similar conclusions. Smokers were offered the incentive to open a saving account with the express purpose of giving themselves an incentive to quit. Six months after opening the account, smokers were required to take a urine test for tobacco. If the test showed positive for tobacco – indicating that they had been unable to quit – smokers lost the balance in their savings account. While the contract was taken up by only 11 percent of the participants to which it was offered, those who did participate had significantly better smoking cessation rates than the control group, and the results held up in a twelve-month follow up (six months after participants were allowed to withdraw their money) (Gine, et al., 2010). In an annual review of commitment devices, which included examination of hard and soft commitments, researchers concluded, “We suggest that a hard commitment would decrease enrollment, but increase retention” (Bryan, Karlan, & Nelson, 2010).

The takeaway is that what looks easy in weight loss is not. The easy option is to not put your money – or anything else – on the line. And yet what studies like the one above underscore is that when it comes to weight loss, we need all the leverage on ourselves that we can get.

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Behavioral Strategies for Weight LossBehavioral Strategies for Weight Loss is a 2-hour online continuing education (CE) course that exposes the many thought errors that confound the problem of weight loss and demonstrates how when we use behavioral strategies – known as commitment devices – we change the game of weight loss. While obesity is arguably the largest health problem our nation faces today, it is not a problem that is exclusive to those who suffer weight gain. For therapists and counselors who work with those who wish to lose weight, there is ample information about diet and exercise; however, one very large problem remains. How do therapists get their clients to use this information? Packed with exercises therapists can use with their clients to increase self-control, resist impulses, improve decision making and harness accountability, this course will not just provide therapists with the tools they need to help their clients change the way they think about weight loss, but ultimately, the outcome they arrive at. Course #21-13 | 2016 | 31 pages | 15 posttest questions

This online course provides instant access to the course materials (PDF download) and CE test. After enrolling, click on My Account and scroll down to My Active Courses. From here you’ll see links to download/print the course materials and take the CE test (you can print the test to mark your answers on it while reading the course document). Successful completion of the online CE test (80% required to pass, 3 chances to take) and course evaluation are required to earn a certificate of completion.

Professional Development Resources is approved to sponsor continuing education by the American Psychological Association (APA); the National Board of Certified Counselors (NBCC ACEP #5590); the Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB Provider #1046, ACE Program); the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA Provider #3159); the Commission on Dietetic Registration (CDR Provider #PR001); the Alabama State Board of Occupational Therapy; the Florida Boards of Social Work, Mental Health Counseling and Marriage and Family Therapy (#BAP346), Psychology & School Psychology (#50-1635), Dietetics & Nutrition (#50-1635), and Occupational Therapy Practice (#34); the Ohio Counselor, Social Worker & MFT Board (#RCST100501); the South Carolina Board of Professional Counselors & MFTs (#193); and the Texas Board of Examiners of Marriage & Family Therapists (#114) and State Board of Social Worker Examiners (#5678).