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steep grade road sign

I’ve been thinking about beeminding weight loss a lot lately and the thing is, beeminding weight loss sucks! But not any more than losing weight in general sucks.

Even for people who really like the whole commitment device craziness, Beeminder sometimes feels aversive. I believe that happens when you don’t feel like you are fully in control of whether or not you derail. For weight loss you rarely come to a clear decision point where you are choosing between paying your pledge and being on your yellow brick road. Instead it is a constant stream of little decisions. “Is it worth $90 to eat this second helping? No, but maybe I can get away with it….”

As Yehuda Katz put it, for most Beeminder goals an eep day has a one-day fix. Some concrete task you can do in less than 24 hours that will put you back into safety. I am beeminding my reading, and if I’ve hit an eep day, I know what I have to do to get back on the road: read 74 pages. [1]

“Will peeing put me under the line?”

But when you are beeminding weight it’s not always clear what it will take. Will peeing put me under the line? Will a 20 minute walk before breakfast do it? Will it take an entire day of fasting? If you’ve never fasted before that might be a terrifying prospect — and it’s not even safe for everyone. [2]

When you are not in control, Beeminder can feel punitive or even antagonistic. Though I contend it’s no worse than not using Beeminder to lose weight. The things you need to do to successfully beemind your weight are all things you would do to lose weight regardless of whether or not you are entering those weights on Beeminder.

Put another way, in order to successfully beemind your weight, you need to actually lose weight. So let Beeminder be your safety net. At the very least set up a Beeminder road that stays perfectly flat from your current weight and commit to not gaining weight from here on out.

Finally, doing the following things will help you stay on your road, and lose weight in the long run.

1. Be realistic

If you set your road too steep, you are going to derail. Our Resident Fitness Expert, Melanie, recommends a maximum rate of 1% of your body weight per week. For example, if you are starting at 250 pounds then you could safely lose up to 2.5 pounds per week to begin with. Note that 1% is extremely difficult to maintain for an extended period of time and requires constant vigilance and likely feeling hungry most of the time. Smaller, incremental changes to your lifestyle are more likely to be maintainable over the long run.

2. Weigh in every day

For real. First thing in the morning after you’ve used the bathroom, to minimize variance. We devoted an entire post to this once, so I’ll leave it at that.

3. Have a backup plan for an eep day

For example: “If I am ever in the red on my weight road, then at lunchtime I will eat a carrot and go for a walk.” Take a minute to think through your morning routine and imagine what you’d be willing and able to do if you weighed in and your dot was red. Then say it out loud, or write it down in if-then format. [3]

Our esteemed cofounder, Danny, once told the story of weighing in 0.75 kg above his weight road and how he proceeded to spend an hour and a half doing burpees and weighted pushups and running in circles around the block until he was back on. [4] In other words, he did some exercise. Fancy that! Exactly what he should have been doing to lose weight in the first place.

4. Keep an eye on the purple moving average line

If your weight is on the yellow brick road, then yes, you’re probably on track toward your goal, but the road is pretty wide to accomodate the variance in your data, and sometimes it can be hard to see the forest for the trees. The purple moving average line is nice for checking your trend. If your weight today is above the moving average you’re pulling it up; if your weight is below you’re pulling it down. If you are trying to lose weight you want your datapoints mostly below the moving average line.

Corollary to 4: If the moving average is on a collision course with the centerline of your yellow brick road, your road is probably too steep.

5. Beemind related goals

Finally, beemind other things that contribute to weight loss and are under your direct control. Even if you can’t get yourself into a non-antagonistic mindset over the money pledged on a weight loss goal, you can still use Beeminder to help you lose weight. Commit to getting 60 minutes of exercise a week. Walking every day. Less eating out. Eating vegetables. Intermittent fasting twice a week. These things will start to contribute to some weight loss. And maybe, if we are really lucky, maybe you can fall in love with Beeminder and we will eventually get our meat-hooks into your weight loss roads again (tiny muahaha).



[1] Technically 74 Kindle locations, so it is not nearly as daunting as that might sound.

[2] I recommend doing your own research to decide if fasting sounds like a useful tool to add to your arsenal. Here are a couple places to start, both of which give citations for the studies they are basing their opinions on: Mark’s Daily Apple and Paleo for Women.

[3] This might sound silly, but it’s a neat hack referred to as implementation intention and developed by psychologists in the late 90s. It boosts the effect your intentions have on your behavior (which is normally little to none).

[4] This is what Danny’s Beeminder data looked like for the 1.5 hours that he scrambled to get back on his road for his weight loss emergency day:

    24 72    "auto-entered from withings scale at 09:40"
    24 72.05 "auto-entered from withings scale at 09:52"
    24 72.05 "auto-entered from withings scale at 09:55"
    24 71.85 "auto-entered from withings scale at 10:15"
    24 71.85 "auto-entered from withings scale at 10:21"
    24 71.95 "auto-entered from withings scale at 10:27"
    24 71.75 "auto-entered from withings scale at 10:32"
    24 71.85 "auto-entered from withings scale at 10:33"
    24 71.9  "auto-entered from withings scale at 10:37"
    24 71.9  "auto-entered from withings scale at 10:40"
    24 71.85 "auto-entered from withings scale at 10:42"
    24 71.65 "auto-entered from withings scale at 10:47"
    24 71.4  "auto-entered from withings scale at 10:54"
    24 71.55 "auto-entered from withings scale at 10:56"
    24 71.4  "auto-entered from withings scale at 11:00"
    24 71.55 "auto-entered from withings scale at 11:03"
    24 71.5  "auto-entered from withings scale at 11:05"
    24 71.25 "auto-entered from withings scale at 11:09"