‘Gamifying’ Weight Loss

Have you ever been on a diet, wanted to lost weight for an upcoming event, needed to feel good about the bikini for the summer vacation?  Weight loss has become a competition, a social network, as well as a gamified experience to get you to that goal. Competitions like “Biggest Loser” at work, workout communities like Cross Fit, Jenny Craig, and Weight Watchers are everywhere.

Gamification uses game play mechanics to applications that are not games and aims to encourage positive behavior through incentives.   One common trait found in games and typical of gamification is the implementation of gradual rewards to the user.  This reward-based model is typically referred to as the SAPS model:

Status | Access | Power | Stuff

Weight loss used to be a very individualized experience and relied on the person to set and monitor his or her own goals.  Now weight loss is a socially inspired and now “takes a village” to lose a few pounds.  Biggest Loser, a hit TV show, publicizes the weight loss journey of the contestants and uses a rigorous physical workout, specialized diet, emotional support, and periodic competitive challenges where the contestants get a reward that may help them get to the ultimate award as the “Biggest Loser” along with a cash incentive.  Gabe Zichermann, author of Game-Based Marketing in a recent article featured on NPR, says “What’s interesting about Biggest Loser and other gamified examples of weight loss is they hew to a model for user rewards that I call SAPS”..it turns out,” he says, “that cash isn’t that good of a reward. Status is a fantastic motivator for getting people to do stuff.”

This TV phenomenon has also created an off shoot of family and professional “Biggest Loser” competitions with periodic weigh-ins and competitive weekly announcements. These competitions mainly appeal to the Status aspect of SARS, but could also involve other monetary incentives.

Cross Fit is another interesting example of how weight loss has changed. Cross Fit is a crazy workout inspired by military drills and uses one program and scales for the person.  With Cross Fit, you are in competition with others group members as well as with yourself to meet and exceed your own goals.  With the support of the team, the trainee gets through the workout and aims to increase intensity.

Weight Watchers, recently voted #1 Weight loss plan by US News and World Report, has a that offers ways to monitor self-progress through charts and tools and set personalized goals.  There is also a community that offers users support to reach their goals.   The main way this service uses gamification is by following a point based system and ensuring the daily and weekly meals stay within this point based system.  The user “wins” when they stay within the point allowance and can meet their ultimate goal.

There is no doubt that weight loss has changed with the onset of newer technology.   It has become competitive with the integration of perfect strangers as well as setting goals and visualizing the outcomes with gamified tools.