It’s that time of year again… When the spirit of the season helps to add a few pounds and New Years’ resolutions step out of the shadows to rear their ugly heads. Since, according to the CDC, two-thirds of the US population are overweight and forty percent are obese, many people will consider losing some weight as a resolution. For ChallengeRunner, this is where many weight-loss challenges originate.
One of the unique properties of the ChallengeRunner system is the ability to create and manage fully-customized fitness challenges: from walking to nutrition. Among the first features added to the system in the early days was the ability to effectively process data for a weight-loss challenge. This meant taking an initial weigh-in and comparing subsequent weigh-ins to determine the loss (or gain) as a percentage. Now, it is a very simple process to create a weight-loss challenge using our platform; however, there is a lot more to creating an effective challenge than simply clicking a few buttons and inviting participants.
When setting up a weight-loss challenge there are several details that must be determined beforehand such as: how many weeks should the challenge last, do you show actual names or anonymous IDs, and whether to show weight-loss progress as a percent or total.
The duration of your weight-loss challenge is tricky: you want to allow enough time for participants to show significant progress but not too long so that participants begin to lose interest. While weight loss TV shows will extol participants losing 20 pounds in a week, for participants without specialized trainers and a medical staff on hand, this is very dangerous.
Safe weight loss attempts to create a caloric deficit (by exercising more and eating less) of between 500 and 1000 calories per day. Since there are roughly 3500 calories in a pound of fat, a 500 calorie deficit would burn off 1 pound of fat per week and 1000 calories would burn 2 pounds. At this rate it would take a few months to burn off a significant amount of fat. Therefore, I would recommend running the challenge a minimum of two months but not more than four. An alternative to running one long challenge would be to split the challenge into several smaller competitions of a month or two each. In this way, multiple participants could possibly win and it allows those who slip one month to come back and compete again in the next month’s challenge.
Another consideration is whether to show a participant’s actual name on the leaderboard as opposed to showing anonymous IDs. The ChallengeRunner system can be set to allow the current user to see their own name on the leaderboard but only see an ID for everyone else. Since weight loss is considerably more sensitive than say, a walking challenge, you may want to consider using anonymous IDs. This is particularly true with large challenges where participants may not know each other. Likewise, for small challenges with participants who are friendly / familiar with each other, it may be preferable to show actual names on the leaderboard.
You also need to determine whether to show percent of weight loss or total weight loss. In most cases, showing percent of weight loss is preferable since it is considered more fair by smaller participants who have less weight to lose. The best case you could make for showing total weight loss over percent is that it is somewhat easier to understand than using percentages and can be suitable if you are using teams with several participants in each to average out the smaller and larger participants. A compromise might be to use percent of weight loss to determine one winner and then use total weight loss to determine an additional winner.
One of the biggest hassles with a weight-loss challenge is the weigh-in. If the challenge is large, an official weigh-in where an admin weighs each participant can take a lot of time and is can be uncomfortable for the admin and participants. This is even more cumbersome with repeated weigh-ins.
An alternative to mandated weigh-in is to allow participants to self-report their weight and you could even have them submit an image of them standing on a scale. Obviously, this could be faked so, if you wanted to validate the data, a compromise would be to have one “official” weigh-in at the beginning of the challenge and then let participants self-report weight updates into the system afterwards. One way to mitigate cheating would be to tell everyone in the challenge that the winners would need a last weigh-in to corroborate their self-reported data.
There is no better example of “the challenge is its own reward” than a weight loss challenge. With a walking challenge, awards are almost expected. However, the winner of a weight-loss challenge should be pretty pleased with the weight loss. I generally recommend lesser awards for all challenges to reduce cheating and this is also true with a weight-loss challenge. Furthermore, I recommend relating the award (if any) to the purpose of the challenge and offer a gift card to a health food store, gym, or other nutrition-related service.
While less common in weight-loss than other types of challenges, using teams can be a very effective way to handle two of the common weight-loss challenge problems. To start, when using teams, the problem with self-entered data is muted because most participants will not exaggerate their results. A more serious issue with weight loss challenges is participation. Unlike walking that most do every day, weight-loss is not “natural” and the body will fight back to keep weight on. Having others motivate you in a weight loss challenge can be the difference between successfully reaching your goal and dropping out in week three.
These tips should start you on the right path to creating an effective weight-loss challenge and help your participants keep their New Year’s resolutions. More importantly, a well-designed challenge may support the participant’s weight-loss efforts even after the first few weeks of the year when resolutions typically fail!
For additional help planning your weight-loss competition, please see my earlier post on Weight-Loss Challenge TipsNext >>