Skip to main content

Sticking to the plan

Today marks 3 weeks since Mike and I “went off the deep end” – out of the blue, we decided to try “the keto diet.” In some ways, it’s just one among many fad diets, like paleo or 5:2. But, it also provides enough science (well, probably pseudo-science) to make sense to the skeptics like us. Neither of us has ever been on a strict diet before, as we truly are food-obsessed bon vivants.   Yet somehow, for some crazy reason, keto got us to stick to the plan.  Maybe it’s the meticulous record-keeping or the competition with oneself to stay within the allotted 20 grams of net carbs a day? These are certainly both features that appeal to our Type A personalities and therefore got us through the first oh-so-miserable few days.  But I think that in the longer run it was something else.  For me, it has to do with loss aversion – the very human trait that describes an individual’s desire to avoid losing.  Loss aversion is associated with a related behavioral phenomenon known as the sunk cost bias.  In my case, every time I decide what I will eat next, I think about the 3 weeks of accumulated “good behavior” of sticking to the diet. It makes me feel like that time would be wasted, were I to succumb to temptation. (Oh, how I miss you, strawberries!)  

This experience reminds me of a very well-written blog post by my two excellent students from Fall 2016: Monica Reno and Silpa Karipineni.  It gives a really interesting perspective on how to use incentives to stick to the plan.

Last semester, I downloaded an application called Pact on my phone. The app was designed to help people set and meet health goals in fitness and nutrition. Each week you set a goal for a certain number of days to complete a given action, and at the end you are paid if you reach your goal. You also set a penalty of at least $5 per day for each day that you did not successfully complete a task. For example, one of the pacts you can make is going to the gym say 5 times a week. The days are not set, but if you reach Sunday and only went to the gym 4 times you would lose 5 real dollars as the app is connected to your bank account or PayPal. If you do successfully complete your Pacts, the company actually pays you money, albeit less. On average, I made $3.00 each week for working out, eating fruits and vegetables, and logging food journals.
To verify fitness completion, the app would track GPS location for checking into gyms (although it also completes the task if you walk more 10,000 steps a day as indicated by your phone or 3rd party application). For fruits and vegetables, you have to take pictures of them on your plate or on a fork, and then other Pact community members voted on whether they believed the picture showed a real fruit or vegetable as an appropriate serving. This provides another level of accounting because you are now also being held verified by other people across the world.
Furthermore, the money you get each week is variable and depends on the success of others. If I defaulted on my Pact by missing a day, I lost $5, but more than that I knew those $5 were going towards paying people who had completed their Pacts. I wanted to be the person getting money from the community and not losing my money to help other people I did not know. I successfully completed my pact every week that I used the app (which was about 6 months) until I started to procrastinate my workouts. If I had 5 workouts to log throughout the week I would wait until Wednesday where I then had to do each successive workout otherwise I would definitely lose money. However, once that happened and I lost $5, I decided I did not have time and discontinued using the app.
            Overall, I was highly incentivized to complete my goals, and at the start of the week when I had to lock in my goal, I always had high expectations. The fear of losing real money, especially as a college student, was more powerful than the urge to sleep in a little longer and not workout in the morning, so I would make sure to meet the goal. Ultimately, the app is pretty successful at using monetary incentives and public posting to help incentivize healthy behaviors.


Just as an aside: Ultimately, I don’t recommend the keto diet.  It is exceptionally strict (I mean, NO STRAWBERRIES???).  It doesn’t work for everyone, because the calorie deficiency one requires to lose weight is, in my opinion, too extreme.  And it certainly should not be pursued for more than a month due to health risks that I believe can be real (consult your physician!!!). But, it was an interesting exercise in self-control that taught me, more than anything, that I can stick to the plan.

Romaine lettuce with bacon, blue cheese crumbles, and blue cheese dressing.  Tomatoes and onions are a bit of a cheat...


Popular posts from this blog

Redefining success

I can hardly believe it: last week marked the 10-year anniversary of my becoming a faculty member at Wellesley College.Over the last decade, I’ve coached countless students through health crises, anxiety over recruiting for jobs, striking the right school-life balance, and struggling over seemingly impossible problem set questions.But no concern looms larger for Wellesley college students than their angst over grades.      Grade anxiety isn’t just a Wellesley thing, of course. Yet the extreme extent to which grades define student experience at Wellesley has always bothered me, and never more so than now. Only at Wellesley would a student show up in her professor’s office after an exam not to argue about her grade, but rather to apologize for disappointing the professor. Oftentimes that “bad” grade is a B+!  More importantly, it seems like this self-defined “bad” grade is viewed as more than just academic weakness. Students see it as a failure in life in general – a profoundly disturbin…

Facing the challenges of everyday life, Part 2

Fall of 2017: my closet is out of control.  Bursting at the seams with hardly ever-worn party dresses, jackets, and jumpsuits, it still manages to be completely devoid of options.  How is this possible, I muse, digging through the racks, laden with hangers, each carrying two or more items. Among the multitude of impulse buys and total duds, I locate that 15-year-old black jacket, two sizes too big and 20 dry cleans past its prime.  I wear it with a belt, and it looks ok.      Fast-forward one year: I no longer fall for impulse buys, and I almost never dry clean anything! Thank you, unlimited membership at Rent the Runway.   In a nutshell, I rent clothes, keep the four items I pick as long as I want to, and then return (no dry-cleaning required!).  As soon as the returns arrive back at the distribution center, I can pick my next items (conveniently "hearted" in the app).  First, this is a perfect mental replacement for shopping (hello, commitment device!).  I no longer go for …

Why I chose left

A few weeks ago, on March 1, 2019, I wrote a seemingly innocuous post on Facebook seeking my network’s opinions regarding my most recent professional photos.Specifically, I wrote: “Time to pick my new work profile pic! What looks more “professorial” - left or right?”The two photos are reproduced below.     Little did I know that this post would generate the greatest number of non-birthday comments ever (87!). On Instagram, the same post got 25 comments. Without even realizing it, I was conducting a survey experiment.The photo on the left displayed only a hint of a smile, chin up, and head slightly tilted to the right. The one on the right had me smiling a toothy smile, chin down, and head tilted left.Otherwise, the pictures were identical, down to the arm fold, slightly unruly hair, and outfit.(The only give-away that I didn’t originally plan this as an experiment was the fact that the two pictures were cropped differently, with the one on the left more zoomed in, so that less of m…