Geek Vs Geek: Are Social Fitness Sites (Like DietBet and Pact) Personal Trainers or Just Scams?

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Woman stretching, preparing to exerciseBoth Dave and Rick have tried websites that try to hold you accountable to weight loss and getting in shape by making you invest your own money in the process. But do anemic payouts and arcane rules get in the way of these sites actually helping you hit your fitness goals? Dave and Rick square off on this contentious topic.

Rick and Dave debateOnce a month, eHow Tech editor Dave Johnson faces off against Rick Broida, who writes about technology for CNET, PC World and Wired. Follow along as they tackle this question from opposing corners. Want to watch Dave and Rick in action? Geek Vs Geek is also a weekly video series — check out the latest episodes!

Photo of Rick BroidaRick: So let me get this straight: DietBet and Pact (formerly GymPact) are going to pay me money for what I’m already doing? Exercising and eating right? Uh, okay, where do I sign up? Actually, I’ve already signed up, having just completed my third DietBet. These services are just plain awesome, offering what is arguably the single best motivator for anyone trying to lose weight or get healthy: money. Seriously, studies have shown that money works better than anything else (including the promise of living longer). Don’t ask me to cite any of them, because there’s every chance I made that up, but I do know this has worked for me.

Photo of Dave JohnsonDave: Yes, I’ve used both DietBet and Pact myself. I’ve made money from DietBet two out of the three times I used it (I timed one bet poorly, and it coincided with a trip to Italy, so sue me for eating my own weight in carbs every single day). But before we get too far, let’s explain what these things are. DietBet requires you to lose 4 percent of your body weight in a month. If you do, you win part of the pot. Pact, on the other hand, asks you to commit to running or working out at a gym a specified number of days each week. Miss a day, and you get nothing. Meet your goal, and you split the pot.

Rick: Welcome to 2014, pal. DietBet now also offers a six-month goal, and Pact has expanded to include keeping a food log and consuming a set amount of fruits and veggies. Maybe that’s why you’re having so much trouble with the new math. Or maybe it’s your long-standing hatred of Italy. Why must you continue to blame the country that gave us tiramisu? The DietBets and Pacts of the world make flabby people thin and sickly people healthy, with cold, hard cash icing the cake no one is allowed to have. What could possibly be wrong with that?

A screenshot of DietBet

Dave: Since you ask, I indeed have a few problems with that. First and foremost, they’re sucker bets. Sites like DietBet might mean well, but just like Vegas, the deck is stacked against you. And not just by a little. Take the recent DietBet that you and I took part in. With 90 people kicking in $50 each, there was a $4500 pot. 66 people met their weight goal, so you might guess that after DietBet takes a small cut, you’d walk away with perhaps $15 or so in addition to getting your original $50 back. Not a fortune, but a reasonable inducement to play. Not so fast: DietBet takes a massive 25 percent. Off the top. After math had its way with me, I got $51.49. That’s right, in addition to my initial investment, I got $1.49 — not even enough money for a chai latte — for sweating to the oldies for a month. You might argue that anything is an incentive, but DietBet’s payout is so ridiculously small that it’s not worth the $50 risk it takes to enter. The best possible case is you walk away with more or less what you started with. Worst case, you lose it all. You wouldn’t know, of course, because I noticed you couldn’t put the donuts down long enough to lose a few pounds.

Rick: I had…scale issues. But although I agree that DietBet’s cut is ridiculously steep (25 percent of the total pot?!), it might just as easily have happened that only 30 people met their goal, in which case you’d have earned — er, more. (Don’t ask me to do math.) And don’t forget that you’d always make back at least what you bet, so it’s not like you stood to lose money. Instead, you lost weight, and that was the goal, right? And get ready to have your mind blown: You also “made” money by spending less on food. Hah! Sucker-bet like a fox!

A screenshot of PactDave: As usual, your logic is absolutely… impenetrable. The sucker bets don’t stop with DietBet, either. Take Pact, for example, which I tried out back when it was known as GymPact. As long as you consistently exercise for however many days you agree to each week, a tiny trickle of cash streams in. But miss a day, and you forfeit your weekly investment. Before you roll your eyes and say, “well, duh, that’s the whole point,” let me ask: What if you get a cold and can’t exercise? Twist your ankle or wake up with a stitch in your side and decide it’s best to sit out for the day? What if you have to unexpectedly drive your spouse to work? Or need to clean cat vomit off the kitchen table and miss your narrow exercise window before work? My point is that a million real-life curveballs can interfere with your ability to work out on any given day of the week. You don’t pay much attention to them until you have money riding on your ability to make your week unfold absolutely perfectly day in and day out, week after week, month after month. Feeling the pressure to perform perfectly yet? Sure, Pact gives you a pass if you’re sick; you just need a doctor’s note. Tell me, Rick, do you go to the doctor every time you are just sick enough that you can’t exercise? That would quite literally cost more in co-pay than you’d make for hitting your Pact goal!

Photo of Rick BroidaRick: Hey, pal, they don’t call it “Gym-clination.” They call it Pact. You sign up, you put up. And as I noted before, it’s not only about hitting the gym; you can also earn a few bucks weekly just for eating your veggies. Life can always throw you curveballs (you could just as easily run into obstacles during your DietBet), but without risk, there’s no reward. You sound like you’re looking to be coddled, looking for a way out when there’s the slightest bit of interference. “Oooh, don’t penalize me, my cat puked!” Life is hard, soldier, and the sooner you grow a pair, the better off you’ll be. Now drop and give me 50! (Say, where’s the app that incentivizes push-ups? There’s my million-dollar idea for the day.)

Photo of Dave JohnsonDave: Note to self: Trademark the name “Gym-clination.” Okay, so now that I’ve explained why you’re not going to make any money from these sites — and, more likely, lose money — let me put the final nail in the coffin for you. Bottom line, they don’t work. You might not be willing to do research, but I did. Sites like this are running on flimsy science, like the 2012 study that found people who were given $20 per month for hitting fitness goals lost about four times more weight than people who didn’t get any money. But it isn’t practical to get even that much money from a site like DietBet. And if it was, any gains disappear when the money dries up; people gain all the weight back when they’re not getting sweet, sweet cash for keeping the pounds off. You need to internalize your fitness goals, dude. Relying on Franklins will simply not keep you off the donuts for life.

Who won? We’d love to hear from you. Weigh in with your opinion in the comments, or tweet @davejoh.

Want to watch Dave and Rick in action? Geek Vs Geek is also a weekly video series — check out the latest episodes!

What other tech topics would you like to see Dave and Rick discuss? Send your ideas to Dave via Twitter @davejoh. And if you follow Dave, he promises to come to your home and explain something techie to your dad.

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