Gamification of Weight Loss
January 2015 Issue
The Gamification of Weight Loss
By Maura Keller
Vol. 17 No. 1 P. 40
Making a game of losing weight using smartphone apps, online programs, and social media platforms is a fast-growing trend that’s improving lives.
The terms “fun” and “weight loss” usually aren’t synonymous, but there’s a growing trend called gamification—the application of game design techniques to engage and motivate people to achieve their goals—which uses technology and social media to encourage individuals to compete with one another while increasing physical activity and adopting healthier eating habits.
Individuals are participating in online calorie-burn contests and corporatewide weight-loss competitions, and wearing tracking devices to count the number of steps they walk each day. Groups of people and entire cities are gamifying weight loss to improve health and wellness. Participation through social media and the number of interactive gamification networks are increasing as this trend gains ground across the country.
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Despite the many health benefits of gamification for weight loss, this gaming strategy may not work for everyone. David A. Wiss, MS, RDN, CPT, founder of Nutrition In Recovery, which specializes in the nutritional management of food addiction, substance abuse, eating disorders, weight management, sports nutrition, and general wellness, believes gamification works well for specific personality types and those who have a healthy relationship with food.
“For individuals who are math minded and don’t have a dysfunctional relationship with food, gamification can provide the data and structure that’s needed to meet health-related goals,” Wiss says. “For other individuals who are struggling with their relationship with food, gamification can make their food issues worse—if not in the short term, then in the long term. Those people might wonder why games and apps work so well for others but not for them. For individuals who have eating disorders, addictions, severe body image disturbance, and other behavioral issues, apps that turn nutrition and health into a math equation would be contraindicated. For this population, apps that can track food groups, thoughts, emotions, behaviors, and self-reported hunger and fullness scores are much more effective in helping them make peace with food.”
Wiss adds that the overemphasis on “calories in, calories out” and “energy balance” apparently hasn’t worked in addressing the obesity epidemic, and may represent oversimplified and outdated paradigms of nutrition.
“What we eat has a profound impact on our gut health, brain chemistry, and hormones, and none of this can be accounted for in a game or app,” Wiss says. “Food isn’t simply fuel, it’s information we’re sending to our brains and bodies. I don’t use gamification because I work with people who need to see food as more than fuel, and health as more than a game or math equation.”