As 2011 came to a close, Kristen McCamy, 32, a divorced single mom from St. Joseph, MO, was doing some soul-searching. Was she the person she ultimately wanted to be? On the inside, yes. But her outside didn't quite match up.
"The way I looked did not represent the happiness I felt," says Kristen, whose weight had reached a lifetime high of 287 pounds. Kristen, an assistant at an air traffic control facility, also knew her size was limiting her activity. "I wanted to experience exciting moments, like riding a roller coaster with my 9-year-old son, that physically I just couldn't do."
Around the same time, Kristen's friend Stephanie was diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma. Desperate to help Stephanie financially, but frustrated that she didn't have the money for that or to help other worthy causes, Kristen had a lightbulb moment. "I thought, 'What if I get other people to donate to charity while I work on myself?'"
So Kristen started a Facebook page called Loss for Cause and shared it with friends and family. The idea was simple: For every pound she shed in the seven months leading up to her next birthday, she'd donate 50¢ to Stephanie's health fund. Others, she suggested, could pledge to do the same, or to aid a cause they cared about.
Kristen posted monthly updates on her progress—starting with a set of photos in which she bared her "before" body in shorts and a tank top. "I was completely embarrassed, but forced myself to hit 'publish' because once the pictures were up, there was no hiding or going back," says Kristen. "Everyone knew then what my body looked like and would see if I didn't make any progress."
Kristen knew intuitively what research has confirmed: Making a public commitment to weight loss leads to greater motivation and success. And, difficult as it was to put herself in the spotlight, doing so gave her the drive she needed—she was now deeply involved in a cause that benefited others.
"In the past, I was the biggest cheater when it came to dieting," says Kristen, who gave up fried foods and chocolate and walked for 30 minutes each day on her lunch break during the Loss for Cause project. "This time, I knew if I slipped up, I wouldn't just be cheating myself."
By making these small changes, Kristen lost 70 pounds over seven months, raising $200 for Stephanie and $1,120 for various charities such as the Children's Mercy Hospitals & Clinics in Kansas City and the Special Olympics. She also inspired friends, like Crystal Conroy, 31, to improve their health. "I liked that she put herself out there," says Crystal, who lost 60 pounds over five months by eating healthier and exercising more—and going public with her numbers and success on Facebook.
Since the end of the challenge in August 2012, Kristen has lost another 48 pounds. "If it wasn't for my friends stepping up and pledging money, I probably would have failed," says Kristen. "My weight loss was truly a team effort." Even better, Stephanie is currently in remission—and Kristen and her son finally rode that roller coaster last September. "When I got on the ride, I was giddy with excitement as I realized I could snap the buckle," she says. "At that point, I knew my fight was over. I smiled at my son and we raised our arms as we screamed and flew down the hill."
Get healthy and give back
Try these tips to rally others behind your health goal—and your fundraising initiative.
Give plenty of notice. Go public with your plans at least one month before you start your journey—whether you'd like people to pledge a certain amount of money for each pound you lose, or donate a lump sum if you, say, go smoke-free for six weeks.
Make giving easy. Create a simple donation page on a site like GoFundMe or Causes. Both provide easy templates that allow you to set a goal, track your progress, and share it via email and Facebook.
Offer choices. Many supporters will likely jump on board with a cause you care about, but you should also give pledgers the option of picking their own charity. (A strong personal connection might inspire even more generous giving.)