Weight loss programs focus on the wrong thing by exhorting people to cut down on all calories. And that may be a big reason why people regain what they lost in just a few years.
That is the guiding philosophy of a new Minnesota mobile health startup that has created a weight loss app on the Apple platform. The goal is to “make calories count” instead of simply counting and cutting calories, said Nomolos’ cofounder Joy Solomon.
“Our bodies physiologically don’t want us to lose weight,” she contended. “If you cut the wrong calories, your body thinks it is going into starvation mode and it will tell you that you are hungry, and that you should eat and it will slow down metabolism so that even if you do cut calories, it’s going to use fewer calories to prevent you from losing weight.”
To counter this phenomenon, Solomon and her husband and business partner created the Zestar mobile app that functions like a 24-hour virtual dietitian. The goal is to strike the right nutritional balance.
“We have taken the latest science regarding how people can lose weight successfully and created an algorithm that customizes eating recommendations to the individual in real time with the goal of allowing you to cut calories, lose weight, but do it in a way that doesn’t make you feel hungry and run down all the time,” Solomon says.
So how does it work?
Once you download the app for free, users can enter personal information such as height, weight, desired weight level and level of exercise. Based on that information, the app creates meal recommendations. If you eat the recommendation and select it, you get a star. To get a different recommendation, you simply shake the iPhone (the iPad app required a vigorous shake). If you choose to ignore recommendations completely and eat something else — something that is not recommended — a red bar will appear to show that you veered off the program.
The next meal recommendation will be based on what you ate in the previous meal to get you back on track. Menus of 150 chain restaurants are also in the app, so that meal recommendations can come straight off an Applebee’s menu for instance, if the user is planning to eat out at a restaurant. There are also generic menus to account for the times that people are eating at local stores and not at chains that have nutritional information.
And that’s the beauty of the system, says Solomon. There are no calories to count or points to track like in Weight Watchers. You can eat out, you can eat in and you don’t have to be dependent on eating prepackaged foods like the Jenny Craig or Nutrisystem programs require you to.
Zestar launched in the App Store in November and so far there have been more than 3,000 downloads, Solomon said. Nomolos monetizes the app by allowing at first a free two-week trial after which users have a choice of shelling out $3.99 for one month’s subscription; $8.99 for three and $12.99 for six months. The app’s previous version has a 4-star rating based on six customer ratings.
Zestar is the first offering from Nomolos, which has raised more than $600,000 from angel investors last year. The company is currently seeking another $1 million to $5 million.
“That money will be used for promotional purposes and to build new products,” Solomon said.