My Diet Coach was conceived when developer Anat Levy was on maternity leave. Eight million downloads later, it’s become her new career
Having children is one of life’s great joys, but is not without its pain points. One is the extra kilos many women experience post-pregnancy, and another, especially for women in high tech, is the difficulty of resuming a 9-to-6 workday.
Anat Levy, an Israeli computer programmer formerly of Conduit and InfoGin, was sitting in her kitchen during maternity leave three years ago when she had a Eureka moment that would ultimately kill off both these pain points.
“I felt like grabbing a snack from the refrigerator, and I said to myself, ‘If only I had a genie who could appear and say, no don’t do it, remember the consequences!’” she told Geektime.
Levy realized that smartphones are always with us and that a phone could be the next best thing to a mythological creature. This is what inspired her to create the My Diet Coach app, available both on iOS and Android.
Despite the depressing statistic that over 90 percent of dieters don’t succeed in keeping the weight off, scientists do know what methods are successful: a combination of setting modest goals, tracking your food intake and weight, meeting with a coach or dietician and being accountable to a support network of fellow dieters.
While many diet apps on the market help with calorie intake, exercise and tracking, Levy felt there weren’t any apps that adequately addressed the motivational aspects of dieting.
Dieticians are expensive, and you can’t carry them around in your pocket. My Diet Coach, Levy explained, is the next best thing. Whenever you feel a craving for a calorie-rich snack, you can press a “panic button” on the app, which will then count down for 20 minutes, all the while feeding you motivational phrases.
“Most cravings will pass after 20 minutes,” said Levy.
If this sounds hokey, Levy claimed the app helped her lose 16 kilos after her latest pregnancy. “It’s never happened to me that I ate after pressing the panic button. Because it’s like you’re committing yourself.”
The app also contains gamification features, with rewards and praise for achieving goals.
And if that’s not enough to keep you from reaching for the pastries, you can let your friends know that you’ve just hit the panic button. Then they can send you encouraging messages. You wouldn’t want to let down your friends, would you?
The proof is in (not eating) the pudding
Believe it or not, My Diet Coach has been downloaded eight million times since its launch two years ago. When asked how they managed to get this many downloads, Levy replied that they first focused on women and weight loss motivation, built features not found on other apps, and constantly improved the app so that their customers would be happy and promote the app. Basically, they did what a good B2C startup should do.
Which brings us to Levy’s second pain point: Revenue from the app has allowed her to become fully self-employed. She works whenever and wherever she wants, and employs a bevy of freelancers in places like eastern Europe, four of them full-time. So far, the startup has been self-funded.
My Diet Coach operates on a freemium model. The free version of the app features advertising, while the iOS version offers in-app purchases.
“The iOS and Android models are slightly different,” says Levy
The free version allows you to set a weight loss goal, track your weight, send yourself reminders (‘drink water,’ or ‘prepare healthy low cal meals for tomorrow’) and view tips from other users.
But for the really cool features, the panic button and diet diary, you have to upgrade to the Pro version, which can be purchased for a one-time fee of $3.99 (or 10 shekels in Israel).
The app has been translated into French, German, Russian, Portuguese and Spanish. Levy says she has seen the most downloads in Brazil and Russia but assumes that’s just because those countries are large (in the demographic sense).
My Diet Coach doesn’t collect or sell users’ data. The only way she uses that data, says Levy, is to improve the user experience.
For instance, one thing she discovered is that phrases like, “Your body is a temple” or “Take time for yourself to take a walk – you’ll enjoy it” work a lot better than negative statements like “Remember the consequences!”
For the app’s next version, Levy says she hopes to amp up the social component as well as create a version for wearable devices.
My Diet Coach’s competitors are apps like My Fitness Pal and Lose It. Levy says that those apps focus more on the practical aspects of weight loss – the calorie counting and tracking, as opposed to combating emotional eating.
But an article in the Atlantic Monthly has praised diet apps in general as a genuine breakthrough in weight loss. Many of these apps – including Lose It and My Diet Coach – revive the ideas of behavioral scientist B.F. Skinner and are “transforming us into thinner, richer, all-around-better versions of ourselves.”
After all the depressing statistics about dieting, that is unmitigated good news. Bring them on, I say. There’s room for more than one diet app on my smartphone. But first, it’s time to get a glass of water.