Anyone who’s tried to shed pounds knows this statistic: 95% of diets don’t work.
That’s what Jeff Hyman learned when his wife dragged him off to a weight-loss resort.
Hyman, then working at Sterling Partners, a private-equity firm, was 44 at the time—an age when men’s metabolisms start to slow down. And his desk-bound habits were steadily packing on two pounds a year.
Hyman’s experience at the resort changed his life. He left his job and started travelling. Along the way, he consulted dietitians, nutritionists, therapists and doctors, soaking up knowledge about how to live a healthier life.
Two years ago, Hyman decided to put his knowledge and the network of doctors he had accumulated to work for others. He launched Retrofit, formerly called Strong Suit Wellness, which now has $11 million in financing from Silicon Valley investors, to tackle America’s obesity problem.
His solution is simple: It’s a weight-loss program for individuals, not the groups of people that Jenny Craig and Weight Watchers traditionally serve. It targets professionals, who are too busy to commit consistent chunks of time to working out. And it supports people who have pledged to never step foot in a gym.
The program is robust:
- It is 12 months long. The goal is to lose 10 per cent or 15 per cent of your body weight.
- It costs $249 to $349 a month, or you can pay for the entire year upfront for a discounted rate. Three dozen companies, from Walgreens to Salesforce.com, offer employees Retrofit discounts too.
- Each Retrofit client is assigned three personal trainers: a therapist (“behaviour coach”), a dietitian, and an exercise physiologist. There are more than 80 trained professionals and doctors who work with Retrofit clients one on one. The clients meet with each of the three coaches as often as once a week, at their convenience, over Skype. Hyman says the three coaches both “hug and kick” the clients. “They work with each customer in a very intimate way to change their behaviours and personalise a weight-loss program,” says Hyman. “But they also hold people accountable, helping them make smarter everyday decisions.”
- As part of the package, Retrofit clients get a Fitbit fitness tracker, which they wear at all times, and a Withings scale to record their weight. The Fitbit is a lightweight clip-on device that shows how many steps you take per day, and how many hours you sleep. The three trainers can then see their subject’s daily progress and give them feedback in real-time. The scale keeps track of weight and lean muscle mass. Daily weigh-ins are sent automatically from the scale to a user’s Retrofit log, which can also be monitored by the three coaches.
- Retrofit doesn’t count calories, but it does ask clients to send a tweet-like message whenever they eat something. Such as, “For lunch I ate a salad with chicken and tomatoes.” Dietitians receive the private message, assess the meal, and send feedback within hours to their clients. Hyman says the average client sends in three food updates per day.
- A gym membership isn’t required for Retrofit’s program. In fact, no workout regimen is really enforced. Instead, each Retrofit client is encouraged to take 10,000 steps per day, which the Fitbit tracks. Hyman says most Americans only take 2,000 steps per day. After that, the three coaches help the person find a calorie-burning activity he or she enjoys. Because if the person doesn’t enjoy a workout, they’ll never keep up the lifestyle. “Exercise is the smallest piece of weight loss,” says Hyman. “Mindset is 50%. Nutrition is 40%. Exercise is 10%.”
While it’s still too early to tell how successful Retrofit’s program is—it’s a 12-month program and the company has only existed for two years—the signs are promising. Hyman says 94% of his clients are losing weight, and the majority are on track to lose 10% of their weight over the 12-month period. He also says fewer than 5% of his clients have dropped out over the course of the year.
Unlike most weight-loss programs which skew heavily female (about 85/15), Retrofit’s clients are 50% male. Clients include two billionaires, two public-company CEOs, 20 venture capitalists, 15 hedge fund and private equity professionals, attorneys, a reality-TV star, a news anchor, and more.
One prominent customer familiar to the tech world is Brad Feld, managing director of the Foundry Group.
When asked how many members Retrofit has, Hyman didn’t give a number, but said, “We would not have been able to raise $11 million unless we had significant traction.”
We asked him why so many diets fail, and why he thinks his program will succeed.
“In dieting, 95% of people regain the weight within a year,” Hyman says. “What those people do is they undertake a program that was never sustainable to begin with.” Instead, Retrofit combines nutrition, technology, and therapy to change behaviours over time.