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The Boston Globe

Food & dining

Q&A

Using your smart phone to lose weight

“We need to give people tools so they can create a sustainable diet,” Kevin McCoy, on his Lose It! app for smartphones.

Laurie Swope for The Boston Globe

“We need to give people tools so they can create a sustainable diet,” Kevin McCoy, on his Lose It! app for smartphones.

When Kevin McCoy finished college, like many recent grads, he needed to lose weight. Smartphones didn’t yet exist, let alone apps that track weight-loss goals. So McCoy shed pounds the old fashioned way: diet and exercise. Years later, when a friend told him he was developing a weight loss program called Lose It!, McCoy saw the opportunity to make the process easier for others. “I thought, this is exactly what I believe in,” he says from his home in Marblehead. McCoy now serves as the senior vice president of business development for Lose It!, which has been downloaded more than 13 million times for smartphones since its first version was released in 2008. Last year, the company partnered with Boston.com’s health section and the YMCA for its “Hometown Wellness Showdown.” As 2013 begins, McCoy told us how his company is trying to make sticking with your resolutions easier.

Q. What led to the development of this tool?

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A. Our cofounders are pretty heavily into calorie counting. We think science has proven calories in, calories out, but it’s pretty hard to log everything [food and exercise], so the opportunity to put that experience in your hand was something we figured we could help by putting a really nice app together. Now people, when they’re standing in line, can make decisions on healthy food and look up the food in real time and make a better decision when they’re trying to count calories.

Q. What the difference between Lose It! and a program like Weight Watchers?

A. The big difference is when Weight Watchers started they were making counting calories easy by using points, and I think now people don’t really have to count points anymore when things like Lose It! count up the calories for you. But I think Weight Watchers is a very good comparison. They’re a great program and philosophically we agree with the same approach, which is portion control. There’s no magic to what Weight Watchers is doing or what we’re doing. We’re just giving you the tools to be more successful. Our approach on this whole thing is we’ve got a bunch of people [at the company] that have lost weight and when you talk to each of us, we each lost weight differently and really that’s how we think about things internally. We need to give people tools so they can create a sustainable diet. People go on these niche diets and lose weight and then put it back on. Listen, if you told me to stop eating pizza, that’s not going to work for me. I need to eat pizza on Friday nights. You give someone the Lose It! tool and when I look up pizza, I say, OK, I can only have two pieces when I usually have four, but at least I can keep eating pizza. We’re going to continue to make this experience easier through technology and we think that’s going to differentiate us.

Q. How does the app keep people on track when they’re wavering on New Year’s resolutions?

A. There’s a few spikes [in user activity] in a year. There’s January, which is the biggest, there’s April, which is, “Oh God, summer’s coming,” and then there’s September, which is back to school, summer’s over, kind of get myself back going. Really what we focus on 100 percent is, how can we help people stay engaged throughout the year? And when we looked at all our features that we have, we’re like, man, the social thing is so successful, people with friends [using the app], they stay on this thing. That’s why a lot of the features that we came out with this year center around challenges and groups. We have a coaching tool that’s going to be coming out where trainers can coach members. It’s about extending the social features and I think that’s going to help a lot. The amazing thing is, a lot of [users who are trying to lose weight] inspire us because they’re incredibly committed. If you went to the challenge we did with the [YMCA] in the fall, you’ll see that people are just really trying to coach each other and support each other through the process. I think my biggest advice is make some friends in Lose It!, participate in the challenges, connect devices. Just take advantage of what we’re putting out there.

Interview was condensed and edited. Glenn Yoder can be reached at gyoder@globe.com.
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