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Rise app uses dietitians, accountability, and kindness to help you lose weight

Like many (maybe most) of us, I have struggled with controlling my weight. I carry about 10 pounds extra around with me. Judging by how much time I spend thinking about it (and feeling bad about it) it would seem like it’s the biggest challenge I face in life. Sheesh.

Actually, a new Nielson study says that half of all people worldwide believe they are overweight, and half are currently trying to lose weight. So I’m not alone.

And, like many people, I’ve tried lots of approaches to losing weight — everything from gyms to exercise apps to calorie counters to Atkins.

Studies have shown that you do better at losing weight when other people are involved in your effort. That’s one of the principles behind Rise.

Rise is pretty simple. It’s a paid, app-based service that sets you up with a real human dietitian, to whom you report your meals every day. The app allows you to take pictures of your meals with your phone, then write a little descriptive text around the image in the “Journal” section.

Then the dietitian makes comments on your food choices, and on what times you’re eating. It’s all asynchronous. While it’s best to report your meals right before you eat them, it is possible to report them later. And I found that you usually get the dietitian’s comments on your meals the day after you eat them. My dietitian, Margaret, was located, I think, on the East Coast.

I used Rise for about six weeks, and I really grew to like Margaret. She never scolded me when I screwed up and ate bad stuff, and was always ready for a gentle, corrective comment. She was full of praise when I actually managed to fix a healthy meal for myself.

I already had a pretty good idea of which foods were good and bad, but Margaret taught me a lot about when to eat, and about the optimal mixes of different kinds of food in one meal. She got me eating breakfast, in part by explaining why that’s so important.

The other thing Margaret did is study the times and situations during the week when I really messed up and ate Hershey’s bars (which I inexplicably go to when I’m upset or stressed). The patterns she noticed helped me get prepared for the times when I was most at risk.

Every Friday, Margaret sent me a note (in the app’s Messaging section) about setting up an action plan for the next week, based on last week’s trends. Each action plan included one improvement that I would commit to making over the past week. For example, one week Margaret asked me to increase my step count goal on my Fitbit wearable. Margaret could see my step counts because the Rise app integrates with the Fitbit app. It also can connect with the Apple Health app in iOS 8.

Margaret could sometimes see that I was eating bad stuff between meals simply because my activity level had been very high, and I needed some kind of healthy snack to get me through to meal time. Or I needed to eat more before all the activity.

unnamed“Having a sense of how your activity level ebbs and flows during the day can help you understand how you should be eating throughout the day,” Rise CEO Suneel Gupta told me.

Now, about that Rise app. It’s simple and works well. The integration with the phone camera is about as friction-free as it could be.

The Rise people added a couple of major features during the time I was using the service. In an earlier version of the app, it was hard to tell when Margaret had commented on one of my meals. So they added a new section of the app called “Activities” where all communications and other user or dietitian actions are listed.

In the “Me” section of the app, you provide information about yourself, your health, and your fitness goals.

The Rise app is free, and the dietitian coaching service costs you $15 per week, or $48 per month, or $120 for three months.

When you consider the amount of information you get from your dietitian, and how much time they invest in coaching you, the prices seem reasonable.

The other big thing you come to realize by using Rise is that losing weight is not about “programs” or fasts or exercise binges. It’s about long-term change to the way you plan and eat your meals, and building exercise into your daily life in the way that taking a shower or brushing your teeth is part of life.

I have no real complaints about the app or the service. And I have lately been running into more people who are using it.

The question I’m left with is this: Even if you use the correctly and follow the dietitian’s advice, how long does it really take to rewire one’s brain to form lasting healthy habits?

At the end of my trial period, I had managed to lose 5 to 7 pounds. But it’s too early to say if I’ve developed lasting habits — like not skipping breakfast.

If I go back to my old coffee-for-breakfast ways, I might just have to use Rise for a while longer.

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