Personal trainers, food journals, gym memberships, home workout apps, fitness trackers—which range from watches and rings to armbands and even smart swim goggles—there’s no shortage of gadgets and programmes that can help one lose weight.
The keyword here is “help” because none of these methods, no matter how optimised, will work unless the behavioural challenges associated with weight are addressed.
And, this idea of achieving weight goals via behavioural change makes up the core philosophy of Chandigarh-based healthtech startup Yoboshu Cares.
The diet killer
Research suggests that 80 percent of people who shed a significant amount of body fat can’t maintain their new weight for 12 months. Further, they’re likely to regain more than half of what they lost within two years.
Founded by Shivanshi Verma and Sandeep Kumar, Yoboshu has launched a behavioural healthcare app that offers a proprietary weight loss and mental healthcare programme to its users. The app, according to its founders, teaches users skills that enable them to lose weight without following any diet or exercise.
“You cannot go on a diet forever but can implement simple skills and remain fit. These skills are backed by scientific studies and have proven to help people lose and manage weight. These aren’t big steps but habits that are long-lasting,” she adds.
Interestingly, Shivanshi donned the entrepreneurial hat at the age of 20, during her first year of mechanical engineering at IIT Ropar. She met with her co-founder, Sandeep, who was pursuing BTech in Aerospace from Anna University, through a common network.
In 2019, the duo launched Yoboshu as a fitness centre aggregator platform, which faced operational challenges due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The bootstrapped-business model took a pivot in 2020 and the founders revamped Yoboshu as a diet and nutrition platform.
“During our initial days, we struggled with the product-market fit and other nuances of running a business. Despite challenges, we continued to gather our learnings and build our product,” the co-founder says.
As the duo gathered feedback from its clients and coaches, two common themes emerged—first, users couldn’t sustain weight loss and second, they were frustrated with diets.
“Quick fixes don’t work. We needed to have a long term solution for losing weight while keeping in mind the overall health of an individual,” she adds.
By 2021, the duo gathered a team of behavioural therapists, psychologists, nutritionists, exercise physiologists, lifestyle coaches, as well as physicians, to design a dedicated “habit building” programme, and launched the app in March 2022.
Pure science, no fad
The four-month “habit building” programme teaches users a new habit every day which they have to implement in their daily routine.
Once signed on, the app begins with an assessment of the user’s body metrics, sleep pattern, stress levels or trauma, usual food habits (triggers like late-night snacking, boredom eating, stress eating etc) and general body goals.
It puts out statements like—“ Do you find yourself racing to the pantry when feeling down or multitasking while eating, is portion control tricky?”, and asks users how much they relate to this on a scale of 1-10.
Based on the assessment, it creates a report on what’s working for the users and areas that need improvements. It follows a similar evaluation on activity to gauge the psychology of a user with respect to their habits and triggers.
Users are then required to spend 10 minutes a day on the app where they are given reading material and fun games to complete. The idea here is to teach users a new habit.
These “habit-building exercises” are designed to be practised along with daily activities.
For instance, portion control is one of the major habits taught in the programme, under which the users are asked to apply the “10-5-10 rule”. It’s a simple exercise where one eats for 10 minutes, takes a break, and then finishes off the rest of the meal, if still hungry.
Another habit called “divide and conquer” teaches users to divide their meal into four portions, eat one at a time patiently and relish. In this, users are required to try to stop when 80 percent full. As per Yoboshu’s analysis, a majority of the users feel satisfied after the third portion and hence, don’t end up binge eating.
The app steers clear of metrics such as calorie calculators. It, however, asks users to weigh themselves every day to keep them motivated.
On the activity side, it understands the user’s routine and suggests habits that can be implemented each day. For instance, it suggests users walk while they talk on the phone or park their vehicle at a distance add in extra steps.
It even adds some minor dietary controls with the “3-week reset” skill, where users are encouraged to avoid that extra spoonful of sugar or caffeine in their diet.
It is important to mention here that the users are discouraged to take up an external professional diet plan along with the Yoboshu programme simultaneously, as they can clash with their methods and thesis.
“We have proven results of weight loss through the programme. When you manage your time, portion, activities and sleep, you can effectively lose weight,” says Shivanshi.
The third important focus of the programme is on mental health and stress management.
At the beginning of the programme, each user is assigned an in-house health coach who monitors the daily developments and checks up on them to see if they are able to implement the skills, feeling stressed or struggling with any other issue. The idea of having a personal coach is to help users put their skills into practice via small efforts, explains the co-founder.
The startup currently has 11 in-house coaches and doesn’t intend to tie up with external resources as it wants to control the quality. Each coach is able to serve about 90-100 users.
Monetisation, traction & future plans
The app offers a 14-day trial where the users can “pay what they want”, with the minimum amount being as low as Rs 1. The 120-day programme, which offers lifetime access, is divided into two options—with and without coach— and the fee varies accordingly. It starts at a minimum Rs 999 per month.
Since its launch in March, the app has seen over 2,000 registered users and more than 9,000 downloads.
It plans to target corporates, and introduce similar programs around mental health and chronic diseases. The 11-member team startup is looking to raise funds in the near future besides tying up with platforms for rewarding its users.
There are many fitness and mental healthcare apps in India that focus on workouts, diets, weight trackers and holistic weight loss management. The idea of behavioural healthcare apps, however, is yet to take off in the country.
Cyprus-based app BetterMe is one of the leading players in the segment followed by MyFitnessPal, My Diet Coach, and Lose It. These apps enjoy a massive following, particularly in the US market, with millions of subscribers.
“Our biggest challenge in this market is to make people understand this whole behavioural approach and method toward weight loss management. We continue to carry the mindset that only a strict diet and exercise will help us lose weight but this will only help with short-term gains and never be permanent. We aim to shape a behaviour-changing healthy lifestyle from a shifted mindset through advanced psychology,” the co-founder signs off.