An Interview with Jeff Hyman

Retrofit CEP explains what makes data-driven weight loss so effective.

By Adam Brown and Alasdair Wilkins

Last November, high-tech entrepreneur Jeff Hyman and a team of leading weight-loss experts launched Retrofit, which offers one-year programs designed to help people lose 10% to 15% of their body weight. The company provides each Retrofit client with his or her own dietitian, exercise physiologist, and behavior coach — all of whom offer their guidance over weekly Skype sessions, meaning they're available anywhere and anytime. We've written before about how impressed we are by Retrofit's approach, and as the company approaches its first anniversary, we decided to check in with Mr. Hyman.

He visited our San Francisco headquarters to provide an in-depth explanation of how the Retrofit program works. Acknowledging the program is a significant investment for many who might be interested — the one-year Retrofit membership costs between $3,000 and $4,000 — he discussed how employers, insurance companies, and eventually the government could work to make it more affordable. While Retrofit doesn't feature a diabetes-specific program, Mr. Hyman said it has helped people with diabetes and prediabetes lower their weight and glucose levels. He closed by explaining why exercise is vital not only to short-term weight loss but keeping weight off long-term.

For more information about Retrofit, check out the company's website at Retrofitme.com.

What is Retrofit?

Adam Brown: To start, could you give us a quick background on how you came to Retrofit and started the company?

Jeff Hyman: I put on two pounds a year like a typical American. I'm 44. And I got to a point where I just was fed up with that. I tried everything — I would lose weight, gain it back, lose weight, gain it back. My wife eventually dragged me to a wellness destination resort, which changed my life. I worked with therapists, dietitians, and exercise physiologists. For me, it was a transformative experience.

But the problem is that it's $1,000 a day. So last year, I started thinking about how to make it scalable using technology. Retrofit is a one-year behavior change program delivered entirely online. There's nothing magical or mystical about it, other than it works because it's a very intensive, robust, and multi-dimensional program. It includes, of course, nutrition and exercise. And, we believe, most uniquely, behavior change. In our view, this aspect is responsible for about 50% of weight loss between the ears. The last important thing Retrofit includes is third-party accountability to a dietitian, exercise physiologist, and a behavior change expert.

The customer meets with their team of experts via Skype video conference. They arrange the day and time, from 6 AM until midnight, seven days a week. Each person gets their own registered dietitian, a behavior coach with ten years' experience and a Master's degree, and an exercise physiologist with ten years' experience and Master's degree. You work with those three people for a full year. It's not a random rotation call center type. It's literally three people. They're on your speed dial. And each week you meet with one of them on a rotating basis for a half-hour session (e.g., my dietitian this week, my therapist next week, etc.). Between Skype sessions, you have unlimited access to your team for questions, comments, and concerns. So if you're going to this restaurant in New York, your dietitian will download the menu, and tell you what to order. It's a very high level of personal service with a lot of technology behind it. We have 65 of these experts now across the country that cover all states and all time zones. And our clients are across the country even though we're based in Chicago.

In addition to your team, you'll receive two wireless devices. The first is the Withings Wi-Fi scale. You connect this to your Wi-Fi network at home, you step on the scale, and it instantly sends your data to your team. We require customers to weigh in once a week. Our average customer weighs in five times a week. They get very addicted to the data and the progress, and half our clients are men.

You also get a wireless pedometer (Fitbit) that tracks the steps you take, miles per day, and calories per day. At night, it tracks how long you sleep and how well you sleep, which is a huge issue for a lot of customers. People need to sleep at least six and a half hours a night in order to really be able to lose weight. A lot of our customers will only sleep three hours a night, so with the pedometer, we can find it out and begin behavior coaching work to figure out what's going on.

All this data is wirelessly uploaded to us. You get your own private dashboard that your team is looking at every single day, and it's a very high accountability program in a very supportive way. They're not looking to catch you doing something wrong, and we don't expect perfection. The truth is we find we don't need to be perfect. We try to lose one pound a week, very slow, steady progress.

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Last Modified Date: June 21, 2013

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