Health

Lift kicks off 'Quantified Diet Project' to answer eternal question of how to lose weight

When you should run, not walk, from your startup...

Above: When you should run, not walk, from your startup...

Image Credit: Shutterstock

Humans have unlocked answers to some of the universe’s deepest questions, and yet we still don’t know what it takes to lose 15 pounds.

Lift is setting out to liberate the secrets of weight loss from their murky morass of mystery, competing opinions, and myth. The company launched the “Quantified Diet Project” today, which it claims is the largest randomized trial of diets ever.

“People turn back toward healthier diets at the New Year, but there’s shockingly little trustworthy information about popular diets,” Lift founder Toby Stubblebine told VentureBeat. “The Quantified Diet is a massive crowdsourced study where people can become healthier while also building a scientific understanding of what works and what doesn’t in popular diet.”

Project participants will follow one of 10 popular (and randomly assigned) diets for four weeks.

They will track their progress in Lift’s mobile apps, logging information and responding to surveys about how easy the diet is to follow, changes in weight and body composition, their happiness and mood levels, adherence tips, and demographic background.

They will also receive coaching from experts along the way.

Lift is working with nutritionists and statisticians from the University of California, Berkeley and Stanford to design and execute the study. All the data will be aggregated and anonymized. The goal is to find conclusive data — amidst all the competing dietary wisdom out there — about what methods for losing weight are effective.

The 10 diets are paleo, slow-carb, vegetarian, whole foods, gluten-free, no sweets, DASH (The USDA’s current recommendation), calorie counting, more sleep, and “mindful eating.”

Stubblebine said the inspiration for the study emerged after a single diet study on Tim Ferriss’s 4-Hour Body diet that Lift conducted last year. In that study, 3,500 people tracked their progress for four weeks, and of the people who finished, 84% lost weight. Researchers at Berkeley reached out to Lift to broaden the scope of this research.

“We’re just getting started,” Stubblebine said. “We want to apply this sort of research to every aspect of health, fitness, self-improvement, and education. People are either wasting their time doing the wrong thing or doing nothing because they don’t trust any of the advice.”

Lift is a social goal tracking application where people create lists of habits they want to maintain, monitor their own progress, and connect with friends for more motivation, accountability, and support.

Stubblebine founded Lift because he saw an opportunity to leverage mobile technology and data to help people achieve their goals. It started out as a simple iPhone application without many bells and whistles — the focus was strictly on giving people the data, tools, and support system they needed to be better versions of themselves, whether that entailed reading more or making healthier food choices.

Exercising more, eating better, and weight loss are common goals within the Lift community and without. Going on a diet is a common New Year’s Resolution, and high estimates peg the number of dieters in America at 108 million people. 

Every year we witness countless articles in journals and magazines, a constant parade of “groundbreaking” new studies, fad diets that get debunked, and an endless array of weight loss gimmicks (only eat between 11 and 2, only drink juice until dinner).

Amidst all this noise exist a few hard facts, a lot of fiction, and perpetual debate.

Animal protein is a central element of the Paleo diet (also the most googled diet of 2013), while vegetarians mostly avoid it. Slow carb lovers advocate whole grains, while gluten-free folks remove most carbs from their plates.

Traditional weight loss studies are time-consuming and can be difficult to execute, but smartphones have created a powerful new vehicle for collecting detailed data on a large group of people. People no longer have to go into a lab every week, or meticulously log their day-to-day behavior in a journal.

Contributing to a study is as simple as following the guidelines and a few taps on the smartphone. Lumosity is another notable example of a company using its popular mobile app to gather what used to be inaccessible data. 

So perhaps you should delay your 2014 weight loss resolutions until February, when Lift may have more concrete data on what types of diets work. That said, everybody is different, and maybe the reason for all the confusion is that there is not one, single, universal answer to the diet question.

In the meantime, staying active, eating vegetables, drinking water, and limiting sugar is universally agreed upon advice. Go grab a broccoli.