Why do 95% of people who lose weight gain it all back?

Why do 95% of people who lose weight gain it all back?

Why do 95% of people who lose weight gain it all back?




HIgh fidelity mockups


Journey mapping

Information Architecture

User research

User flows



In April 2023, I joined Drop, a fitness startup looking to set itself apart from competitors including Noom and WeightWatchers. The company had initially established itself with offline activities such as bootcamps and educational courses. To expand their reach, they hired two developers and myself to develop an app. I was tasked with solving a recurrent problem in the industry:


Studies show that 95% of people who lose weight gain it all back within 5 years. This is because they use methods that are unsustainable and often harmful, further decreasing their body’s ability to stay in an optimal weight range after weight loss. 

This was true for Drop’s offline users as well as soon as they stopped receiving human touchpoints, and a problem their competitors had yet to solve without creating lifelong dependence on their app (e.g. propriety systems such as Weight Watchers points method). Weight loss can be broken down into three stages:

  1. Not knowing what to do. This results in 

    1. Adopting unsustainable strategies, e.g. extreme calorie deficits or fad diets

    2. Making too many changes at once

    3. Doubts whether their efforts are in the right direction and whether they will pay off.

  2. Knowing but not yet having the habits. While building habits, hard to tell incremental benefit or harm of a single action, such as a workout or binge-eating session. This leads to 

    1. Zoomed-in view that overreacts to small fluctuations and aims to get big results in a short timespan

  3. Maintaining habits. Prone to environmental or scheduling shocks that reset the progress.

At each stage, it’s easy to fall off the wagon, and have them turn into very long ruts. Then there’s a ramp-up time, meaning you’re wasting double the time, keeping you away from making progress.


I tried to deeply empathize with our users; it’s not their fault, it’s a design problem. I scoured Reddit threads and got insights from users in our Discord. I peeled back the layers of the onion by interviewing dozens of our users one-on-one, and then also referenced the weight loss scholarly literature directly in addition to reading several books including Tiny Habits and Atomic Habits.

I made personas that reflected the nuances of our users, used journey mapping and empathy maps, and made detailed decision trees to develop a detailed understanding of where our users needed our help most. I continuously validated this with users and iterated alongside their feedback.

By this point, we had a group of users willing to give us feedback as we went from sketches to wireframes to high-fidelity prototypes. Keeping stakeholders involved made the design loop much shorter than it otherwise would have been.


  1. Losing weight is gamified; keeping it off is not. Once the desired weight is lost, the absence of a concrete goal can lead to a decline in the habits that facilitated the weight loss. This is why over-emphasizing the gamification of weight loss might not be beneficial in the long term.

  2. Weight loss requires a systems approach - it’s influenced by factors including sleep, stress, hormonal balance, and insulin senstivity.However, even our well-informed users thought it’s only about tracking calories.

  3. You have to love yourself to achieve successful long-term weight loss. Many people are affected by psychological barriers to losing weight, such as self-loathing or fear of becoming smaller. If you view your body as a high-end vehicle, you will fuel it much better than if you view yourself as a beat-up dingy.

  4. Users' mental models are often not equipped to handle setbacks or tough situations, including stress, injury, cravings, and novel food situations.

  5. Eating decisions can get complicated - key findings included the influence of portion sizes, visibility and accessibility of food, the role of distractions, cultural differences, and the relationship between food addiction, self-control, and health knowledge.

  6. If you can't do it for life, don't do it for a day. To get long-term results, users should only make changes that they can maintain forever.

Challenges from our user interviews

Based on my conversations with users, the solution and design needed to account for the following challenges:

  1. The more actions that you ask a user to track, the lower their compliance and the stickiness of the product over the long-run. This meant I had to be selective about what users need to track, since tracking every meal or constant surveys could reduce effectiveness.

  2. Users are overly optimistic about what they can commit to. Many users in the offline version. weren't staying for the entire duration of the service. They often tried to find shortcuts or were inconsistent in following the plans they had crafted together with Drop.

  3. We needed to rework our ICP and personas to target those who were more likely to succeed, including whether they can make their own food and exercise decisions, whether they are already attempting to solve the problem, and how painful they find their current situation.

  4. People with previous unsuccessful weight loss attempts often point to external factors as the cause for the relapse, and often think that they know best (or that they know everything already).


I designed a solution people lose weight permanently by assigning tiny habits and scaling their difficulties to keep them optimally challenging.

  • For example, starting small (e.g. putting on your shoes and going for a walk), and as you’re successful scale slowly all the way up to more difficult habits such as going to the gym 3-4 times a week.

  • When you relapse on a habit two days in a row, we text your loved ones and charge you money for charity. You can recoup more of the money the faster you get back on track. By reducing the length of relapses, it makes it easier to get back on track without having to restart, lowering the mental load.

  • As you keep using it, you rewire your identity through lessons and challenges that reshape your beliefs, helping you respond to obstacles and keep the weight off for life.

Adding digital art

An app-based experience is inherently less personal than a human connection. I didn’t want to abstract away all beauty, I wanted to use my illustration background to make beautiful badges that rewarded users for their achievements - be it getting back on track, hitting weight loss goals, building muscle, or diligently completing regimen tasks.

Our users are undergoing a massive life change, often feeling unsupported by others in their journey, often battling a lifetime of patterns. I wanted to celebrate them for every meaningful step they took, and encourage them when things got tough. 

I was inspired by the physical pins that Alcoholics Anonymous gives their members. It takes something intangible and gives you something you can look at and be proud of. Other companies use generic illustrations for their reward systems if they have them, so I emphasized making each one a work of art.




I learned how to work on a small team, wearing multiple hats simultaneously and taking pride in rigorous thinking. It forced me to pick up new tools and techniques very quickly, allowing me to further master digital art. 

I also honed my instincts for when to pivot from an idea that isn’t working, before devoting too many resources to pursuing it. It was great to be involved in decision-making. 

I’m proud of how I dove deep into every aspect of the business, held myself to a high standard to make sure we built something that actually solved our users’ problem in staying consistent. I also got to try out social media marketing.

Toronto, Canada