Mobile software helps student drop 50 pounds

Sensei now offering discounted version of weight loss app on BlackBerry App World

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Weight loss programs abound, but they can be complex and expensive and must be followed to a T.

Michael Schneider said the process became easier -- and less expensive -- for him when he used a Blackberry Curve smartphone running a customized weight loss application from Sensei Inc. that provided information on proper diet and exercise in real time as he needed it.

Schneider said the tool helped him lose about 25% of his body mass during a six-month period in which he dropped from 205 pounds to 155 pounds -- a big change considering that he is five feet, nine inches tall. It worked well partly because he was always carrying the mobile device, he added.

A sophomore at the University of Miami studying economics, Schneider noted that he is always on the run and not always sure where he will be eating.

Sensei was launched in 2005 by Humana Inc. and Card Guard AG.

"I had tried Weight Watchers and the Atkins diet, and they never really worked," he said. "But Sensei was really cool because of the BlackBerry access. It laid everything out and was easy to follow."

The Sensei program recommends food to buy at the market for daily meals at home, and it can be altered on the fly if the user must eat out. In that case, the user could consult Sensei's database to find the location of nearby restaurants along with a list of five meals that are less fattening than some of the other options. If the user doesn't like those choices, five more will be provided, according to a Sensei spokeswoman.

"Just about everybody has a BlackBerry or iPhone, so the mobility portion of Sensei makes it really easy to get information," Schneider said. "It tells you when you have to exercise, so I always knew that. I've become an exercise freak."

The Sensei spokeswoman said the mobile features are designed to provide information to users -- like college students -- whose lives are often hectic. She added that the software, which can be accessed on desktop or mobile devices, was designed by behavioral psychologists who realize the value of positive reinforcement. In comparison, some weight-loss programs that require regular "weigh-ins" can be very a negative experience, she said.

Sensei won't divulge how many customers it has, but it calls itself an emerging player in the market.

Sensei last week unveiled the second generation of its weight loss application, which is being offered in the BlackBerry App World online store for a fixed promotional price of $9.99. (App World requires that purchases be made with PayPal accounts.)

Users of other mobile devices pay $15 a month, and users of desktop computers pay $11.25 a month, the spokeswoman said.

Research In Motion Ltd., maker of the BlackBerry, launched its App World online marketplace in the U.S. on April 1. The site initially offered about 1,000 applications. More than 2,200 applications are now available there. That total includes 68 health and wellness applications, including the Sensei weight loss tool and a calorie tracker from Livestrong that costs $2.99.

The Sensei application works on a variety of smartphones on networks from AT&T, Sprint Nextel and Verizon Wireless, but the $9.99 promotional price applies only to BlackBerry App World, the spokeswoman added.

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