High-Tech Weight Loss Brand Secures $6 Million in Funding. Why I'm Skeptical.

limbo is expensive and high-tech, but does it work?

The high-tech weight loss business Limbo recently secured $6 million in funding, including investments by Shaq. 

Its hardware, including glucose sensors, scales, and smart band, as well as its software platform, gather data on the user’s physical condition and uses artificial intelligence to craft bespoke weight loss programs. Based on the company’s website, what those weight loss programs look like is still unclear.

How Does Limbo Work? 

Their website states, “No calorie counting, no complicated rules. The most effective weight loss service yet.” This feels very reminiscent of other weight loss and dieting programs, such as Noom, which make claims about being means of changing your relationship with food rather than forcing you to count calories, points, or other complicated systems. Generally, these programs ultimately come down to reduced portion sizes and calorie deficits but with different marketing. 

With the information currently available, I don’t know if that’s the same for Limbo, but I suspect that they’re pursuing some variety of that. The inclusion of the glucose sensor makes me think that the folks behind Limbo are likely invested in the biohacking space. Tim Ferris’ book The Four-Hour Body, originally published in 2010, includes a section on glucose resistance. Ferris describes wearing a glucose meter to constantly measure and report on his blood sugar levels to optimize his fitness and weight loss. 

While Ferris cannot be credited with originating the idea of using continuous glucose monitoring outside of diabetic treatment, he did help to popularize it. At this time, there’s no hard evidence that continuous glucose monitoring contributes to significant or sustained weight loss. Instead, it gives users insights into how their bodies respond to certain foods as they eat them. Excess glucose can contribute to weight gain and, for diabetics, significant health complications. 

The idea behind Limbo and continuous glucose monitoring seems to be that over time, you get more and more data about how your body responds to specific foods, and then you can cut those foods out of your diet or reduce your portions so that you don’t have excessive or prolonged glucose spikes. 

According to the start-up, early adopters lost “an average of 12% in body weight within three months.”

The Limbo website breaks down the process into three ambiguous steps: 

  1. They collect data. Wearables, including the glucose meter, collect data on you while you eat, sleep, exercise, work, and everything else. 
  2. As the data is analyzed, you get “nudges” about how to stay “in Limbo.” These statements are ambiguous, but it seems to suggest that nudges would be alerts you receive through a mobile device or one of your wearables, and “in Limbo” is likely in reference to a low-glycemic state or calorie deficit, though this isn’t clear from their website. 
  3. Your nudges eventually become habits, and your habits “lead to transformation.” This reads as the classic “it’s not a diet, it’s a lifestyle” mentality. By getting enough alerts or nudges about your food consumption, Limbo seeks to turn data analysis into a habit. 

Limbo’s Obesity Claims

There isn’t much information on Limbo’s home page, but one block of text stands out. They write, “Obesity has become humanity’s biggest health problem. Turning to crash dieting, health fads and gym memberships hasn’t worked. Limbo has a new approach that can turn the tide.

Using advanced technology, we empower our members to recalibrate their bodies, take back control, and escape the obesity trap.” 

Citation Needed. 

No, seriously, if you’re going to claim that obesity has become humanity’s biggest health problem, you need a citation. I agree with them that crash dieting and health fads aren’t valuable, but this over-simplification of obesity is a disservice. 

First, there’s a methodological problem with assuming obesity leads to negative health outcomes when it’s just as possible that medical conditions which cause negative health outcomes also cause obesity. While it has become broadly accepted, especially in pop culture, that there is a causal relationship between obesity and illness, that’s not quite the case. It would, at best, be a correlative relationship, and an ambiguous one at that. 

Second, claiming that obesity has become humanity’s biggest health problem feels misguided by virtue of the nature of obesity. It erases folks with PCOS and other hormonal conditions, lipedema, and numerous other genetic and biological factors who cannot lose weight or get below the “obese” category from the conversation even though they’re the people most likely to deal with backlash or criticism rooted in fatphobia. 

Obesity can complicate medical conditions and can increase one’s risk of developing certain illnesses or conditions, but it’s not a one-way ticket to being sick and miserable. Other factors that can complicate or create conditions include access to medical care, living in a food desert vs having access to food, and poverty. 

Speaking of poverty… 

Limbo’s Current Cost is Significant

At the time of writing this, Limbo’s subscription fee for 3 months is £1500, which comes out to £500 per month. That cost includes the glucose meter, wearables, custom scale, access to their data analysis platform and “nudges,” and access to their members-only community. 

The program seems to suggest that within these three months, you’ll completely change your habits and relationship with food, making your weight loss sustainable. I’m skeptical. Doing something consistent for three months– on its own– is hard. Continuing beyond that point without guidance or reinforcement is harder. I suspect a significant “relapse” population or cohort of users who renew their subscriptions to maintain their support systems. 

At £1500, it’s already a cost-prohibitive service for many people. When factoring in that you may need to renew and pay £1500 again in a few months, it’s even more prohibitive and inaccessible. 

I’m Curious to See How This Turns Out

Health and fitness tech is an emerging and exciting space, and if Limbo is making a better product than I can see from the outside, good for them. I’m skeptical of any brand that makes obesity the number one enemy of health, though, and I’m not convinced that their approach isn’t just a repackaging of the “it’s not a diet, it’s a lifestyle” brand of dieting. That doesn’t strike a ton of confidence– not does the “obesity is the greatest threat to society” hyperbolic rhetoric. 

Still, I’m hesitant to write off any brand that seeks to expand our understanding of nutrition and metabolism, and if this is something that is helping individuals reach their goals, that’s great for them.

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