Food & Drink

This ex-Googler has made the ‘Spotify of nutrition’

By Kitty Knowles 9 January 2018

A robot nutritionist called Lysa can tell you what healthy food to eat - and where.

Around half of us will try to diet this year. And with good reason: over 500,000 hospital admissions in the UK each year involve obesity as a factor.

But changing what we eat isn’t just about weight.

Our ethics are increasingly impacting our food decisions – whether you only eat free range or fair trade, you avoid over-farmed fish, or go all-out vegan in the name of the environment or animal rights.

Keeping on top of these decisions and maintaining a healthy weight can feel impossible – especially if you’re time poor.

Meet Anne-Laure Le Cunff

Anne-Laure Le Cunff, is the ex-Googler who wants to take the worry out of food.

She’s founded an artificially intelligent nutritionist designed to make knowing what, when, and where to eat “as easy as discovering a great new song on Spotify”.

“I want you to be able to focus on what’s important, which is having a good time when you’re eating,” she told The Memo after the launch of the AXA Women Entrepreneurs in Health Tech Awards.

Creating Lysa

Le Cunff started Lysa having seen both her mother and grandmother struggle to eat well while living with Type 2 diabetes.

She’d been working on Google’s digital health teams and saw that, while many people were keen to download healthy eating apps, few stuck with them.

At the other end of the spectrum, she saw people succeeding with support from real life nutritionists, but these are expensive, and few offer support in-between sessions.

To combat this, Le Cunff designed her friendly AI nutritionist to be present wherever you are – whether that’s on Slack at work, on Facebook Messenger meeting friends, or in your kitchen with your Google Home or Amazon Echo.

“We’re trying to provide people with the tailored support you’d get from a nutritionist, but day-to-day, so they can make the right decision when it comes to food in the moment,” says Le Cunff.

How Lysa works  

Le Cunff bootstrapped a beta version of Lysa for Facebook Messenger last summer, alongside CTO Jay Li, and registered NHS dietitian Katarina Burton, which is being tested by around 1,000 Londoners.

To use it, you simply input your goals (along with any food restrictions) and start logging your meals so Lysa can keep track of what you’re eating.

With a database of 500,000 food items, the bot is already capable of understanding human language like ‘I had an avocado and two slices of toast’. It can even understand phrases like ‘a bowl of spaghetti’ because it operates on standard sizes.

If your personal bowls are too big or too small you can change these sizes so Lysa remembers, and in the future, Le Cunff hopes improvements in image processing could mean that you simply snap photos of your food to upload it.

Recommendations for you

Once Lysa knows what you’re eating, she can start to recommend meals or snacks – as available at nearby shops and restaurants.  

Much of this information has been input by the team for the London beta, however, Le Cunff is already in talks with companies that have large food listings databases who she says will be able to help Lysa list food services anywhere.

“If you say ‘I’m hungry’, and Lysa knows that you’re in Old Street and that you’ve already eaten this morning, Lysa might recommend something a little higher in protein, for example,” the founder explains.

“It’s all about balance,” she adds.

This approach is also why the team is using gifs and emoji to celebrate the successes of Lysa users.

“If they’re logging food that’s not necessarily healthy, we’re not shaming them,” Le Cunff says.

“Lysa’s just like ‘we really hope you enjoyed that’. And the next day we might recommend something different. That’s it.”

You can even use Lysa book a consultation with a human nutritionist as part of Le Cunff’s freemium model – who has access to all your dietary information before the session to keep it short, sweet and inexpensive.

The future

Last month Le Cunff launched Lysa’s first corporate trials in two large London companies, laying the foundations for a potential ‘b2b2c’ business model.

This, she hopes, will run alongside her freemium offering and any potential NHS partnerships. And the founder says that she plans to launch Lysa publically later this year.

Le Cunff has saved enough personal funds for the year ahead, but will be likely looking to raise investment in 2018.

“We’ve worked really hard on making Lysa fun and engaging – it’s really like talking to a person really,” says Le Cunff.

Could Lysa be the ‘person’ to change your life around?