Have you ever wondered how your body reacts when you dig into a decadent bowl of chocolate ice cream, or a hearty meal of butter chicken with butter naans followed by a gulab jamun? Unfortunately, millions of Indians who are diabetic or prediabetic already know the answer to both of these. It sends their blood sugar levels shooting up beyond the acceptable range. But is this something everyone really needs to know? Well, HealthifyMe thinks so and will let users who sign up for their Pro Programme do exactly this.
HealthifyMe wants to introduce continuous Blood Glucose monitoring (CGM) as a key part of decoding what it calls ‘metabolic health’. The sensor is stuck to one of your arms (no, it does not hurt) and continuously monitors your blood sugar levels. But before you try this out, we think it’s better to have a chat with your doctor to figure out if you need this at all, because not everyone might be ready to understand the numbers in the right sense.
Now, let’s talk about what HealthifyMe Pro is, what it is trying to achieve, and my experience having used this for nearly two weeks.
HealthifyMe Pro: What is it, what do you get?
CGM devices have been coming out of the domain of high-end diabetic care over the past few years. HealthifyMe Pro is the latest entrant with its ‘beta’ programme available via the app. The programme will cost you between Rs 5,500 and Rs 8,000 per month, though the prices are still being finalised. With the base plan, users will get one sensor, which costs about Rs 4,500, a quarter. Plus you get access to HealthifyMe’s top coaches and the smart assistant Ria.
The idea is that all of these elements come together to help the user get insights. You get a daily ‘metabolic’ score that is designed to help you achieve your fitness goals– this is based on how well you have ‘maintained’ sugar levels. The ideal range that HealthifyMe Pro has set is 70 to 110 mg/dl for sugar levels. Keep in mind that these numbers are not in line with medical standards — under 140 mg/dl post meal or within the range of 70-180 mg/dl.
The more your sugar stays in range, the higher your daily score, according to the app. There’s some predictive analysis too happening on the basis of this. For instance, the app will estimate your Hba1C, an indicator of average sugar levels over a period of time. Based on your food intake, or the lack of it, Ria will warn you a sugar spike or a dip.
The sensor sticks to your body easily and HealthifyMe has added a patch to keep it in place, usually at the side of the upper arm. But I can see a lot of people panicking the first time they have to pin this to their arm. HealthifyMe plans to send an expert to the user’s house to help them wear the sensor, but a lot of diabetics stick the sensor on without any external help. You can wear the sensor for swimming or during your baths, but it cannot be submerged underwater for more than 30 minutes.
The sensor is actually Abbott’s FreeStyle Libre, recommended by many doctors in India to keep a track of sugar levels in diabetics. This is not the first time I’ve worn this sensor in my life. In early 2020, when I had gestational diabetes, the doctor wanted to track my stats better and got me to wear one, though I did not have access to the data which was with the doctor.
But HealthifyMe lets a user sync the sensor directly with their phone (iOS and Android) so that you can see the levels in the HealthifyMe app. I used it with my iPhone 12 Pro Max, but it works with any phone which has NFC access.
The company also has a Smart Scale that calculates metrics such as weight, fat percentage, muscle mass, etc. These also sync directly with the HealthifyMe app via Bluetooth and add to the insights generated by the programme. The programme also gives access to a free blood test that looks at various aspects such as lipid profile, vitamin deficiency, your HBA1c, liver health, etc.
One can also sync their fitness tracker, such as Apple Watch or Fitbit to ensure steps, etc are noted on the app. I did this with my Fitbit, though not all trackers are supported. The exercise sessions you record on your tracker or watch do not get automatically synced to the app. I had to manually enter my exercise sessions onto HealthifyMe Pro, which is inconvenient.
Keep in mind that HealthifyMe Pro is also collecting a lot of data points about you. Again you need to be sure that you’re okay with this as you sign up. HealthifyMe states all of this data is encrypted and secure and that they are GDPR compliant.
HealthifyMe Pro: Let’s talk about that Blood sugar monitor
Since the sensor is measuring sugar levels from interstitial fluid — also called tissue fluid that surrounds the body cells — its readings will very rarely match with those from a glucometer which measures blood sugar directly from a prick test. Most experts agree that a CGM is around 10-15 minutes behind in the numbers, and while these might not accurate all the time, they can help give a trend of your sugar levels.
But often the differences are glaring. For instance, one day after lunch, the glucometer showed my blood sugar was 97 mg/dl while the sensor showed it at 167 mg/dl. In fact, one can see that the graph for that day goes right up, crossing 200. I found this particular spike interesting because this was a day my carb content was slightly higher. I ate one roti, and what I thought was a ‘little bit’ of rice pulao along with my usual chicken and vegetables. I’ve known since my gestational diabetes days that rice eaten in unmeasured quantities is a sure shot way to send my sugar levels rising. It is likely this spike was captured by the sensor. But the fact that two hours later, it still showed a spike was worrying, though my glucometer showed something else.
Then on my son’s birthday, at 10.00am, I crossed 200 for a brief period. But hey I had cake. In fact, on a day on which I ate a lot of sushi, cake and chicken qorma, my graph was going up and down. This was not surprising for me, but just a reminder that refined sugar is something I need to avoid due to my medical history.
I say this as someone who spent the last nine months trying to keep blood sugar levels in control. I have also lost all of my post-pregnancy weight (around 10 kg) in this period thanks to the help of a nutritionist/fitness coach (not connected to this app).
I should also point out that during the two weeks I wore the sensor, my activities were low, my sleep was off and so was my diet.
All of these impact blood sugar levels. And does exercise make a difference to those blood sugar spikes and keep them in control? Absolutely as I noticed during my a recent company offsite. An early morning gym session followed by an uphill walk ensured that two idlis at breakfast — a sure way to spike my sugars as I’ve seen in the past– caused no drastic spike.
HealthifyMe Pro will also give access to a nutritionist and exercise coach you can connect with, who do keep messaging. I have barely interacted with the exercise coach. But the nutritionist has constantly messaged me. I also appreciated that she understood I was already on a diet plan with someone else and didn’t suggest any changes other than the need to add a salad to each meal, and follow it up with a brisk walk, instead of just plonking myself in front of my laptop. Frankly, it might sound like boring advice, but it is one that works.
Still, I’m not entirely convinced that these sugar numbers should be handled by a nutritionist alone, especially when the spikes are very high. There are also the medical reports, which the nutritionist can see to recommend any areas of concern such as the need for supplements. Again, I would stress that only a doctor should be adding supplements–if needed at all– to your diet.
HealthifyMe Pro: What about the other features, UI?
The HealthifyMe Pro programme also lets you sync the smart scale and plots your weight trend. I typically weigh myself once a week, in the early morning on an empty stomach. The numbers are in line with what I’ve seen over the past two months. I’ve lost the extra weight, but still need to reduce body fat further, which actually is a harder challenge. All of this data is also seen by the nutritionist and exercise coach you choose.
But the user interface for Pro can be a little cluttered at times and it is still a work in progress. It might take a few minutes to make sense of all the information thrown at you. I also noticed that the design changed during the course of my usage as the company rolled out the beta version.
There’s a dedicated Pro tab in the app, where you will see the coach, your health reports, the scale, etc. For Pro users, the home page opens with a graph of their sensor data, followed by their nutrition data for the day. This is based on the meals one has logged daily.
HealthifyMe Pro: So what’s the point of this program? Should you give it a try?
With HealthifyMe Pro, the company wants to evolve beyond just an app to track one’s daily food intake, exercise, etc in order to lose weight. The new ‘Pro’ programme is an advanced option aimed at those who have started a fitness journey, and are keen for some more data and stats. The approach is also designed to help deliver a more tailored plan for one’s fitness journey, according to the company.
If you have been struggling to lose weight, despite your best efforts, maybe this approach could help give some insights on foods or drinks that are making this so difficult. Yes, tech-based programmes which are data-driven might seem like the right answer in a world where everyone has an opinion on nutrition. But HealthifyMe Pro is still a work in progress. This is something even the company admits since it is only in beta testing for now.
But before you decide to sign up, please do read up on blood sugar levels, and diabetes or just talk to a doctor who specialises in the field. If you have anxiety and find yourself panicking every time you see the numbers right post a meal, then I would not recommend you try this. You will only convince yourself of something that perhaps doesn’t even exist. Even I won’t be wearing the sensor again, till my doctor gives me the approval.
The reason I say it’s best to consult your doctor first is from experience. My insulin resistance was caught because I happened to tell my gynaecologist that I wasn’t losing weight despite swimming every day. She suggested I get my sugars tested and yes, things were off. Call it genetics (my mother and paternal aunt have type 2 diabetes), my lack of regular exercise, or my love for deep-fried maida in any form, I’ve known that I’m prone to diabetes. HealthifyMe Pro was just another reminder that I need to work continuously to keep these problems in check. But most importantly, it was a reminder that on days I don’t move, I’m causing a lot more damage to myself, perhaps more than that bowl of ice cream I now so judiciously avoid.