Better Body Image founder Dee Barker shows the mobile app on her smartphone. Image courtesy of Dee Barker.

Anyone who’s signed up for a gym membership in January only to see their motivation fizzle by Groundhog Day knows that when it comes to adopting a healthy lifestyle, commitment is key.

But with new supplements, fad diets and exercise programs hitting the market every day, it’s hard to resist the temptation for a quick fix.

“As a country, we’re getting less healthy in spite of all the information and tools out there,” says Dee Barker, an exercise physiologist and fitness entrepreneur with more than 30 years of experience. “We don’t need more diets or exercise equipment. What we need are behavior-changing tools that help people engage and stick with it long enough to visually see results.”

Enter Better Body Image — BBI for short.

Barker launched the visual imaging software in 2016 to show users how they’d look about 15 pounds lighter, using a data set she’d collected from clients over nearly two decades.

“I had measured so many people for so many years that I could start to visualize how people would look when they lost weight,” says Barker. “What if I could use this data of men and women of all ages and varied body types to show how bodies could change over time?”

Barker’s team of developers refined her original concept to combine key data points — measurements of a user’s arms, chest, waist, abdomen, hips and thighs — with user photos that are uploaded to a database of similar body types to project realistic changes over six to eight weeks.

For the initial assessment, a user’s photo is matched with the physiological profile of someone else who has accomplished their six-week goal. After that, their progress is measured against their own profile.

The company has secured $400,000 in angel investment funding and venture capital, and Pittsburgh Life Sciences Greenhouse is a major supporter. The software was just licensed to Rejuvenan Global Health, which provides companies with a digital, AI-driven corporate health and wellness platform.

For a non-techie, getting to this point has been humbling.

“I realized how much I really didn’t know,” Barker says.

But what she does know is that BBI is a powerful tool in the hands of medical professionals, who share it with patients who are preparing for bariatric surgery and use the measurements to assess their patients’ risk factors for diabetes and heart disease. In an industry notorious for steep drops in engagement, 77 percent of the people who receive a referral download the app and use it regularly — and six months later, 62 percent are still using it.

Allison Neiberg tried everything from the Atkins diet to Weight Watchers before she was introduced to BBI through a personalized training program at St. Clair Fitness and Racquet Club.

“It is eye-opening,” says the 44-year-old mother of two. “The app really helps you see your intended results and allows you to be aware of your food intake.”

Though Neiberg has already lost 20 pounds, she says she still has about 10 to go.

“Looking at the end result photo helps me keep the motivation,” she says.

The company also developed a virtual measuring tape called Size Me Right that works in tandem with BBI, allowing users to take their own measurements to set up their profiles. But Barker sees opportunities for the technology to be applied to the retail space, too. (Think online shopping.)

“It’s kind of sexy,” says Barker. “Even if people haven’t committed to changing their lifestyle, they want to see what they’ll look like.”

Emily fell in love with the written word as a teenager, when she published zines and wrote for her school paper. Today, she is a freelance writer with a decade and a half of experience in non-profit communications. She enjoys cooking, reading, crafting and exploring Pittsburgh with her husband and two sons.