Data-driven wellness app WIRL is boosting our mood through food Case Studies 4 Apr 2023 by Holly Clark There’s a $946 billion diet industry that profits off you feeling ick about what you eat. Teaching us disordered eating behaviours from calorie counting to Intermittent Fasting (a literal form of starvation) all to meet a beauty standard that’s wildly unattainable for most. But two Melbourne dietitians (and a growing global movement of people) are rejecting the social norms of what it means to be “healthy” with a new mental wellbeing app that uses food to boost your mood. Alicia Holmquest and Bree Pagonis are the co-founders of the health tech startup WIRL, a recent graduate of LaunchVic’s CivVic Labs pre-accelerator program helping early-stage founders grow their business ideas. Both practicing dieticians, Alicia and Bree developed WIRL to use the power of food to support mental wellbeing. “Through our own personal and professional journeys, we uncovered that people have a deeply emotional relationship with food, frequently saying things to us as health professionals such as; ‘I’m addicted to sugar’, ‘I can’t stop binging on chocolate after dinner,’ or even e ‘I feel like a fat pig when I eat a certain way’, which unfortunately isn’t surprising, but really devastating to hear,” Alicia said. “We estimate that some folks spend up to 30% of their waking hours eating, planning, shopping, cooking, and worrying about food and its impacts on their bodies. With the recent appointment of Tarryn Brumfitt as Australian of the Year, it’s evident that this is an issue that needs to be tackled for people, young and old.” Building mindfulness around food The WIRL app combines the science behind The Non-Diet Approach to nutrition, nutritional psychiatry and culinary nutrition to curate our eating experiences based on a person’s mood and other inputs. Users can access food & nutrition recommendations that support the overall nourishment of the gut-microbiome, which has links with improved feelings of happiness. The app also provides guided audio exercises that help you tune into your body, optimise digestion & generally feel good around food. “They’re like mini meditations but for eating,” Alicia adds. “Plus, there’s a menu planner, shopping list and library full of gut-loving recipes to take the mental load out of menu planning.” Scaling up Through CivVic Labs – a pre-accelerator program challenging early-stage startups to solve public sector challenges – Alicia and Bree put the app to the test with researchers and policy experts from Victoria’s Health Promotion Foundation, VicHealth. Alicia said the program was instrumental in refining the value proposition of the WIRL app we see today. “The CivVic Labs program allowed WIRL to allocate focused resources on supporting young people specifically,” she said. “We co-created with young people, iterated our product, experimented with marketing messages, and explored schools & sporting clubs as sales channels.” After a competitive pitch to an audience of senior VicHealth stakeholders, the team took out a $25,000 seed funding prize to further build out the solution. The result is WIRL’s first ever subscription app, now available on the Apple App Store and as a WeApp across the world. Download it here. Expressions of interest for our latest round of CivVic Labs are open until 1pm Monday July 31.