No amount of food scared Steven Colomer.
Consider his "go-to meal" at McDonald's: two double Quarter Pounders with cheese, two apple pies, a large order of fries, a large Coke, and a sundae with extra chocolate sauce - with a McChicken sandwich chaser.
Fortunately for the 5-foot-7 Colomer, a credit union employee whose weight peaked in the last two years to 240 pounds, something frightened him into more responsible eating.
That was Britney Kennedy, a diminutive Philadelphia woman he saw in person just twice during a five-month weight-loss program she designed for him through her company, OnPoint Nutrition.
No group weigh-ins. No driving to support meetings. Just Colomer and Kennedy working via Skype, e-mail and texting.
Now a svelte 160 pounds, Colomer, 26, of Harrisburg, who logged five failed weight-loss attempts by more traditional means, says he stands - much easier, thank you - as testament to the powers of accessibility and convenience that electronic counseling affords.
"It's almost like having a nutritionist in your pocket," agreed Kennedy, 28, who has a bachelor's degree in nutritional science from Pennsylvania State University. She established OnPoint in January with boyfriend Doug Bobrow, a recent MBA graduate of the University of Virginia, to provide virtual coaching in a field dominated by brick-and-mortar encounters.
Health experts predict that weight-loss counseling, as well as other behavioral therapy, will continue to evolve to high-tech formats.
"I think it's going to be a general trend in interventions, just as we've seen with the incorporation of electronic communications in our everyday life," said John Hustad, a clinical psychologist and associate professor at Penn State College of Medicine.
While working as a nutrition counselor and then a manager for a weight-loss chain, Kennedy said, she became convinced that a virtual program would provide more personalized, convenient and accessible service to clients, thus improving their chances.
"In order to lose weight and keep it off, you have to do it in a way that makes sense and jibes with your normal day-to-day life," she said. "Having support, accountability and guidance at your fingertips all day long is the direction our society is rapidly moving in."
Clients of OnPoint (www.onpoint-nutrition.com) get two 30-minute counseling sessions with Kennedy a week, by Skype or phone. Besides that and designing meal plans involving all food groups and based on USDA portion guidelines, Kennedy monitors clients' eating logs, issues tips, and answers unlimited numbers of texts and e-mails for $35 a week. Once goal weight has been reached, clients can continue with phone, text and e-mail support for $35 a month, $50 if Skyping is included.
Kennedy, who used to teach dance (the influence for her company name) conducts business from wherever she happens to be when a client needs help.
Anita Landis, 57, of Middletown, Dauphin County, e-mailed when a doctor's appointment ran long, and she missed a prescribed morning snack. Rather than declare the day a loss and "binge," Landis asked Kennedy what to do. Kennedy advised sticking to the day's plan - and having the snack later.
Starting at over 200 pounds, Landis was down 15 and one clothing size nearly four weeks into her remote-access work with Kennedy. "I don't have to drive to a clinic," she said. "I kind of like that freedom."
So does Colomer, who said his big size had made him too embarrassed to leave the house. Now, he's training for a marathon, having just run a half. Getting to our interview in Kennedy's apartment required climbing 29 steps.
"If this was six months ago, we would have had to meet on the first floor," he said, his smile shared by his wife, Jessie, who had feared becoming a young widow.
OnPoint has nine active clients now; Kennedy says 50 can be accommodated with the current staff of two. Business goals are profitability this year, adding employees to allow work with clients in different time zones, and a storefront.
For a business steeped in the virtual?
"There's value in branding," Bobrow said. "There's value in having a presence."