Antler Australia

Two dietitians became entrepreneurs to build an app that improves your mood with food

- November 17, 2021 3 MIN READ
WIRL co-founders Bree Pagonis and Alicia Holmquest.
Have you ever stopped to wonder just how much your mood is connected to the food you eat? 

Well, WIRL co-founders Alicia Holmquest and Bree Pagonis, who are also dietitians, have and are now pioneering a way to improve people’s mental health using food. 

A growing body of scientific research and years of industry experience led Holmquest and Pagonis to develop their mental wellbeing app to help people change people’s relationship with food and their bodies in what has become a diet-obsessed culture. 

“Through our own personal and professional journeys we uncovered that people have a deeply emotional relationship with food, and would frequently say things to us as health professionals like; ‘I’m addicted to sugar’, ‘I can’t stop binging on chocolate after dinner,’ or even things like ‘I feel like a fat pig when I eat a certain way’, which unfortunately is all too common and really devastating to hear,” Holmquest said.

“We estimate that women spend up to 30% of their waking hours eating, planning, shopping, cooking, and worrying about food and its impacts on our bodies. This puts so much fire in our bellies to put a holt to this narrative”. 

“For too long now, the world has told women that we are not enough and there’s a growing movement that’s really strongly pushing back against this.” 

Holmquest said the pair decided to use technology to solve this growing societal problem and change people’s thinking around food. 

“We have now built the world’s first mental wellbeing app that’s fuelled by food and driven by the gut-brain axis,” she said.

“It focuses on both the ‘what’ and the ‘how’ of eating. It’s designed so that food is no longer a burden to our mental health but used as a vessel to improve our mental wellbeing. 

“We are building a new consumer category based off the rapidly growing scientific field of research called nutritional psychiatry which explores the impacts of nutritional interventions to one’s mental health”. 

Holmquest says the WIRL app focuses on both the ‘what’ and the ‘how’ of eating, helping young women build customised dinner plans and shopping lists, incorporating paired audio exercises and regular food and mood check-ins, to improve their mental wellbeing through food. 

“What’s unique about our app is the long-forgotten ‘how’ of eating. We share fun, short, guided audio exercises to do while you eat. These can really help bring about presence and awareness to an eating experience in order for people to tune into their bodies and improve how they feel around food,” she said. 

“We sometimes like to think of it as a mediation app but for when you’re eating.” 

The co-founders were initially running workshops in schools and corporate environments, sharing the relationship between food and mental health when the pair decided to get involved with Antler, a global early-stage VC, to make a bigger impact. 

“We had to ask ourselves whether we wanted to be a small business with small impact or a genuine startup with high-risk but high-growth potential to really tackle this problem,” Holmquest said. 

“From our workshops, we also found that people wanted more support on how to embed our teachings in their day-to-day lives so we rapidly morphed into the technology space to try and do just that. This made the decision to join Antler even easier. We felt that going into Antler would really accelerate our business and it has honestly opened up doors that most female founders would never get.”

Going forward, Alicia Holmquest says “things must change” in the way we all approach dieting and food for the sake of mental health. 

“For far too long has the health and wellness industry put profits before people, dropping the ball on caring for young women and our mental health,” she said.  

“The time to act is right now. When 50% of us rank our mental health as our first or second priority in life, there is a huge opportunity to shake things up and we are so proud to be leading the charge with WIRL.” 

  • StartupDaily is the official media partner of Antler in Australia.
2024 Startup Daily Best in Tech Awards - nominations open