Estimated reading time 6 min

A stick of celery in the morning takes the hunger away

Ulla Koskinen, 66, downloaded the Onnikka app at the beginning of her retirement and lost eleven kilos in one year. She took part in a pilot project, partly funded by Sitra, to gather experiences of using digital applications as part of treatment.


Antti Kivimäki

Freelance Science Journalist


I’ve always been chubby, but it hasn’t affected my health. I have inherited my mother’s genes. Despite being overweight, I exercise a lot and haven’t had any problems with blood pressure, cholesterol or my heart.

I retired just over a year ago. My customer service job at the National Land Survey of Finland had been stressful, and I thought I could enjoy life now.

While hiking in Saariselkä, Finnish Lapland my leg became painful and my ankle swelled up. The orthopaedic surgeon did an MRI but found nothing wrong with my ankle. He offered me a cortisone shot. I said that the swelling was probably because I was overweight. The orthopedist wrote that the client did not want the injection but wanted to lose weight. That was bound to motivate me.

The orthopedist wrote that the client did not want the injection but wanted to lose weight. That was bound to motivate me.

A few weeks later, I saw an advertisement in the Keskisuomalainen newspaper for volunteers for the Onnikka study. I signed up on the spur of the moment. I was connected remotely to a nurse, had all sorts of things measured and downloaded Onnikka to my mobile phone.

I slavishly did everything Onnikka required and more. I weighed myself on Mondays and kept a diary of my eating and exercise.

My enthusiasm was boosted by my diagnosis of sleep apnea. It’s caused by a deviated nasal septum, and the problem is corrected with a sleep mask, but being overweight is also part of the problem.”

Ulla Koskinen goes to her apartment building’s gym several times a week and has become a model for the fitness equipment’s manual. She now weighs 11 kilos less than in the photo. (Photo: Veikko Somerpuro)

Breakfast ready in the evening

I was very motivated to read all the information that Onnikka provided.

It also talked a lot about emotions, but I wasn’t so interested in that side of it. Of course, I understood that when I was at work, when I was really tired at the end of the day and bought myself treats at the shop to spoil myself, it was emotional eating.

But being retired I was no longer stressed, so I preferred to pick up concrete tips for weight management.

I started to prepare my own food and wrote myself a menu before I went to the shop. I used to buy all kinds of ready meals and grilled food on a whim.

Somehow, Onnikka or someone behind it was following my answers. Once, Onnikka asked me if I’d read the food labels in the shop, and I replied that I had forgotten my glasses at home. At the next stop, Onnikka pointed out that I should redo the task with the glasses.

I now have a precise list of what I eat during the week. I’ve cut out red meat and eat lots of veg. I often make the week’s meals ready to freeze.

For breakfast, I eat enough vegetables to fill my veg quota for the day. I always eat a raw stick of celery. For some reason, it takes the feeling of hunger away for the whole day. I’ve talked to the other women in the apartment building, and they’ve started eating celery and have noticed the same thing.

I also eat rye bread, cheese and chilli in the morning. I make breakfast in the evening and put it in the fridge to wait. For lunch, I make a veggie stew with fish or chicken, and different vegetable soups. For dinner I have a banana, Greek yoghurt and berries.

Onnikka recommends having several small meals a day, but my life is so active that I only have time for three meals a day.”

5800 kilometres of cycling

Along with Onnikka, my health has been affected by the change in life rhythm that retirement has brought.

I moved to a new flat that has senior and student flats. A parking space would have cost Eur 800 a year, so I gave up my car and bought an electric bike. I can go almost anywhere on it, even to my where my children live, which is 15 km away. Last summer and this summer I have already cycled a total of 5800 kilometres.

There’s a gym downstairs in the building, which I go to several times a week. I also do a fitness circuit and jog and do different sports.

The Onnikka pilot project gave Ulla Koskinen a flying start to her retirement. (Photo: Veikko Somerpuro)

When I was using Onnikka I lost 11 kilos. That happened in the first eight months, and my weight stabilised there. My ankle has now healed. Thanks to the sleep mask, I don’t suffer from sleep apnea and can get a good night’s rest.

All my lab tests such as cholesterol, blood pressure and liver values improved. The nurse said, “This is really incredible.”

The pilot project was part of Sitra’s Health Data 2030 project, which develops solutions and ground rules for cross-border use of health data in Europe and supports the competitiveness of the Finnish health sector. Sitra’s aim has been to gather information on the use of new digital therapies as part of the care workflow.

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Read more about the experiences of other patients and care staff during the trial.

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