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It’s that time again! The new year is here, and most people experience what I would call “holiday eating remorse.” Two months of big holiday eating have de-railed most American diets. Shortly after ringing in the New Year, many of us are painfully aware that we need to get back on the dietary wagon. A friend of mine wrestled himself onto his weight scale. After seeing the result, he double checked to make sure his dog wasn’t on the scale with him.

A tradition for many to kick-start the new year, reassess our dietary intake, come up with an implementable plan that will deliver results and shed those holiday pounds and more. Well what if you’ve got more than just holiday pounds to lose? What if you’re not quite sure how effective your weight loss efforts are? What if the pounds just keep adding up rather than dropping?

Applying DMAIC to Weight Loss

Sounds like some root cause analysis may be in order. If you’ve taken a Six Sigma course before, you are armed with DMAIC, a methodology that can help with weight loss. Especially for those of us that haven’t quite figured out the magic weight loss formula for ourselves.

DMAIC is the root cause analysis methodology from the Six Sigma toolkit. DMAIC is an acronym that stands for:


In a nutshell here’s how DMAIC is applied for weight loss:


Define the problem and the goal. Map out your daily process for eating and frequency of exercise.


Take baseline measurements of your weight, include using a scale, tape measure for inches, and/or health metrics such as blood sugar, or cholesterol.


Brainstorm other factors that may be causing you to gain weight. We tend to focus on diet and exercise as the key contributors, but there could be other critical root causes that you may be overlooking. For example, I had a situation where I was gaining weight, and discovered that I had an adult onset sensitivity to dairy. As soon as I confirmed that I had a food allergy (my doctor encouraged me to get tested, and I thought the test would be inconclusive!) I cut dairy out of my diet, I lost 3 inches on my waist within a week!

One of the most common hypothesis for gaining weight is: “I’m eating too many calories.” In Analyze, you collect data to prove or disprove your hypothesis. Collecting data on your current eating habits should include the day or the week, the time of day, what is being eaten, and the amount of calories. While collecting causal data, try not to change your behavior! This data is supposed to be the “current state” of the process. Once you’ve collected your caloric intake, analyze your daily caloric intake, compare it to the daily recommended caloric intake for men and/or women. Determine if you are truly eating too many calories. Did you prove your hypothesis? If so, collecting this data will help you be able to complete further analysis on what kinds of food your eating, when your eating, and even behavioral patterns that may be causing you to ingest too many calories, (like a good friend who enjoys happy hour and wants you to join her!)


Now that you understand more detail around what and when too many calories are being consumed, you can develop a plan for improvement, including behavioral changes (eating 6x a day, healthier choices, better low calorie options, exercise, etc.) This could include a future state map. After a period of time, re-measure to see if there is an improvement. If there is an improvement, then continue the improvement plan until you reach your goal.


Once you’ve reached your goal, you can now put a plan in place to sustain the loss. Most of us already know that without a Control Plan, most people gain all the weight back and more! So be sure to think about a control plan as a lifestyle change, something that is sustainable in the long-term, not temporary like a diet.

Read the project example from a student that applied DMAIC to their weight loss problem. Enjoy!

Define Phase

Project Charter

Project Charter - How to Lose Weight Using Lean Six Sigma -


SIPOC - How to Lose Weight Using Lean Six Sigma -

Measure Phase

Baseline Weight (Measure Phase) - How to Lose Weight Using Lean Six Sigma -

A steady increase in weight gain since January. This is my baseline data for my weight.

Analyze Phase

Fishbone Diagram

Fishbone Diagram - How to Lose Weight Using Lean Six Sigma -

Root Cause Hypothesis

Root Cause Hypothesis - How to Lose Weight Using Lean Six Sigma -

Improve Phase

Root Cause Solution Matrix

Root Cause Solution Matrix - Using Lean Six Sigma To Lose Weight -

  • With an established goal of 2000 calories per day, 15 of the 56 days (27%) exceeded the daily limits.
  • The overall result was a weight loss of 7 pounds.
  • Although on track for 1⁄2 to 1 pounds (mean of .88 lbs.) for weight loss per week, review of the daily logs showed too much variation in calorie intakes, unhealthy food types, quantity consumed, data documentation, and exercise consistency.
    • 2 weeks of poor monitoring/data collection practices during scheduled classes, holidays, and family visitations (7/04 to 7/16) showed disappointing data posting of calorie intake to maintain the weight loss plan. Capturing weight and exercise data was documented for run chart details.
  • This was the requirement for a much more regimented diet and exercise schedule for the Improve Phase.
  • Although monitoring daily calorie intake is beneficial, after the concepts are incorporated into the basic weight reduction plan they become less important during the Control Phase.
    • The Improve Process provided dynamic results with a weight loss of 9 lbs. over 2 weeks.
    • A two-week adherence to the Calorie King® 1400 daily calorie plan included:
      • No alcohol, soda, fast foods, white bread, processed meats (chicken, turkey, ham slices are ok) like hot dogs or kielbasa. This plan, although strict, allowed for a variety of healthy food choices for a 2-week test period.
    • Identified low-calorie/fat food substitutions.
    • Increased walking goal to 21 miles per week / 3 miles per day (averaged 18 miles per week during Improve Phase). This meant 1.5 hours per day to meet the 3-mile goal.
    • Realize that a one-size diet plan does not fit all.



Improvement Data - Weight Loss - How to Lose Weight Using Lean Six Sigma -
Achieved weight loss from 202 to 199 pounds.

Control Phase

Put a plan in place to sustain the loss, “It’s not a diet stupid, it’s a lifestyle change!”

  • Standardize pre-packaging of snacks (Ziploc bags for nuts, candy, pretzels, and meat meal sizes before freezing, etc.).
  • Switch from “rib eye” to “lean steaks” to reduce fat intakes. Cost and quality increased per pound; but overall calories decreased; eating pleasure increased with reduced red meat intake.
  • Spinach replaces lettuce for salad selections.
  • Low-fat salad dressing now used.
    • Order dressing on the side when placing restaurant order.
  • Use existing kitchen appliances: GT Xpress, Magic Bullet, Lean Mean Fat Grilling Machine, Brook Stone Meat Thermometer, convection oven, and BBQ for food preparation.
  • 8”x 10” color photo of sugar container and zip lock bag with 10 teaspoons of sugar for soda reduction reminder per can (placed above soda storage area).
  • Modified exercise plan to change daily walking schedule and include strength training. One free day for rest.
  • Identified alternate exercise activities for activates: Tai Chi/community classes, strength training plan (kettle bells), exercise bike, weight bench, substitute activities (household chores) etc. to meet daily exercise goals.
  • Added Sleep and Project Log Book to future state map.

Control Phase Weight Chart

Weight Loss Using Lean Six Sigma -

Have you gotten healthier using Lean Six Sigma? Share your story in the comments below! We hope you enjoyed this example of how Lean Six Sigma can help you become healthier! Click here for more examples of projects and ways Lean Six Sigma can help you improve at work and at home.

Tracy O'Rourke

Tracy is a Master Black Belt at, the co-author of The Problem-Solver’s Toolkit and co-host of the Just-in-Time Cafe. She is also a Lean Six Sigma Green Belt Instructor at UC San Diego and teaches in San Diego State University’s Lean Enterprise Program. For almost 20 years, she has helped leading organizations like Washington State, Charles Schwab and GE build problem-solving muscles.
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