Wearable that counts your bites could help you lose weight

Ditch your smartwatch or FitBit, there’s could soon be a new kind of wearable technology on the market — one that’s trying to help you lose weight by counting the number of bites you take during a meal.

Researchers at Clemson University decided to analyze how being informed of bite count could influence eaters in different situations and determine its correlation to environmental cues that are typically linked to overeating. The team found that people who received bite count feedback ate less and reduced their overall intake during a meal.

A subject is outfitted with a wearable bite count feedback device. (Image Credit: Clemson University)
A subject is outfitted with a wearable bite count feedback device. (Image Credit: Clemson University)

The study was conducted by having people eat an ordinary meal in the lab. Some subjects were provided with bite count feedback devices and given either a small or large plate. The group that received bite count feedback significantly reduced their intake regardless of plate size — although, those given larger plates still consumed more than those given smaller plates. (Large plate sizes are usually linked to over-consumption.)

While providing bite count feedback helped lessen the influence of plate size, it was still not enough to completely break it.

“It was found that the presence of bite count feedback led to a reduction in overall consumption. This finding is consistent with current literature that shows feedback on consumption leads people to consume less,” said Phillip W. Jasper, PhD candidate in Human Factor Psychology, Department of Psychology, Clemson University. “It was found that this type of feedback does not eliminate the effect of environment cues such as plate size. Individuals may eat less when they receive bite count feedback, but feedback alone may not be sufficient in terms of helping them to take an ‘appropriate’ or ‘normal’ number of bites, particularly in the presence of large plates.”

Other rounds of testing involved giving the subjects an either low or high bite goal (12 bites or 22 bites) for their meal. Both groups met their goals, but the low-bite group took bigger bites, which resulted in both groups having comparable levels of consumption.

To the researchers, this finding indicated a complex relationship between bite count goals and energy intake.

“It is possible that this compensatory behavior is intentional, a reaction to a perceived limitation such that participants believed 12 bites to be too restricting of a goal,” said Jasper. “In other words, in an effort to reach satiety while not surpassing the given goal, participants felt as though they needed to take larger bites than they typically would.”

According to the researchers, bite count feedback is a great way to curb the mindless overeating that occurs when people aren’t really thinking.  By providing live insight into the number of bites, the team thinks people will be more likely to stop eating when they’re full, as well as be more aware of what they’re eating.

“We want people to be mindful of what they’re doing. That’s what’s really important. We want them to be mindful of their eating, and bite count feedback is a way to keep people mindful of their eating behaviors,” said Jasper.

By monitoring bite count for a while with a wearable device, the team thinking doctors can work with patients to create personalized bite goals that are just slightly under their average in order to help them reduce intake through fewer bites without feeling like they have to overcompensate.

These new approaches  can help people concerned with overweight and obesity eat less by providing them with external indicators of their energy intake. Knowing the number of bites is much less abstract than knowing the number of calories.

“Self-monitoring is one of the cornerstones of successful weight loss,” said Jasper. “By giving people bite count feedback, which is a good indicator for energy intake, they know how much they’ve had to eat or drink, they know their intake so they can better adjust their energy expenditure behaviors.”

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