Remember when weight loss was simply about eating less and exercising more? These days, dieting is getting high tech. Every day, studies are released about the benefits of new electronic weight loss gadgets. But are they really necessary and will they actually help with weight loss?
A recent study from the British Medical Journal promotes the use of a small computer-linked food scale (called a Mandometer) to help with weight loss. The Mandometer was developed by researchers from Sweden’s Karolinska Institute. Dieters put their plates on this scale which weighs the remaining food as the meal is eaten. There is also a small screen which shows dieters the rate at which they are eating their food and the ideal rate at which they should be eating their food. When food is eaten too quickly, the computer tells the dieter to slow down.
The goal is to teach dieters to eat more slowly. As we have all heard time and again, it takes twenty minutes for the brain to tell the belly that it is full. Many overweight people eat too quickly; by the time the “fullness” signal gets to them, they have already eaten more food than necessary. Studies have shown that when you eat food more slowly, you feel full after fewer calories.
So does this new scale work? Doctors in England studied its use in obese children age nine to 17 years over an 18 month period. The study group was trained on using the Mandometer while the control group was not. Both groups were counseled to exercise one hour a day and follow a healthy diet.
After one year, the study group’s BMI had fallen an average of 2.1 points, around three times more thank the control group. Even better, this weight loss was maintained when measured 18 months later. At the end of the study, Mandometer patients were eating smaller servings at each meal and snack. They also ate their food more slowly than dieters in the control group.
I think the Mandometer sounds great. I constantly counsel my patients to eat more slowly. But it is not always easy; people don’t realize how quickly they are eating. A device that helps dieters eat more slowly can only help!
And the Mandometer is not the only new high-tech weight loss device. Other groups of doctors are developing wearable wireless sensors to monitor the overweight as they go about their daily lives. These sensors document how often the wearer exercises, how much food he eats, and the location in which he eats his food.
Why is it so important to have this information clearly delineated? Studies show that when dieters “self-report” what they have eaten and how much they have exercised, the data is usually not accurate. Dieters often underestimate portion sizes, forget some of the “little bites” they have eaten during the day, and exaggerate the calorie burn of their exercise. By using this sensor, the information becomes more accurate and more reliable.
Many of these devices are currently in development. Some of them contain video cameras or Bluetooth-enabled cell phones so users can take pictures of their meals, thereby documenting portion sizes. Dieters take pictures of their food before and after eating. The information can then be sent to a lab where a calorie count can be determined. In some instances, dieters can get immediate feedback about their calorie intake!
These devices also contain accelerometers that can measure the length and intensity of a workout. If the device senses a prolonged period of inactivity, the wearer can receive a text message telling them to get moving!
But do these devices actually lead to weight loss? It seems logical that they would but studies are still ongoing. I know that I would LOVE to try one of these sensors. I imagine that the cost of the device and the data interpretation would be high but I think the results would be invaluable.
The bottom line is that most dieters underestimate the number of calories they eat each day and overestimate the calorie burn of their exercise sessions. A gadget to accurately gauge this information should help set the record straight. I believe that if these sensors become widely available, weight loss would become that much easier.