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Joanna Dolgoff, M.D. Headshot

Technology for Weight Loss

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Remember when weight loss was simply about eating less and exercising more? These days, dieting is getting high tech. An increasing number of studies are being released about the benefits of new electronic weight loss gadgets. Should we embrace these gadgets? Will they actually help people to lose weight?

A recent study published in the British Medical Journal advocates the use of a small computer-linked food scale (called a Mandometer) to help with weight loss. The Mandometer was developed by researchers at Sweden's Karolinska Institute. Dieters put their plates on this scale, which weighs the remaining food as the meal is eaten. A small screen shows dieters the rate at which they consume their food and the ideal rate at which they should be eating. When food is being eaten too quickly, the computer tells the dieter to slow down.

The goal of the Mandometer 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 stomach that it is full. Many overweight people tend to eat too quickly and in turn consume more food than necessary before they are aware of their "fullness." Studies have shown that when you eat more slowly, your body registers being full after fewer calories.

So does Mandometer work? Doctors in England studied its use with obese children age nine to 17-years-old over an 18 month period. One sample of subjects was trained to use the scale, while the other group was not. Both groups were counseled to exercise one hour a day and follow a healthy diet.

After one year, the subjects that used Mandometer witnessed their BMI drop by an average of 2.1 points. This decrease is three times greater than that of the study's control group. Moreover, the individuals' 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, while also consuming 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 I fully recognize that this is not always an easy task. People don't realize how quickly they eat. A device that helps dieters eat more slowly is a positive step in the right direction!

The Mandometer is only one of the new high-tech weight loss devices hitting the market. Other groups of doctors are currently developing wearable wireless sensors to monitor the overweight as they go about their daily lives. The sensors document how often wearers exercise, how much they eat, and the location in which they eat their food.

Why is it so important to have this information clearly delineated? Studies show that when dieters "self-report" what they eat and how much they exercise, the data they offer is usually inaccurate. Dieters tend to underestimate portion sizes, exclude some of the "little bites" they have eat throughout the day, and exaggerate how many calories they burn when they exercise. By using this sensor, the information reported becomes more accurate and reliable.

Many of these high-tech weight loss devices are currently being developed. Some 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 successful weight loss? It seems logical that they would, but studies are still ongoing on their effectiveness. I, personally, 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.