Pedometers can be a great motivational tool for people looking to shed a few pounds by getting active. But since cutting the calorie intake is also an important factor in trimming down researchers at Clemson University in South Carolina have created a device that acts like a pedometer for eating. The Bite Counter is worn like a watch and tracks how many mouthfuls the wearer takes to sound an alarm when they reach for one handful of chips too many.
Once activated at the start of a meal, the Bite Counter works by tracking the wrist roll motion that people use when picking something up and putting it in their mouths. The device then automatically counts how many times this is done until the wearer finishes eating and turns the device off. According to its inventors, the device has been shown to be more than 90 percent accurate in counting bites in laboratory studies, regardless of the user, food, utensil or container.
As the Bite Counter only counts the number of bites, and not the amount of calories contained in individual bites, calories are calculated from the bite count using a formula similar to those used in exercise equipment for estimating the number of calories burned.
"Studies have shown that people tend to underestimate what they eat by large margins, mostly because traditional methods rely upon self-observation and reporting," said psychology professor Eric Muth, who created the Bite Counter with electrical and computer engineering professor Adam Hoover. "Our preliminary data suggest that bite count can be used as a proxy for caloric count."
Just like most pedometers, the Bite Counter's counts won't be perfect. Motions such as using a napkin, adjusting glasses or gesticulating while eating can confuse the device, but its creators say that people tend to conduct the same amount of these types of motions meal to meal, so the effect of false counts on the long-term tracking of intake is minimal. They also say that, although some people may eat with both hands - Homer Simpson comes to mind -, most people consume over 90 percent of their food and around 50 percent of their liquid with the dominant hand.
The user is able to set custom bite limits for each meal or for the whole day. Once the limit is reached, an alarm will sound and will continue to sound every time another bite is taken. Data logged on the device can also be downloaded onto a computer via USB for long-term analysis.
Manufacture of the Bite Counter is underway with plans for the device to be sold alongside devices such as activity monitors, heart-rate monitors, GPS watches and pedometers. Until then, a device is available for professional and research use for US$799 from the website of Clemson University startup company, Bite Technologies.