Tired of counting calories? Try counting bites instead. Or just let the Bite Counter do it for you. The “pedometer for eating” developed by two Clemson University researchers is worn like a wristwatch and counts the number of bites user take during each meal. The idea is to help people keep from overindulging.
The device tracks wrist motion to determine both the number and type of bites: it’s designed to know when users have taken a bite of food versus a swig of a drink, and then estimates the number of calories in each mouthful by way of technology similar to that used by exercise equipment to estimate calories burned.
“The device only requires that the user press a button to turn it on before eating and press the button again after the meal or snack is done,” Bite Counter co-creator Adam Hoover said in a statement. “In between, the device automatically counts how many bites have been eaten.”
The Bite Counter was more than 90% accurate in counting bites in lab studies, its creators say. But given that the average bite can consist of anything from broiled salmon to baked Alaska, isn’t it hard to estimate calories accurately? “That’s true,” says the product’s website. “However, the caloric content of a bite averages out over the long term. People also tend to eat the same foods week to week, further stabilizing the calorie/bite relationship.” In addition, according to the website, the calorie-bite relationship can be customized to your particular diet over a weeklong observation period.
The Bite Counter doesn’t just tally your calories, it plays disciplinarian too. You can preset a bite limit per meal or per day, so if you find yourself digging into that devil’s food cake a little too deeply after dinner, the device will sound an alarm for every unauthorized bite.
That may not sound like a very pleasant dining experience, but we need this kind of motivation because other weight management programs aren’t helping most people, Bite Counter co-creator Eric Muth said in a statement. “Studies have shown that people tend to underestimate what they eat by large margins, mostly because traditional methods rely upon self-observation and reporting,” he said.
The creators are marketing the device to weight-loss researchers as an alternative to the conventional food diaries and phone interviews used in many studies, since these techniques rely on faulty self-reporting.
For dieters, the Bite Counter allows you to download your eating data to a computer for “long-term analysis and visualization.” It can also be worn anywhere — in restaurants, at work and generally anywhere that people have trouble tracking their calories.
We haven’t tried the Bite Counter, so we can vouch for its accuracy. And it remains to be seen whether bite count has any real bearing on calorie count or whether counting bites actually helps people lose weight. (If it’s any indication, a recent study on chewing found that people who chewed their food more — and presumably took fewer bites — ate 12% fewer calories that people who chewed less during meals.)
The product’s website also notes that bite counts can be confused by wearers’ non-eating motions, such as gesturing during a meal, using a napkin or adjusting one’s eyeglasses. And of course, it won’t count bites if you eat with your non-dominant hand (i.e., the one on which you aren’t wearing the Bite Counter).
Still, if you’re interested in becoming an early adopter, the Bite Counter is available online for a whopping $799. Its creators hope it will eventually be sold along with other consumer electronics like heart-rate monitors, GPS devices and the like.