You’ve tried diets from South Beach and North Oshkosh, followed every doctor from Oz to Atkins to Seuss, cut out carbs, reached for Stevia instead of sugar, and still the pounds won’t come off. Maybe it’s not what you’re putting in your mouth, but the way you eat it—and now there’s a computerized plate that could help.
Researchers Cecelia Bergh, Ph.D., and Per Södersten, Ph.D., of the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm theorize that eating disorders—including the overeating that leads to obesity—are the result of abnormal eating rhythms. When you eat too quickly, your digestive system doesn’t have the chance to send the proper signals of satiety (fullness) to your brain. Over time you lose the ability to recognize hunger and fullness, and you need more food to feel satisfied; next thing you know, you’re trading your size eights for eighteens. (On the other end of the spectrum are anorexics, who eat so slowly that their bodies are fooled into thinking they’re full after just a bite or two.)
With that in mind, Bergh and Södersten developed the Mandometer, whose name comes from the Latin for “I eat.” It’s a plate that rests on a small digital scale attached to a small computer monitor. Before each meal or snack, you input the type of meal you’re eating into the computer, along with an assessment of how hungry you are.
As you eat, the computer then tracks how quickly the food goes off the plate and alerts you to slow down if the plate is emptying too fast. You’re also prompted every so often to evaluate how full you feel. Once you get used to dining at a normal pace and listening to your stomach’s signals—a process that takes about three to four months—you feel full sooner and eat less. Bergh and Södersten say that psychological symptoms such as anxiety, depression, and obsession with food disappear on their own once eating patterns stabilize.
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Simple as it sounds, there’s evidence that it works. The British medical Journal recently published a study of two groups of obese children and teens. Both followed a diet and exercise plan, but one group used the Mandometer as well. After a year, the Mandometer group had lower body fat scores and body mass indices (BMI) than the second group—and still maintained their weight loss six months later.
The device is available to patients in the six Mandometer clinics in Sweden, Australia, and San Diego; a seventh facility is scheduled to open in New York City this spring. The clinics, which have both residential and outpatient programs, have an impressive success rate, with 90 percent of patients staying symptom-free after five years.
Reality check: We know you probably don’t have the travel time and money to try the high-tech dinnerware for yourself. But you can keep a journal of your eating habits and hunger levels to see if any patterns emerge. How long does it take you to finish a meal? Do you eat more quickly when you’re really hungry? When do you start feeling satisfied? Then try slowing down at mealtime and stopping when you feel full but not stuffed. Taking a little more time could make a big difference.