Can an electronic button help you lose weight?

If you regularly read my articles then you probably looked at that title and are expecting another snark-filled rant. Well, I’m sorry to disappoint, because this new prototype device created with a grant from the National Institute of Health has great potential.
By James Fell
Can an electronic button help you lose weight? University of Pittsburgh

If you regularly read my articles, then you probably read that title expecting another snark-filled rant. Well, I’m sorry to disappoint, because this new prototype device created with a grant from the National Institutes of Health in the United States has great potential.

Technology helped get us into this mess, and perhaps it can help get us out.

What do I mean by that? Removing the need for physical labour, and providing easy and ample access to pile upon pile of highly palatable food, has created an obesogenic environment. Technology did this. Some want to return to a “simpler time” to solve the problem of obesity, but do you really want to go live in a shack and plow your own fields, milk your own cow, slaughter your own chickens, and grind your own flour?

Technology moves forward, not back, and although there is not yet a miracle pill to solve the obesity epidemic, this new device may be able to help us with data. After all, knowledge is power. That’s why I write about this stuff.

I do all my own tracking. I don’t meticulously count calories, but I am “calorie aware.” I do keep careful track of miles run and cycled and hours spent lifting weights, however. It’s motivational and it lets me know that I’m not slipping in my old age.

The eButton does that for you. I’ll admit to being a little dubious on the calorie-counting side, because it uses a camera to take pictures of food and determine calorie intake. If you’re eating out a lot (a leading cause of being overweight), then I’m not sure how a camera – even one linked back to a powerful computer program – can decipher an accurate calorie count because restaurants are notoriously sneaky about cramming a lot of calories into a small package. Still, there is a major brain trust behind this product, so I’m sure they’ve considered that.

Again, knowledge is power, and if this device can give some reasonable information about both caloric intake and expenditure, it can motivate people to change. It is a sad truth that obese people regularly overestimate their caloric expenditure while at the same time underestimate their caloric intake.

I’ve often thought that if I could invent a wrist watch that told you your exact daily caloric balance, it would both help people lose weight and make me very rich. The eButton may be getting close to that idea. It’s not available yet, but I see it as a step in the right direction.

In the meantime, however, you’ll just have to rely on your own tracking. Whether it’s a little notebook or an Excel spreadsheet, it’s still the best tool we have.

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