I came across this report here of a study recently published in the British Medical Journal . It concerns a device known as a ‘Mandometer’ ” which has been developed as an aid to weight loss. The Mandometer, a Swedish invention, is essentially a set of weighing scales connected to a small computer. A plate with food on top goes on the scales, and the computer can then monitor eating eat. It can also graphically display this, so that the slope of the line gives an indication of the rate of eating. The Mandometer also allows users to rate how satisfied they feel before and after a meal, and during the meal itself. This can also be graphically displayed by the computer.
The Mandometer was developed at least in part because some have observed that the overweight and obese tend to eat quickly. One of the problems here is that the amount eaten my ‘overshoot’ what is healthy, maybe because the normal signals of satiety are overridden and/or come too late. Anyway, previous research has suggested that slower eating can help people eat less. See here and here for more about this.
A Mandometer can make people more consciously aware of their speed of eating, and even urge them to slow down. In this recent study, about half a group of obese children and adolescents (aged 9-17) used a Mandometer for a year. The other half didn’t. All participants were assessed at the start and end of the study, as well as another 6 months later.
In short, those using the Mandometer saw benefits in terms of body weight and body fatness reduction compared to the group not using the Mandometer. The major reason for this appears to be that, on average, those using the Mandometer ate less than they had been previously (about 10 per cent less). However, it is not clear whether this was due to slower eating or not. While the Mandometer group ate an average of 11 per cent slower, and the other group ate more quickly as the study progressed (by 4 per cent), the differences here did not appear to be statistically significant.
That does not mean for sure that slower eating did not lead to eating less, but it makes it unlikely.
So, what else might explain the fact that the children using the Mandometer ate less? One candidate has to be the fact that these children logged how satisfied they felt before, during and after meals. This might be important, because one of the things that can cause over-eating is ‘mindless eating’, essentially unconscious eating where the normal mechanisms that dictate how much we eat can fail to register in a timely or appropriate manner.
Now, of course, what this means is that we don’t necessarily need a Mandometer at hand to slow down our eating and be more mindful of what we’re eating and what impact it’s having regarding our appetite/satiety. Eating ‘mindfully’ doesn’t need a device, and you can learn a bit more about this here.
Another resource well worth considering is the book Mindless Eating by psychologist Dr Brian Wansink. I’ve recommended this witty and easy-to-read book before, and do so again now. It provides valuable insights not just into mindless eating, but practical steps we can take combat it. More about this book can be found here
1. Ford AL, et al. Treatment of childhood obesity by retraining eating behaviour: randomised controlled trial. BMJ 2010;340:b5388
I would question WHY one needs to eat mindfully. No other creature needs this capability, and I think that lends some credence to the idea that what one eats is more important than how it is eaten. I would guess “how” is more important if you eat foods that have larger potential to perturb metabolic hormone balance.
My daughter was ‘prescribed’ the Mandometer some years ago when it was first trialled. She has a genetic condition which means her appetite is never ‘off’ and so she doesn’t know when to stop eating, plus her metabolism is slowed.
The device was originally used for anorexic patients, and was very successful in normalising their diets.
I can’t vouch for others on the study, but my daughter hated it with a vengeance. Everything has to be eaten with a knife and fork – even sandwiches. It’s based purely on weight of food, so for instance, to activate the program if we were having meat and salad, we’d have to pile 8 slices of bread on the plate as well! It had the opposite problem with meals containing large mounts of water – for stew, it would only allow 2 tablespoons of food on the plate.
It’s given to children in a pack so they can take it to restaurants, but after one too many stares and a tearful teenager on its first outing, we gave up on that. Apart from the fact that the scales lift the plate higher than the table, which makes eating awkward, and the fact that the machine asks how satiated you are every 15 minutes for 3 hours after a meal makes any social outing very fraught indeed.
No attempt is made at any time to monitor what quality or type of food is being eaten.
I was constantly told to ‘fill her up’ with bread, pasta and fruit. She never could be ‘filled up’ and her weight ballooned to 25 stones. She’s grown up now and left home, lives in a student flat and eats very little in the way of bread and pasta, mostly meat and easily-prepped veg (not potatoes). She’s now used to feeling constantly hungry day and night and even has to be reminded to eat sometimes! She’s losing weight for the first time in her life, and I’m sure it’s down to eating less carbohydrate.