Dieters and obesity soldiers everywhere rejoice! Feeling your stomach in your back is no longer the only sign of a full stomach. A new device will count your mouthfuls so you know when to stop eating! Details after the jump.
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Researchers have developed a way to fight obesity by helping people answer one fundamental question: How many bites of food are you eating?

The Bite Counter, a wristwatch-shaped device being marketed to weight-loss clinics and fitness professionals, uses technology developed by a Clemson University team for the military to track body movements in clearing buildings of insurgents in Iraq, says Adam Hoover, an electrical engineering professor who handled the technical aspects of the design.

It’s expected to be on the consumer market in about a year for about $100, he says.

Like a pedometer, it keeps count of a repetitive physical movement. But putting fork to mouth is more complex than walking. “A pedometer can’t tell what kind of motion you’re making. This tracks a very specific motion,” Hoover says.

The wrist rotation necessary to move a fork from plate to mouth turns out to be the critical motion in eating; the machine counts bites with 90% accuracy, he says.

It also counts bites taken without the use of a fork or spoon, such as eating an apple; the rotation of the wrist is the same whether eating with the hands or utensils, Hoover says.

Hoover and his co-inventor, psychologist Eric Muth, have found that one bite generally averages about 25 calories.

Muth says he eats about 80 bites a day — 20 each at breakfast and lunch and 40 at dinner. But the healthy number of bites can vary from one person to another, he adds. “The first thing is to make it obvious that they’re eating more than they think. If they know that, the behavior change will come a little easier.”

Still, he says, you have to want to change.

Marjorie Nolan, a registered dietitian and spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association, who was not involved in the device’s development, says such a device could be helpful for some people. “This would be a good tool for someone who generally knows what is healthy and unhealthy but maybe has more of an issue with portion control,” she says.

Patrick O’Neil, director of the Weight Management Center at the Medical University of South Carolina, is just beginning a study to determine how effective the Bite Counter may be in aiding weight loss.

The data aren’t in yet, he says, but “any approach people take in what we call self-monitoring … usually helps people control their intake.”