Could A Special Plate Cure Childhood Obesity?

The Mandometer has helped anorexic patients, so why not overweight ones?

Last night, after a 74-minute yoga class and 45-minute Body Bliss Boot Camp, I was hungry. As you might imagine. Good thing it was turkey meatloaf night at our house. I loooove me some turkey meatloaf. At 8:30 p.m., my husband and I sat down to dinner and managed to polish off the entire meatloaf (made with a full pound of ground turkey), plus a large plate of steamed spinach, Brussels sprouts and red onions (for me) and a small serving of Brussels sprouts for him (he’d enjoyed a healthy pre-dinner snack of chips and hummus).

I’m embarrassed to admit all of this took about 10 minutes. Oh, and we were sitting on the couch. And we were watching the Hawks game. We basically did everything in our power to NOT pay attention to the speed of our eating: There were all sorts of distractions, we weren’t sitting at a table, and we stuffed the food down our throats far faster than our stomachs and brains could register fullness. In fact, at one point I actually said to Dan (I swear, I am not making this up for the benefit of the article,) "I’m trying to eat as fast as I can because I’m starving from the gym and want to get as much in before I can tell I’m full."

The turkey was extra-lean and the veggies were chock-full of antioxidants, but still -– this is not a healthy way to eat. Both Dan and I are in great shape and are not overweight, but if we want to bulk up, this is probably a fantastic way to get there.

All sorts of gadgets exist to help us monitor how much we’re eating and how fast we’re doing it: iPhone apps and BodyBuggs, bowls marked like measuring cups inside and even high-tech forks and spoons that flash green, signaling “Time to eat.” (After 40 seconds, the light switches to red, telling you to Put Down The Fork for 25 seconds.) 

Now, a device that’s been used to successfully treat eating disorder patients is entering the fray. The Mandometer has historically re-taught anorexic and bulimic patients how to eat, showing them how to recognize hunger and satiety with the help of a mini- computer that receives information from a small scale beneath your plate of food. The Mandometer® Clinics offer some pretty impressive research to back up their claims: 75 percent of patients go into full remission; 90 percent of those individuals do not relapse over the next five years

But, says Mandometer Clinic founder and CEO Cecilia Bergh, anorexics and bulimics aren’t the only ones who can benefit from re-learning how to eat at a normal pace: She believes overweight kids may be able to slim down without resorting to diets, medications with nasty side effects or even gastric bypass surgery.

She expects to see a significant number of plus-sized children at the soon-to--open Mando New York City clinic, which will also treat underweight patients.  Their concept: Patients use the Mandometer to pace themselves as they eat, so they can better gauge how full they are. The goal is to consume around 350 grams of food in 12 to 15 minutes.

The machine doesn't calculate calories, but instead measures grams of food. The goal is to eat around 350 grams of food in 12 to 15 minutes. To give you an idea of what that means, that’s a five-ounce chicken breast (142 grams), a cup of chopped broccoli (91 grams)  and a half cup of rice (about 100 grams). In other words…NOT a half-pound of turkey meatloaf.

"Generally when you are on a diet, you feel hungry constantly and can't stick with it to lose weight," Bergh told With the Mandometer, "Nothing is forbidden. You eat less food, but feel just as full." She expects kids with a BMI of 35 and up to require weekly sessions for about a year.

Honestly, I feel like every single American -- myself included -- could benefit from some alone time with a Mandometer, whether you’re overweight, anorexic or anywhere in between. I know the pace at which I eat far exceeds 350 grams in 15 minutes, but at least I’m eating steamed veggies and oatmeal and nonfat Greek yogurt. What about the astounding rate at which people gobble down cheeseburgers, pizza, fries and ice cream? There’s a reason it’s called fast food -– you eat it so fast, you don’t even need to get out of your car.

As for kids, I feel like the younger ones innately have a great handle on how fast and how much they eat. If you’ve ever dined with a four-year-old, you know that they will slowly and carefully take bites of their silver dollar pancakes or peas and carrots. They put the food down between bites while they chew and swallow. They eat one blueberry or half-grape at a time. And when they’re full, they push the food away and tell you they’re done. They don't continue noshing just because it's there, or eat out of boredom or to soothe their emotions. It’s like they have a Mandometer built in their brains.
But clearly, as kids mature, they start to pick up their parents’ habits, they start to acquire stress, and as a result, they begin to eat faster and less mindfully. They get hooked on grease and cheese and fat and sugar. They eat because they’re bored or sad. As a result, about one out of every three American children is overweight or obese.

At That'sFit, they pointed out that it might be challenging to get a kid to use a Mandometer or to stop snacking (though Bergh reports that children have responded surprisingly well to bringing it to school, a friend's house or out to eat.) And it’s pricey: Anywhere from $18,000 to $50,000. Granted, you can’t put a price tag on your child’s health, but not many families could swing this.
Like most things, I wish we could instill this slower pace of eating in our kids at a younger age AND model it for them by practicing it ourselves. That way, we wouldn’t need Mandometers or iPhone calorie apps…or pediatric bariatric surgery or kiddie Alli. But that’s a tall order. And if a child is overweight and at risk of heart disease by age 8, I say…hook them up.

Return to Raising Healthy Kids main page."

What do you think of the Mandometer? Do you ever find yourself eating too fast?  Chime in below.


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