Sign of the Tines: Can a ‘Smart Fork’ Help You Lose Weight?

High-tech utensil vibrates and lights up when you eat too fast. But are gadgets going to make a dent in America’s obesity crisis?

Are gadgets like this going to make a dent in America's weight crisis? (Photo: Hapilabs)

Jason Best has worked for Gourmet and the Natural Resources Defense Council.

There's no denying Americans are losing the battle against weight gain. Hundreds of thousands of people have tried everything from Paleo to juice fasts to slim down, but according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than one-third of adults in America are obese.

People desperate to avoid the health consequences of obesity are often willing to experiment with new innovations, and Hong Kong-based HAPIlabs recently unveiled what may go down as one of the wackiest techno-diet gadgets ever: the HAPIfork. Despite its high-tech luster, the premise here is actually pretty simple. The HAPIfork’s sensors measure the interval between each bite of food; if the HAPIfork senses you’re eating too fast, it lights up and vibrates, telling you to slow down.

If you can get over the idea that you’re essentially putting a computer in your mouth, you may like that the HAPIfork also allows users to upload their “fork serving” data and keep track of their progress—including how long it took to eat each meal, the amount of bites eaten per minute, and the time between bites.

“Originally developed for clinical or medical use, HAPIfork has today the potential to become a must-have utensil for everyone, available in every kitchen,” the company touts on the HAPIfork website (oddly, the smiling woman eating a salad doesn’t appear to be eating with a HAPIfork). The makers go on to list the various diet-related ailments that their smart fork can supposedly help to alleviate: weight gain, gastric reflux, postoperative complications and the catchall “digestive problems.”

But are gadgets like this a real alternative to eating whole, healthy foods and exercising?

While the premise does seem to be loosely based on the concept of “mindful eating” (that is, by taking time to savor each bite, you enjoy your food more and feel full more quickly, a concept somewhat based on Buddhist tradition), we’re not exactly sure how “mindful” you can be during a meal when you’ve surrendered thinking about each bite to your electric fork. It seems sort of akin to Siri saying grace.

What’s more, we’re also a bit leery of HAPIlabs assertion that their digital fork has the potential to become “a must-have utensil.” According to the folks over at The Verge, who tested the HAPIfork at CES in Las Vegas, the techy tines will set you back a hundred bucks...per fork. That means to get the full benefit, you’d likely be eating all your meals with the same utensil (what you’re supposed to do about, say, ice cream or your morning bowl of Corn Flakes, we have no idea).

And we’re guessing the thing’s not even dishwasher safe.

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