BYU weight loss study suggests counting bites instead of calories

Mark A. Philbrick
Counting bites might lead to weight loss. This can help fight against obesity. (Mark A. Philbrick)

A new study done by BYU health science researchers shows that counting the number of bites one takes per day may be an effective approach to weight loss.

The study consisted of 61 participants counting the number of bites of food they took daily. Participants were then divided into two groups: one that reduced the number of daily bites by 20 percent, and another that reduced it by 30 percent. Researchers found that as a whole, participants saw their weight drop an average of four pounds after four weeks.

Josh West, a health science professor at BYU and lead author in the study, said this type of diet is a good alternative to counting calories, which he says is difficult to do for a long term.

“Counting calories is just very hard for people to do everyday, and to do very accurately,” West said.

West said the researchers believe that counting bites will become a very successful and cost-effective way to lose weight based on their study results.

“We feel very encouraged and confident with the results that this is an effective approach to losing weight,” West said. “I think that this is a simple approach that really just about anybody can do.”

BYU health science professors Ben Crookston and Cougar Hall were coauthors in the study. They said that food has both qualitative aspects — whether the food is considered “good” or “bad” — and quantitative aspects — how much and how often the food is consumed. Bite counting controls the quantitative aspects.

Hall said it is more important to focus on the quantitative aspect rather than the qualitative aspect for the 35 percent of Americans with a BMI over 30 and who are identified as obese. He said they first need to focus on eating less, which is why bite counting would be a good strategy for them.

“Keeping track of all the qualitative differences just becomes overwhelming for someone who is obese,” Hall said. “Weight loss is difficult to begin with and that becomes more of an additional hurdle.”

Crookston said qualitative differences do matter once people move into a healthier weight range.

Mark A. Philbrick
Counting bites may be an effective weight loss strategy for people who are considered obese. They are encouraged to focus on the quantitative aspects of food rather than the qualitative aspects.
(Mark A. Philbrick)

“The qualitative aspect of food is very important, but for most people who are overweight or obese, the bigger issue is reducing their calories in general,” Crookston said. “Once they get to a better weight, a healthier weight, then they should focus on what food they’re consuming.”

In order to make bite-counting easier, BYU researchers in the Computer Science department have developed an algorithm that does the counting itself. The technology has been licensed to the local startup company SmartBites, which is now working on creating a “Count Bites” app that allows dieters to keep track of their bites on wearable devices.

Crookston said developing a device that utilizes the algorithm is the next step in their research.

“It would take even some of the additional amount of the work out of it so that people can more easily and efficiently count bites with the device,” Crookston said.

West hopes to continue the research and possibly conduct a larger study. He believes the next step is to determine strategies that help individuals stay motivated and engaged in their weight loss goals

“Bite counting has brought appeal because it’s very simple and is really something anybody can do,” West said. “We hope that it will be more widely accepted as a strategy for losing weight and that it will continue to be researched.”

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