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New App Designed to Make Losing Weight Easier

Tim Boyer's picture
Dieters who count calories want this app

Researchers at MIT recently revealed a new app in development that they say is designed to make losing weight easier for dieters who use one particular dieting technique that health experts say works for weight loss.


One of the most proven methods for losing weight successfully is having the habit of counting calories so that you can keep track of the number of calories consumed in comparison to the number of calories burned on a daily basis.

However, according to an MIT news release, while counting calories does work—especially when you keep a log that tracks every meal—many dieters eventually find themselves falling off the dieting wagon when checking each food item’s calorie count becomes tedious.

“I think logging is enormously helpful for many people,” says Susan Roberts, director of the Energy Metabolism Lab at Tufts’ USDA-sponsored Jean Mayer Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging. “It makes people more self-aware about the junk they are eating and how little they actually enjoy it, and the shock of huge portions, et cetera. But currently, it is really tedious to log your food.”

To help dieters overcome this tedium roadblock to sticking with calorie counting as a weight loss method, researchers from MIT recently revealed that they are developing a new type of artificial intelligence-based weight loss app that does the calorie counting automatically when a person speaks into their smartphone to record what they just ate.

“A spoken-language system that you can use with your phone would allow people to log food wherever they are eating it, with less work,” says Ms. Roberts.

Research performed thus far on developing the spoken-language/meal logging app was recently presented at the International Conference on Acoustics, Speech, and Signal Processing in Shanghai, where MIT researchers in collaboration with a team of nutritionists from Tufts University presented a Web-based prototype of their speech-controlled nutrition-logging system.

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Basically, how it works is that a dieter verbally relates what he or she ate, which is then interpreted by the software and matched with corresponding nutritional data from an online database maintained by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to automatically calculate how many calories were consumed. The end result is that the dieter no longer has to spend so much time and energy in physically recording each food item eaten—a limitation that persists with current calorie counting apps.

“What [the Tufts nutritionists] have experienced is that the apps that were out there to help people try to log meals tended to be a little tedious, and therefore people didn’t keep up with them,” says James Glass, a senior research scientist at CSAIL, who leads the Spoken Language Systems Group. “So they were looking for ways that were accurate and easy to input information.”

However, the app is not yet ready for the dieting public. Problems that need solving such as natural language processing where defining a food’s functional role in conjunction with personal phrasing needs to be resolved when the data is used to tap into a nutritional database for delivering a cogent match between the food eaten with an accurate calorie count. In other words, the app needs to be able to understand what you saying like, “I had oatmeal for breakfast,” and determine whether that info refers to a cup of boiled oats, an oatmeal cookie, or some other oat-related dish that you are referring to.

The MIT news release states that the version of the calorie counting app system presented at the conference is intended chiefly to demonstrate the viability of its approach to natural-language processing―it reports calorie counts but doesn’t yet total them automatically.

Once a workable version is completed, the news release states that Tufts researchers plan to conduct a user study to determine whether it indeed makes nutrition logging easier.

For more about weight loss apps, here is one about how to lose 10 pounds with this Free Smartphone Weight Loss App.

Reference: MIT News “Voice-controlled calorie counter

Modified images courtesy of Pixabay