Tag Archives: digital

Belty at CES: Comfortable Technology or Uncomfortable Community Rorschach Test?

If you follow the technology news at all,  you know that Vegas hosted the annual Consumer Electronics Show (CES) this week.  And if you follow the news at CES at all, you’ve probably heard about a new gadget from France that has been one of the darlings of the media this week.  This gadget, called Belty, is a smart belt.  Following the wildly popular electronic wearables trend, this digital belt adjusts to you–loosening or tightening to keep a steady grip on your waist.  So for example, if you stand up, the belt tightens.  When you sit down, and your tummy is slightly squished it loosens.  If you eat a meal, it loosens slightly.  If you come back from your high colonic, it tightens slightly.  Get the idea?

The belt also functions as an activity tracker and buzzes gently to let you know if you have been seated and sedentary beyond a certain set limit.  The belt is not yet for sale, nor is there a clear indication when it might be.  The product is kind of silly and the name is ridiculous.  So one might wonder just why it has garnered so much press.

Well some have speculated the media attentions stems from the fact that it is new, and extremely visual and lends itself to iPhone video shots of the belt developer/model’s crotch.

But I think the real reason this thing is in the media so much is that it provides an opportunity for everybody to weigh in on the “obesity crisis”–often while utilizing extremely bad puns.

Stuff tv’s headline is simple and accurate.  “Hands on with Belty–The smartbelt that adjusts itself to your waistline.”  Simple and factual.  Thumbs up for Stuff TV.  USA Today says that “Belty wants to make losing weight a cinch!” Get it?  See what they did there?  CNBC calls the product “A smart belt that knows when you are getting fat.” (Sort of like Santa Claus, it knows when you’ve been eating…) Yahoo Health says “World’s First Smart Belt Self-Adjusts to Signal Daily Weight Fluctuations”.  Well okay, it does tell an app on your smart phone when your waistline changes in either direction.  Some have suggested that the app shames its wearers with headlines like “Adjustable belt shames you into exercising more”.

Actually the belt does contain fitness tracking information.  It does buzz gently if you have been “sitting too long”.  But there is little evidence that the app does any shaming of any kind.  It tracks your waistline, but unlike other apps I’ve reviewed, it doesn’t call you names or  yell at you.  It buzzes gently, but it doesn’t give you an electric shock like the pavlovian bracelet I’ve talked about before.

In fact, all the while that some are touting the weight loss benefits of the product, others are criticizing it for “promoting obesity”.  To be clear, it doesn’t appear that the product plays happy theme music when your waistline increases (although that would be kinda cool).  There’s no “fat cat” feature that deposits money in your bank account as your girth gets larger.  Some have suggested that by the very fact the belt ever loosens, thus making you less miserable when your pants are too tight, encourages people to pile on the pounds.

The amazing thing to me isn’t that there’s a big, clunky, digital belt that gets bigger and smaller by itself.  The amazing thing to me is the sheer range of value judgements we impose on such a piece of tech.  The level of emotional stuff that the media and people in general are willing to heap on any product that has anything to do with body size, waist size and weight is remarkable.

Look people, sometimes a whirring clunky digital belt is just a belt.  Let’s just reclaim our collective minds and move on, okay?


Jeanette DePatie (AKA The Fat Chick)

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New Electronic Food Police can Cyber Bully You About Eating Habits

Ahhh, gone are the days where you could simply count on your Uncle George or your Mother to track every morsel of food you put in your mouth.  And past are the days where you simply penciled your sins into a small tracker page in your purse so you could pore over the results every week in your “Fat Bashers”(TM) meeting.  Now you can count on a digital plate to track how much you’ve eaten and a little wristwatch to track how fast you’re putting the food into your face.

The Bite Counter watch subtly clocks the movements between your wrist and your mouth, and is being developed by researchers at South Carolina’s Clemson University.  Here’s how they determined the effectiveness of this puppy.  They tracked 77 people for a week and determined that the average calories per bite were 17 for men and 11 for women.  (I presume, during the study that the women were either taking “petite”  bites or had teeny tiny forks.)  They multiplied that times 100 (a suspiciously round number if ever I heard one) and said that since 1100 calories and 1700 calories represented low calorie diets, 100 bites is the optimal number of bites for people trying to lose weight.

They also noted that those who counted their bites ate fewer calories than those who didn’t.  (At least during the short-term study).  And the researchers suggest that the bite meter could be used to measure the rate of speed at which the food was consumed–suggesting that eating more slowly leads to weight loss.

Another device used to measure how fast somebody eats is the new talking plate.  FANTASTIC.  Now I can have a battery operated widget to ask me if, “I really need to eat that?” and ask me why I haven’t finished my broccoli.  It’s like a digital gateway to disordered and non-intuitive eating.  YAY!  (Not.)  The plate also claims to measure my fullness (how I can’t imagine.)

Except all of this is based on some notably faulty assumptions.  Low calorie diets have not been proven to lead to long-term weight loss–ever–for all but a tiny fraction of participants.  There is absolutely no reason to believe that these gadgets wouldn’t fall into the familiar pattern of lose some weight in the short term, gain it all back in the long term, and then a little more.

But the thing that absolutely terrifies me about these new measuring devices is the probability that fat people will ultimately be shackled to them by insurance companies and corporate wellness programs in the name of cost cutting and discrimination–oops I mean better health.  The research behind them is shaky and has been called out by other scientists in the community, the reasoning behind them is flawed in a way that seems obvious even to the most casual observer.  But I predict, that in short order, we’ll have fat people on food oriented house arrest in order to keep their corporate insurance policy.

Big Brother is here and he’s watching you–eat.

Want to learn new ways to fight against injustice for fat folks?  There’s still time to register for the Fat Activism Conference!


Jeanette DePatie (AKA The Fat Chick)