A day late and an undergarment short! The morning after Thanksgiving, I read about a new stress-busting bra that could’ve kept me from, once again, approaching turkey-day as a competitive eating event.
Studies show that we eat more when stressed. We overindulge, fret about weight gain, and soothe frazzled nerves by eating more. This consumption loop moves to high-gear during holiday feasting that starts with Thanksgiving and continues ‘til we toast in the New Year. And, unlike Muslim holidays, the Western ones I’ve imported to my Jordan household aren’t counterbalanced by daytime fasting.
Researchers are tackling new ways to get overeaters to push back their plates; motivated by health concerns but also by profits (Americans alone spend over $60 billion annually on weight loss).
There are stress apps for smart phones, calorie-counting forks, and bracelets equipped with motion sensors. Now, engineers at Microsoft Research have invented a bra that can help regulate stress eating by monitoring the wearer’s moods.
I don’t need a bracelet to alert me when I’m spearing another spud; what makes Microsoft think I need a bra to help me decipher my state of mind?
“It’s mostly women who are emotional overeaters, and it turns out that a bra is perfect for measuring electrocardiogram,” said Mary Czerwinski, a cognitive psychologist and senior researcher in visualization and interaction at Microsoft.
Talking to Mashable, she said (while probably stifling laughter), “We tried to do the same thing for men’s underwear but it was too far away from the heart.”
This miracle bra features built-in sensor pads with a microprocessor powered by a 3.7-volt battery. It can simultaneously sample eight bio-signal channels including heart rate and respiration, skin conductance, and movement, according to Czerwinski’s research paper, Food and Mood: Just-in-Time Support for Emotional Eating.
Data streams to a smart phone app and to the researchers’ computer while users record their own moods (again, on smart phones). Scientists interpret the info, accurately predicting changes in physiology that accompany eating and stress; they can also gauge whether the subjects were happy or angry.
The garment does have problems; they only worked for four hours before needing a battery recharge. Czerwinski’s now looking for another body part to monitor that has similar physiological accuracy, but that doesn’t require as much work.
“Those brave women kept having to run to the bathroom to charge their bra,” Czwerwinski said. “I think an insert in the foot would be good because feet are really sweaty.” That image alone will curb most appetites.
Not everyone turns to food for stress relief. Some of us have the inverse reaction; actually cutting back consumption when upset, or skipping food altogether.
“The message should be that people shouldn’t people think too much about their eating,” said Gudrun Sproesser, a post-doctoral student at Germany’s University of Konstanz, “If they feel like eating in a positive situation, they should; if it’s negative, they probably will compensate for that.”
As for me, I think I’ll pass on the high tech bra and, instead, reach for elastic waist pants. Did somebody say “dessert”?
Image of a woman with a tablet from Shutterstock