• Worcester researchers changing the way we use dieting apps


    The holidays are over and it’s a New Year which means a popular resolution will be to lose a few pounds.

    That’s never an easy task, but researchers at Worcester Polytechnic Institute are developing new technology to make dieting more effective.

    It’s estimated there are close to 30,000 apps to help count calories and manage eating.  Most have a significant drawback, according to WPI Professor Carolina Ruiz.  

    “You have to tell the app everything that you have eaten and that works well during the first few days when you are doing it, but after a while, you get tired because there is not time for you to really enter everything precisely," said Ruiz.

    Ruiz, along with Professor Bengisu Tulu, are developing an app called SlipBuddy.  It uses artificial intelligence to gain insights into behaviors that might lead a person to overeat.

    A user only checks in three times a day and answers a few simple questions, like how much stress they are experiencing and how well they slept the night before. 

    “When the app realizes that factors are present, and at a certain location, it will trigger a notification to you, making you aware of that behavior and suggesting to you that you eat something healthier, instead of buying your usual snack,” explained Ruiz.

    The theory is that by changing long term behavior, instead of counting calories, a dieter will ultimately be better off.

    "You can be on a very strict diet and lose five pounds in one week, or you could be using our app, for example, focusing on overeating and lose the same five pounds in one month.  Those small changes are the ones that might stick further, because you are not going to be on a strict diet for the rest of your life," said Tulu.

    Researchers have had some success with dieters who have tried prototypes of the app.  They hope to have it available for the public next year.

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