Fork Or Fiction: The fault in pairing your plate with technology


I was eating breakfast and settling down for a little light reading this past month when I came across this article in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics that grabbed my attention. I actually had to do a double take at the headline.

It read: Evaluation of a Smart Fork to Decelerate Eating Rate.

What’ll they think of next?

The Fork

Well, the good news is that scientists are continuing to break new ground in technological developments and tools for health.

As a way to help combat the growing number of overweight Americans, this prototype fork has been built to slow down the speed at which many people eat. As studies have shown, one systemic issue for some overweight people is that they tend to eat too fast and therefore eat too many calories before they realize that they are full.

This “smart fork”, on the other hand, will not only vibrate and flash at you when you’ve tried taking a bite sooner than the 10-second interval it allows, but it also doubles as a thumb drive that records and stores an incredible amount of information with each meal. The fork records the time you start and end your meal, how many bites you’ve taken per minute, and the ratio of high speed vs. regular speed bites. Scientists in the study then download the information to assess the effectiveness of the tool.

This study used 11 participants to try out the smart fork at meals. Sure, it created awareness for the people in the study using the fork as to the speed of their eating. But no one really felt they needed it. So who are we building this fork for?

The Fiction

Having a fork like this, I fear, would be just like hiring someone to do your homework for you. You are giving away your power, by allowing something outside of yourself to dictate your behavior. Which, while you’re using it, will work.

For a while.

But when we don’t have that stimulus of a vibrating fork with you with every meal (like when you have a sandwich instead of pasta?) and motivation to use it wanes, we will tend to fall back on old habits. And we didn’t learn anything.

I also feel like the scientists behind this crafty piece of cutlery is missing a very big point: Why?

Why is it that we eat so fast?

In my view, overeating and eating fast is a product of our environment and a symptom of a much larger issue. Will doctors soon be prescribing this fork alongside their patients’ insulin needles, without getting to the root of the problem?

A true behavior change has to come from the inside. We have to want to make changes. And I hate to be Captain Obvious here, but human beings are just as capable of counting to 10 between bites as a computer. In fact, that is one of several personal behavior changes I try to instill in my clients that don’t require any other machines besides the one between our ears. These become habit, rather being jolted by a nagging piece of cutlery to remind us.

Here are some pointers:

  • Measure out portions
  • Use a small, 9-inch plate
  • Put away all cell phones, laptops, or any other devices during meals
  • Set an intention before taking a bite: Eat until satisfied (no longer hungry) instead of “full”
  • Put your fork (or food) down between bites so that you’re not tempted to shovel your food or
  • Try using chopsticks at dinner. I guarantee that it will slow you down.
  • Count your chews (20 or more!)
  • Be present with every bite, by noticing the colors, the textures, the smells and tastes of each bite
  • Remember to ask yourself before taking seconds or rooting around for a snack:
    • Am I really hungry, or am I just motivated by taste?
    • If it’s the latter, can you save for and enjoy it at a later time?
    • If motivated by stress or emotional stimulus, ask yourself what other activity can I do instead that will help relieve this negative feeling?
  • Express gratitude for everything on your plate – appreciation and awe for the plants that grew from seed, the farmers who tended, watered, weeded, and protected the plants, and for the soul of the animal whose sacrifice is keeping you alive today, the hard work of drivers of harvesting machines and food trucks that collected the food and shipped it to your local store…so many days (even years!) of work that go on behind the scenes of our dinner plate
  • Share – either your meal or your time with someone while you eat

Change can be that simple! By using these basic techniques at your next meal, you may be surprised at some of the bad habits you’ve picked up over the years.

Remember that eating is not strictly an entertaining pastime. We require certain foods to keep our heart and brain, nervous system, our cell generation, our tissues and organs to continue functioning. While we are engineered to love food, we can also learn to listen to our bodies about what and how much it really needs.

Eat well!


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