Clemson University’s Human Factors department is on the forefront of diet technology and rethinking calorie counting.

In America’s diet culture, it’s almost impossible to keep track of the diets, cleanses and fads that pervade television commercials and magazine articles. In this diet-a-day world, researchers often seem set on finding an idea that will sell, then moving on immediately to developing whatever new idea will soon replace it.

Phil Jasper works on the Bite Counter in Clemson's Human Factors lab.

Phil Jasper works on the Bite Counter in Clemson’s Human Factors Lab.
Image Credit: Ashley Jones - Clemson University

Researchers at Clemson are trying to change this — though perhaps not the researchers you would imagine.

Phillip Jasper is this month receiving his master’s degree in human factors, a branch of Clemson’s psychology department. And while he’s no nutritionist or physical therapist, his work at Clemson represents an incredible step in fighting America’s obesity epidemic.

When Jasper arrived at Clemson as an undergrad majoring in psychology, he knew that he wanted to go into human factors. But it wasn’t until his second semester that he became involved with the project that he has focused on ever since — the Bite Counter.

The Bite Counter, a diet-monitoring device now in production, started as the brainchild of computer engineering professor Adam Hoover and human factors professor Eric Muth who had just transitioned from working for the Navy to working full-time as a faculty member at Clemson. The device that he and a colleague dreamt up was a watch-like monitor that would track the number of bites a person took as an alternative to the more traditional diet-diary.

Soon Muth had put together a Creative Inquiry undergraduate research team to help get his device off the ground, and Jasper was one of the team’s first members. “I started working with the Creative Inquiry team before the Bite Counter was even a tangible device,” Jasper remembered. Now the Bite Counter is quite tangible; actually, it’s available for purchase online.

Jasper explained that the Bite Counter represents a perfect example of the work done in human factors, which incorporates disciplines that range from psychology to bioengineering in order to create devices or technologies that are more user-friendly.

Human factors is all about people. The research team’s goal is to create a device that works for people, that is comfortable both physically and psychologically. Jasper can understand, “Dieting is extremely personal — we wanted to make a device that people would be comfortable using.”

And the Bite Counter does work. It’s documented to show the number of bites a person takes with a 90 percent accuracy rate, despite the various movements and variables that accompany eating.

By allowing people to monitor their behavior during eating, the Bite Counter (pictured) — which is worn like a watch — can help curb environmental factors that tend to cause overeating.

By allowing people to monitor their behavior during eating, the Bite Counter — which is worn like a watch — can help curb environmental factors that tend to cause overeating.
Image Credit: Ashley Jones - Clemson University

“What’s so novel about our device is that it provides feedback in real time; it doesn’t rely on memory, and you can monitor your eating while you’re still eating,” Jasper said.

The Bite Counter presents a novel solution to a common problem: By allowing people to monitor their behavior during eating, the Bite Counter can help curb environmental factors that tend to cause overeating. The Bite counter helps remove variables such as plate and portion size, social eating and simply losing track of how much has been eaten.

In addition to this, the Bite Counter has been subjected to the rigors of academia. While most diets and diet-monitoring devices are put together by researchers for large companies, the Bite Counter was developed as a research tool. This results in a product that has been documented and scrutinized from conception to production; it’s reliable, and that gives it incredible consumer value.

The Bite Counter may already be available for purchase online, but Jasper’s work with it is far from over; his master’s thesis was centered on the device, and he will continue work on it as he pursues his Ph.D. at Clemson starting in the fall. “It’s been a unique opportunity,” he said, “I’ve been able to see a project from its earliest stages to full development. Not many students get to do that.”

The Bite Counter will continue to be developed, and Jasper has already outlined plans to make it smaller, more discreet and longer lasting. But even at its current stage, it represents a huge step for Jasper, for Clemson and for America’s growing diet culture.


Learn more about the Bite Counter.