Can Less be More through Japan’s ‘Diet Goggles’?

Well, they certainly don’t look like your everyday goggles. Not yet, at any rate. Unfortunately, “augmented-reality-image-manipulation-software-and-associated-chunky-headset-thing” is quite a mouthful for you to chew— but the University of Tokyo’s neat new invention is all about helping you bite off a little less.

Researchers from the university’s Graduate School of Information Science and Technology have invented this eye-wear that lets you visualize a simulated reality— about the food in your hand. The embedded camera registers the image and sends it to a computer, where the researcher enlarges it, shrinks it or alters it, while keeping your hand unchanged. Imagine holding an Oreo the size of your palm. How many of those could you stomach in one go?

That, as the university’s Professor Michitaka Hirose pointed out, is exactly what the invention hopes to manipulate. The hypothesis is, what we eat depends largely on what we perceive will satiate our appetites. If a cookie looks big enough, we can program ourselves to feel full by the second one. To prove this, the researchers got people to wear the gear and eat virtually enlarged or reduced cookies. It turned out that participants ate 15% more when the cookies were reduced to 2/3 times the actual size; and— this is the good part— they stopped at 10% fewer cookies when the same images were enlarged to 1.5 times normal!

In a second version of the experiment— one with even more outlandish headgear that affected smell as well as sight— the researchers were able to convince 80% of the participants that an ordinary biscuit was a delicious, calorie-packed, chocolate-flavored one. For the average person trying to cut the carbs, that’s not science; that’s a miracle.

A volunteer tests professor's Hirose "diet goggles" which increases the size of the Oreo.
A volunteer tests professor’s Hirose “diet goggles” which increases the size of the Oreo.

To get a computer to tell your sensory centers to tell your gut when to stop— it’s a remarkable example of mind over matter and of technology over mind.

The annoying thing about science, though, is that it raises your hopes before reminding you that these ‘miracles’ are still in the ‘experimental stages.’ Basically, if you were to “borrow” one of these goggles from the university labs right now, the result of your meticulously planned heist would backfire horribly, taking months of iron-willed diet control— and dignity—with it.


While the concept sounds ingenious, it’s far from the Google Glass app we’d like it to be. First, the goggles are cumbersome and the images have to be processed from a separate computer. Even if we could manage that, the current software can only work with simple images of donuts and cookies. It would be useless against the nuances of a large dinner spread or a banana split, and would probably give us headaches.

Moreover, the brain can only be fooled for so long. What would happen if it adapted to the new stimuli? We’d eventually feel hungry and try to compensate for the reduction in our food intake. In the process, we’d convince ourselves that normal-sized sandwiches just won’t cut it anymore. Scary.

An enlarged donut, what the volunteer sees is what on the laptop
An enlarged donut, what the volunteer sees is what on the laptop

It’s all moot, really; the University of Tokyo doesn’t plan to let these out of the lab any time soon. Plus, our energies would be better spent concentrating on eating habits instead of on schemes to acquire get-fit-quick gadgets. It’s not just about outwitting the mind, after all— it’s about cooperating with it, and making sure that the larger portions of sugar, processed food, and white bread disappear properly. For now, that’s best exercised without sending our senses mixed signals.

That being said, it’s nice to know that there are people, out in the world, trying their best to make the process a little easier.

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