If you’ve ever wished for a gadget that can nag you about your eating habits the way your mom used to, only in a much more subtle way, then the HAPIfork may be for you. And now you can get your fingers on one.
The fork, which looks and feels a little like an electric toothbrush, is designed to vibrate in your mouth if you take bites too frequently. It uploads its info to an app via Bluetooth or to your laptop via USB, giving you a nice graph of the number of bites you took over time during each meal.
The theory, backed by an increasing number of studies: the slower and more mindfully you eat, the better for your digestive system, weight and overall health. HAPIfork’s French inventor Jacques Lepine told me he was motivated by an incident in his 30s where he thought he was having a heart attack and took himself to the ER. It turned out to be acid reflux from eating too fast.
The HAPIfork won an innovation award at the Consumer Electronics Show earlier this year; as of Wednesday, it’s available for pre-order via Kickstarter. The cost: $89 for the first 2,500 Kickstarter users to fund the fork’s makers, HAPILABS; $99 thereafter (and at retail). You can buy into an early-as-possible beta test for $300.
So is it worth it? I took the HAPIfork out for a meal earlier this week, and found that while the device works as advertised, it may require some customization on the user’s part to change any habits. Your eating mileage may vary.
The fork detects the presence of your mouth the same way your smartphone detects the presence of your finger: capacitive touch. Its sensors detect the tiny amount of electric current in our bodies.
The default time between bites is 10 seconds. Anything less than that and you get an instant vibration while the fork is still at your lips. It’s not unpleasant, but it is noticeable and unusual enough for your brain to decide to avoid it next time. A gentle nudge, not an electric shock.
You can trick the fork by spearing something large and grabbing the food with your teeth without getting the tines near your choppers. But this is hard to do accidentally — and if you do it deliberately, you’re only cheating yourself.
In my lunchtime test, I had the opposite problem: I was eating too slowly to start with, and had to speed up to see if the fork was working at all. This despite the fact that I’d worked up a hunger with a deliberately minimal breakfast, and had ordered one of my favorite treats: fish and chips.
But even spearing one shoestring fry at a time, I found 10 seconds slipped by very fast. By the end of the meal I felt uncomfortably full, yet the fork had buzzed no more than four or five times. Perhaps I was raised well; more likely it was the fact that I was with Lepine and 3 other members of the HAPILABS team.
Having a whole table watch your fork usage that intently can induce mindfulness all by itself.
Still, when I test the fork with its customization software, I aim to try it on the most difficult setting — the one requiring 60 seconds between bites. Will I take larger bites to compensate? Get fuller faster? Or will my food go cold? Only time and an incredibly geeky amount of self-experimentation will tell.
Fork on the Run
HAPIfork comes with its own carrying case in a color to match the plastic on the fork itself (green, pink or blue). The idea being that you can bring it with you to restaurants and dinner parties. That’s all very well, and I’m sure it’ll make a fun conversation piece, but eating out is not where I see HAPIfork having much effect.
No, this is a device for the most mindless of overeating situations, and they tend to occur at home. We’re talking about dinner in front of the TV (we’ve all done it, admit it) or wolfing down your breakfast before rushing out the door in the morning.
The HAPILABS team hail from France, and may not be the most familiar with America’s complicated relationship with food. I think the HAPIfork will sell well, but as I suggested to the company, it would probably do a whole lot better as part of a specific diet plan.
For example, you could picture a HAPIfork diet where the number of seconds before it vibrates increases steadily with each meal. Or imagine a series of head-to-head contests via social media. Forget The Biggest Loser; bring on The Slowest Eater.
Of course, the HAPIfork has one enormous limitation when it comes to dieting: all things on the end of the fork are equal. It can’t tell if you’ve just taken a bite of salad or cheese fries.
But its makers merely aim to make you think more frequently about your eating habits. Knowing how fast you’re eating, and how many bites per meal (70 is the average in testing, apparently) could be the first step on the road to changing what you eat as well.