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...was a very watchable hour long programme on BBC One on Wednesday last week. I'm pretty thin, and consequently don't know my Atkins diet from my zone diet (I even had to look up the name of another diet to write that sentence), but really enjoyed this programme.

...was a very watchable hour long programme on BBC One on Wednesday last week. I'm pretty thin, and consequently don't know my Atkins diet from my zone diet (I even had to look up the name of another diet to write that sentence), but really enjoyed this programme.

It followed the progress of a medical-doctor-slash-telly-presenter with some "hidden fat" problems (which even gives thin people something to worry about) who was cynical about dieting and wanted a really scientific approach. Cue MRI and fMRI scans, behavioural economics, urine samples and heart rate monitors.

There was lots of food for thought from a design for behaviour change point of view, but what I was most interested in was the way they used to measure the amount of calories someone eats in a day.

One of their volunteers was a woman with a healthy diet and an active lifestyle, but who was also a bit overweight. They asked her to keep a food diary for nine days, using a combination of keeping a video diary and a written diary. As well as recording what she ate through the diaries, she also drank a glass of doubly labeled water every morning, and took urine samples every evening. From some magical process, nutritionists were able to measure how many calories she burned that day and how many she had eaten. On a typical day, she recorded that she ate 1100 calories, but the test showed that the number was actually closer to 3000. Apparently most people under-report by about 50%.

I didn't know you could measure calory intake like that - and I think it's got great potential. If most people think they are eating 50% fewer calories than they are, then we're clearly not very good at keeping track of our intake. So if I could drink some special water every morning (maybe supplied in a Yakult-type package?) and use an electronic reader (maybe like a pregnancy tester?) to measure the calories I was taking in - I'd be a lot better informed, and a lot more engaged in my diet.

The calories you eat are normally invisible - packaging the doubly labeled water test into something people could do on their own - would make them meausurable and a closer step to being controllable. “Measure what is measurable, and make measurable what is not so” as Galileo Galilei said in my quotation of the moment.

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