Researchers have designed a 'nagging' smartphone app that alerts users when they have had too much to eat, warding off binge eating.
The app called "TakeControl" tracks a users' individual patterns of eating and binge eating behaviour and alerts them at times when they are at risk for binge behaviours, among a comprehensive suite of other features.
Binge eating disorder, characterised by periods of eating objectively large amounts of food, is "associated with a great deal of clinical distress," said Dr Evan Forman, an associate professor of psychology in College of Arts and Sciences of Drexel University, US.
Among binge eaters, "there is a cycle of sorts mounting pressure toward a binge episode, with certain triggers that make it more likely that a binge episode will occur," Forman said.
With cognitive behavioural therapy, a clinician helps patients recognise their personal triggers and learn to interrupt them.
"TakeControl" will provide a similar help right in the patient's pocket and in real time, at the moment the trigger occurs.
In the app, users can record their binge-eating activity and urges, multiple mood states and whether or not they've eaten regular meals and taken their prescription medications.
As the app learns about an individual's patterns of binge-eating behaviour and their individual triggers, it can prompt the person with a warning alert when their personal risk is high.
"It could be an emotion like rejection, loneliness, sadness or anxiety, or something external such as passing a certain convenience store, or a time of day or night," said Forman, the principal investigator of the project.
When warned that they are at risk for a binge, or at any time of their own choosing, users can follow the app's customised interventions to help them in the moment when they need it.
Users of the "TakeControl" app can choose how much and how little of their personal data to enter to help the app help them.
The app also includes learning modules, optional personal goal-setting modules and optional social networking features to connect with others who share this often-isolating disorder.
"Using the data visualisation modules, people can chart their behaviour patterns over time," said Stephanie Goldstein, a graduate student in Forman's lab working on the project.
The app is among the two new treatment methods under investigation at Drexel that aim to help people reduce binge-eating behaviour.
Another treatment is a new, evidence-based approach to small-group behavioural therapy that will equip patients with psychological tools that may help them