Microsoft’s tests smart bra to combat stressful eating

No doubt, a bra provides many things to many women: functional support, sexy lingerie item, breast lifting and enhancement, and even a political statement if one chooses not to wear it. But what about using a tech-supported bra to stop emotional eating? That’s certainly a novel idea—and such a smart bra is, indeed, being tested by researchers at Microsoft, the University of Rochester, and the University of Southhampton in Britain.

In a research paper posted on the University of Rochester website, computer scientists tested a prototype on four women, who wore it for four days, and found that the bra accurately recorded whether they were anxious or stressed about 75 percent of the time. The bra was “very tedious for participants” though, according to the researchers. Equipped with sensors to measure heart rate, respiration, and other physiologic changes, it required the removal and recharging of sensor panels every few hours.

Researchers also tested an experimental smartphone app called EmoTree, that warned the 12 male and female participants when emotional eating was likely to occur based on their answers to questions posed periodically throughout the day. The app also engaged them in relaxing breathing exercises to help curb cravings whenever they were in an emotional state that made them more likely to overeat.

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While EmoTree helped most of the study volunteers become more aware of when they were likely to eat for reasons other than hunger, only 38 percent said the app helped them change their emotional eating behaviors. It turns out the breathing exercise didn’t work for most: people probably need more personalized techniques to get them to avoid overeating. Calling a friend or turning on Sports Center may be a more effective distraction than breathing techniques for some.

Clearly the bra and app need some serious tweaking before they’re ready for retail. The researchers wrote that they doubted the bra itself would make it to store shelves. More likely, it will be transformed into a wrist device that’s gender-neutral.