The Camera Phone Diet

By Rob Pegoraro
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, June 7, 2005

For half of March, I engaged in a new ritual before each meal. I'd flip open a cell phone, turn on its camera and discreetly snap a picture. Then I'd e-mail it to a stranger.

I was testing a new dieting service called MyFoodPhone, which uses camera phones to document subscribers' intake, then e-mail the results to dietitians for analysis and advice. This service aims to avoid the hassle of jotting down what you ate, then conveying those records to a dietitian later on.

But my first thoughts weren't about saving paperwork, they were about my fear of getting caught. I worried that somebody would notice my clandestine culinary photojournalism, with the inevitably incredulous reaction, "Did you just . . . take a picture of your food ?"

I need not have worried. Once I turned off the camera-shutter sound effect on the Sprint phone that MyFoodPhone loaned for the test, my picture-taking looked like any other form of wireless rudeness. As far as anybody could tell, I was just reading text messages or looking up baseball scores at the dinner table.

MyFoodPhone subscribers begin by answering a questionnaire at the Web site of the Quebec City-based firm, http:// , which includes both questions anybody should be able to answer (weight, height, exercise habits) and others that assume you've had a recent physical exam (cholesterol and glucose levels).

The system then assigns the subscriber a dietitian, who will look at each photo and offer comments on a personalized page at the company's Web site on the nutritional value of the food as well as advice on improving overall diet.

Sending each picture was surprisingly simple: Select a photo, then send it to one of several of saved addresses: "ABreakfast," "ALunch," "AQuestion," "ASnacks" and "ASupper." ("ADessert" and "ADrink" seem major omissions.)

The biggest challenge in documenting my dining turned out to be taking photos that could be deciphered later on. The initial batch of comments from my dietitian exhibited a fair amount of confusion -- a cup of tea drew the comment, "Is this tomato soup?"

You can add a voice memo or type out a brief description using the phone's keypad, but I usually aovided that extra effort and got on with eating.

Most of my digital photos, however, were readable, if sometimes amazingly unappetizing. (Here's a tip: Photograph a burrito before you've wolfed down half of it.)

The dietitian's comments, posted a day or two after I had uploaded photos, were brief but useful, and often surprising. I found out that my wife's breakfast cereal was healthier than I'd thought ("Good fiber in the frosted mini-wheats"), but the croissant I had on another day got a thumbs-down ("A whole wheat bagel or 2 slices of whole wheat toast would be a great alternative with less fat and more fiber").

I expected to be scolded for a steak dinner at a reception and an enormous slice of pizza at one lunch, but each got a reasoned thumbs-up: "Excellent portion of red meat" and "Cheese pizza is one of the better options for pizza."

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