Powerseed is a small egg-shape gadget designed to slow down eaters. The $49.95 Powerseed looks like a small black version of a Silly Putty container. Battery operated, it blinks a green light every 30 seconds to signal that it’s time to take a bite.
Every five minutes it sends a different signal, a steady light for three seconds.
The purpose of the longer light, according to William J. Curry, the Powerseed’s inventor, is to make eaters aware – at regular intervals – of what they are eating and whether they are still hungry.
“It started with my own disordered eating patterns,” said Mr. Curry, who got the idea for the Powerseed after a trip to Italy a few years ago. “I ate very rapidly and I was 20 pounds overweight.”
“In Venice I wanted to take my wife to a nice place on the last night,” he said in a phone interview. “As we sat down, I noticed a handsome man who ate so slowly and who enjoyed his food so much. I was fascinated with this very urbane guy who could eat in a very nice way. But by the time I looked down at my own entree, I had eaten it all.”
I said: “No one in my family would have noticed the urbane guy. We aren’t the type of people who look up from our plates.”
Mr. Curry sent me a Powerseed to test and reminded me that the gadget should be used in conjunction with the 112-page “Powerseed Guide to Mindful Eating.”
The philosophy is the opposite of a restrictive diet, Mr. Curry said. “Radical changes in a person’s diet are not sustainable, and this is not about perfectionism or about being compulsive,” he said. “It should make you enjoy your food more, not less.”
With that in mind, I introduced the Powerseed as unobtrusively as possible. The night it arrived in the mail, I optimistically cooked a slightly smaller amount of food than usual. The menu included grilled flank steak, steamed broccolini with lemon, and buttered pasta, a concession to my 7-year-old daughter, who refuses to eat colored food other than raspberries.
I discreetly set the Powerseed in front of my own plate.
“Dinner!” I called. My three daughters and husband stampeded in, threw themselves into chairs, faced plates and started to eat.
I looked at the Powerseed, waiting for my signal.
The seconds ticked by slowly.
My husband ate one, two, three bites of flank steak.
My 7-year-old deftly pushed all food but the pasta to the edge of her plate, ate her noodles and asked for more.
Was the Powerseed broken?
By this time, I was staring at it so intently that I barely noticed my two older daughters helping themselves to more vegetables.
Finally, after several millenniums, after an era that lasted longer than the dinosaurs’ time on Earth, the Powerseed flashed.
Gratefully I cut broccolini, put it into my mouth, chewed, enjoyed the taste, chewed more, swallowed, enjoyed the swallowing and then realized with despair that I still had 27 seconds to wait for my next bite.
“Mom, why is that black salt shaker blinking at you?” my oldest daughter asked.
“It only lets you take a bite every 30 seconds,” I said. “Try it.”
“No thanks, you look cranky,” my middle daughter said.
“Try a bigger bite so it lasts longer,” my husband advised, shoving four strips of steak into his mouth at once to demonstrate.
“I’m full,” my 7-year-old said. “Can I go ride my bike?”
Platters were empty. Napkins were ravished. I was hungry.
The next day I sought advice.
“Why won’t my family eat slowly?” I asked Marion Nestle, a professor of nutrition at New York University.
“Why should they?” she said. “I happen to be a fast eater myself. Much faster than other people. When I’m hungry, I want to eat.”
“Don’t you worry that you’ll overeat before your stomach tells your mind you’re full?”
“There is a theory that if you eat fast, the food goes in and doesn’t have time to be absorbed or to raise blood sugar to turn off the signals that make you hungry, and that by the time those signals have operated, you’ve taken in far more calories than you need,” Dr. Nestle said. “But I’ve never seen compelling evidence that it’s true. Certainly if you drink a big glass of water, you know it. You get a feeling of fullness right away.”