The number of people on diets in the U.S. alone is estimated to be 108 million. At any given time, that means nearly one in three people is trying to lose weight.
But despite valiant efforts with everything from juice cleanses, the keto diet, kettlebells and CrossFit, a lot of people keeps coming back to a familiar and frustrating state - the same one they were at before they tried to lose weight.
While many blame their body for this annoying resistance to fat reduction, the answer may lie elsewhere: in the brain.
As Modius Health's CEO and co-founder Jason McKeown says, "Across the globe people are struggling to maintain a lean and healthy body. This is putting enormous pressure not just on individuals, but entire heathcare systems. Neuroscience has proven that unhealthy weight gain is an issue which is controlled by the brain."
That last part is key - that the secret to weight gain (and loss) lies in neuroscience. It's also what's behind Modius's new fat-reduction wearable, which appears to help people shed fat effortlessly (meaning without changes in diet or exercise). Sound too good to be true? Here's how it works:
Your brain's hypothalamus is responsible for, among other things, a "set point" when it comes to body fat percentage. It's kind of like a thermostat: if your body fat is around 23 percent, your hypothalamus will always want you to return to that point, no matter how much you change your diet or exercise.
So while yes, of course you can lose weight if you reduce your caloric intake enough, it's going to be very hard to keep it off. Your body will always want to return to homeostasis (your fat percentage set point).
This was a useful evolutionary device at one point. When humans were still struggling to survive, we needed to conserve every calorie we could consume. Now, however, as a species we struggle far more with problems associated with hanging onto weight - hypertension, diabetes, heart disease, and certain cancers, just to name a few.
Taking advantage of a bodily hack
The new fat-loss wearable takes advantage of a weird hack associated with your vestibular nerve (inner ear) to impact your hypothalamus. Scientists sort of stumbled onto the link between vestibular stimulation and fat reduction accidentally--in addition to a number of other studies, they noticed that the rats NASA was using to test exposure to zero gravity (which generates a lot of vestibular stimulation) all got really lean.
A further review of the literature supported this link between vestibular stimulation, the hypothalamus, and getting lean, so researchers put together a clinical trial to test out a vestibular stimulation device on people.
The results? Vestibular stimulation does seem to successfully "trick" your hypothalamus into lowering your fat percentage set point, which leads to a dramatic decrease in percentage body fat.
Again, it's not totally known why this works, but it may have to do with your brain interpreting vestibular stimulation as you being in a hyperactive state. If your hypothalamus thinks you're being extremely active (like sprinting after antelope on the Serengetti), it may decide you to be more lean in order to survive (instead of more fat-padded), and thus lower the thermostat.
Is it user-friendly?
I've tried the device, and to be quite honest, it's a little strange. You wear it like a headband, clipping two sticky pads to the hard bones right under your ears (your vestibular nerve), sync it with the Modius app, and turn the "dial" up to a level between 1 and 10 (normally around 4-5). Then you just sit or lie there for 45 minutes to an hour, daily or every other day.
Whenever I wear it, I feel a bit of a rocking sensation, almost like I'm on a boat (others describe it as how you feel after one glass of red wine). This seasick quality makes sense, since it's targeting your inner ear. It also makes sense that you're not supposed to wear the device while driving, or even while standing up. Most people read or watch TV or listen to a podcast for the 45 minutes to an hour you have it on. (I wrote part of this piece wearing it.)
The FDA has classified and approved Modius as a general wellness device. Frankly, I haven't worn it long enough to speak to its fat-loss potential for me personally. However, the initial clinical trial showed dramatic results.
Over the course of 16 weeks, subjects saw an average drop of 8 percent body fat, which is significant, and up to a 16 percent drop. This was all on subjects who made no dietary changes and no exercise changes while using the device. Plus, Modius appears to target belly fat, which is good news for both health and aesthetics.
Interestingly, Modius is not likely to be effective for the morbidly obese. According to researchers, the hypothalamus in a morbidly obese person is already so damaged that adjusting it wouldn't likely change anything.
Thus it's actually average to "normally" overweight people that will see the most dramatic results: getting the six-pack you've always wanted; being able to wear midriff and feel great about it; finally getting rid of your love handles.
Getting more lean without a lot of work is something of a fitness dream. And while many will lament that (getting away with something without putting a lot the work in), none of them are on the device's Indiegogo page, which is now 2,147% overfunded.
The fact is, wearable technology is still in its infancy. In the coming decades, we'll see a proliferation of devices that we'll wear, and eventually likely embed, into us. And while a lot of us have mixed feelings about all that, there's something tempting about a wearable that can help you get that elusive six-pack you've always wanted ... without even skipping dessert.