UNC researchers using Apple Watch to combat binge eating

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (FOX 46 CHARLOTTE) -- Researches at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill are using the Apple Watch to combat eating disorders. They say they hope the technology will help them figure out what causes uncontrollable binge eating.

Apple advertises their watch can track your heart rate, among other health features, but researchers in Chapel Hill are taking the technology a step further.

“Two disorders we’re studying are bulimia nervosa and binge eating disorder,” said Dr. Cynthia Bulik, Director of the UNC Center of Excellence for Eating Disorders, “and both of them are marked by binge eating,” she said.

Bulik is conducting a study with roughly 1,000 people. The perks? They get a free Apple Watch, but the participants, who either have bulimia or binge eating disorders, also have to track their eating habits.

“I’ve struggled with bulimia and anorexia for about seven years,” said UNC freshman, Katie Regittko; she just finished the month-long study.

“There’s a lot of things I think could come of this study,” she told FOX 46. “I think, first of all, talking about noticing biological signs of a binge before it happens could be really useful.”

Through using the app called Recovery Record, participants track their eating in real time.

“They’re self-monitoring some of their eating disorder behaviors,” Bulik said, “but we’re also capturing some of that native monitoring that the apple watch does: their heart rate, their physical activity.”

Bulik, in essence, wants to predict the future.

“We want to figure out a way to predict when a binge episode is eminent,” she said, “and figure out a way to intervene before it happens.“

Regittko says even though she thought she was doing well, her watch was telling her a different story, so she took back control.

“I started seeing a therapist here at UNC Center of Excellence for Eating Disorders,” Regittko said.

The Apple Watch is just one part to the study; a crew of research assistants assembles kits that include the watch in addition to spit and stool kits. It’s the team’s hope they can figure out what genes and bacteria contribute to eating disorders.

“There’s a generosity in people who have suffered from eating disorders,” Bulik said, “and a desire to really keep other people from having to go through what they went through.”

It’s also possibly an opportunity for participants to learn a little bit about themselves.

“I think it helped me out a lot,” Regittko said. “I think it was a good stepping stone to receiving a higher level of care.”

The name of the study is B.E.G.I.N., which stands for “Binge Eating Genetic INitiative.” They’re still looking for participants, and encourage anyone interested in participating to visit their website, or use the contact information below:

URL:  www.beginstudy.org 
Email: beginstudy@unc.edu 
Phone: 919-445-0319