Modius Health wants you to believe that weight loss is more in the brain than in the body — and that wearing its headset can help you lose weight without extra effort. Most likely, it’s too good to be true. Plus, the headset gives you a headache.
The headset is made of white plastic and has two bits that hang behind your ears. You attach little sticky electrode pads on the back of your ears and use them to hook in the little bits. Then, you turn the gadget on and it starts sending electrical signals to your brain. There are 10 settings. At settings one and two, I didn’t feel anything. At setting three, I immediately felt a tingling in the electrode pad and started to feel a little disoriented and nauseated, like I was swaying. It was unpleasant.
The idea is that the headset sends electrical signals to the hypothalamus, and, supposedly, stimulating the hypothalamus makes you less hungry and will change the body’s “set point.” There is some evidence for this claim that the body naturally wants to be at a certain “set point” weight. If you go too far over it, it’ll be easy to lose the weight, but go too far below and it’ll fight hard to bring you back up, which is why so many of us gain the weight right back. Modius founder Jason McKeown says that the device will lower the set point. Wear it for an hour a day, and neuroscience can help the pounds melt off.
The website has an entire section about “the science” behind the device, complete with impressive claims about volunteers losing a lot of weight compared to a control group. But if you take a closer look, the data isn’t nearly as strong, according to Sandra Aamodt, a neuroscientist and the author of Why Diets Make Us Fat: The Unintended Consequences of Our Obsession With Weight Loss. “I can say with confidence that they haven’t tested it carefully enough to prove that it does work,” Aamodt wrote in an email to The Verge. “If someone approached the FDA for approval of a weight-loss drug based on evidence like this, they’d be laughed out of the building.”
As Aamodt points out, one study the company has done has not passed peer review or been published in an academic journal. It followed only nine people for 16 weeks, and the change in total body fat was not statistically significant.
Fundamentally, there is little evidence that the device can change the body’s set point. Usually, the set point kicks in (and we start to gain the weight back) after six months, so a 16-week study can’t tell us anything about long-term weight regulation or keeping the weight off. (McKeown suggests using the device a couple times a week for maintenance, after using it four or five times weekly to lose the weight at first.) It’s also possible, says Aamodt, that the small results are because the headset can create a swaying feeling similar to motion sickness, which is associated with loss of appetite. True, I did not feel like eating while feeling vaguely nauseated.
Because the device is new, we also don’t have good, long-term data that proves that it doesn’t work, either. Modius seems to be initiating a clinical trial, but it’s in the recruiting stage. It is also interested in possibly obtaining FDA approval as an obesity treatment by 2019.
The device has sold about 4,000 units so far, after raising about $2 million on Indiegogo. It’s not surprising that it made so much money. Weight loss is a huge industry and everyone is intrigued by the idea of results without the work. $499 for easy weight loss does seem worth it. But $499 for a headache and dubious results? Much less so.