Virtual Reality Startup Lets You Feast Without The Food

By John Lavitt 02/17/15

Project Nourished has come up with a potentially revolutionary way to combat eating disorders.

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LA-based tech startup Project Nourished wants to let people eat their favorite foods without regret. By mimicking the experience of eating without ingesting the calories, the company hopes to address medical conditions like obesity, diabetes, and eating disorders.

Project Nourished uses Oculus Rift, the virtual reality headsets, to make users think they are enjoying delicious foods like lasagna and steak. “By isolating various flavor compounds and recreating their taste and textural profiles, coupled with aromatic and virtual reality diffusion—we can mimic a surprisingly broad spectrum of foods," the site says.

The Oculus Rift headset provides the visual sensation of appetizing food while a motion sensor tracks a special fork. When the user moves the fork, the visual is seen in virtual reality. Little cubes made from low-calorie materials like agar, pectin, and gum arabic emit aromas that mimic the desired food.

“What makes this so unique is that the experience merges physical and virtual environments into one, which means you can still chew, feel, smell and taste, but without taking in calories,” said Jinsoo An, founder of LA-based design think tank Kokiri Lab.

The computer innovator developed the technology after watching the 1991 Steven Spielberg film Hook where Peter Pan literally feasts on his imagination. Jinsoo An wanted to help his diabetic step-father enjoy food again.

Despite his positive approach, health experts are not convinced. Robyn L. Goldberg, RDN, CEDRD, believes the new technology could be dangerous.

“By creating a ‘mimic’ to the experience of eating foods people love like steak, sushi, and apple pie without ingesting calories or fat, Project Nourish aims to decrease excess cravings and the intake of calories," Goldberg told The Fix. "As a nutritional therapist, I believe trying to 'trick' a person can often do more harm than good: To have a feast without actually eating could lead to worse psychological problems. Like Peter Pan, such a concept works a lot better in the movies."

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Growing up in Manhattan as a stutterer, John Lavitt discovered that writing was the best way to express himself when the words would not come. After graduating with honors from Brown University, he lived on the Greek island of Patmos, studying with his mentor, the late American poet Robert Lax. As a writer, John’s published work includes three articles in Chicken Soup For The Soul volumes and poems in multiple poetry journals and compilations. Active in recovery, John has been the Treatment Professional News Editor for The Fix. Since 2015, he has published over 500 articles on the addiction and recovery news website. Today, he lives in Los Angeles, trying his best to be happy and creative. Find John on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.