Maybe not every part of our bodies needs to be quantified.
A Korean company called Olive Healthcare has debuted a new device called the Bello; it scans your belly and reveals what percentage of your tissues, blood, and guts is fat.
Devices like smart scales or BMI scanners (which also abound at CES) can also measure body fat, but the Bello team says their measure is more accurate. While the results of other devices can vary greatly based on your body’s water level, the Bello only measures lipids (a scientific term for fat), so Olive says it is more consistent and reliable.
While the Bello is focused on the belly, it’s not actually supposed to be a dieting device; Bello is supposedly for healthcare. Fat on your stomach, as opposed to, say, your butt, may be an indicator, for example, of how at risk women post menopause may be for diabetes or metabolic health disorders. Measuring your belly fat with the purpose of decreasing it over time could theoretically help you be healthier in the long run, not just skinnier in the short term.
Unfortunately, even if the intention of the Bello is to encourage healthy living, in practice it just feels…mean.
“We get that comment a lot,” an Olive Health spokesperson said with a sigh, asking me not to focus on that.
But when faced with the somewhat humiliating, harsh reality of a belly fat scan, it’s difficult not to.
The Bello is a small device, just a bit bigger than an average-sized hand. To take a belly scan, you place the device on your upper abdomen, hold it for three seconds, and then your lower tummy, and hold for another three. Even the process of rolling down my compression yoga pats to reveal my belly felt a little shameful.
The scan results get sent to an accompanying app on a smartphone, and are instant. For me, they were bad — or rather, “worst,” according to a colorized graphic on the app that notes fat percentage. My abs (or, apparently, lack thereof) were 92 percent fat. The results were indicated in a deep, bloody red along a sliding scale of shame.
Another measure of “overall health,” based on fat, age, weight, and Bello’s “algorithm,” was just south of “moderate.”
Here’s the thing. I work out five times a week, and eat salads for lunch. But I also love pasta, and steak, and sandwiches, and wine. So I choose to live a balanced life in which years of self-work has taught me self love and a (struggling) acceptance for my curvy, natural shape.
I also know that my abs are stronger than they’ve ever been. I can deadlift more weight than any girl I know, plank with ease, and made a goal last year to be able to do a certain kind of advanced, super difficult sit up by the end of the year. I met the damn goal.
Led by brands like FitBit and the Apple Watch, the world of tech health and fitness is all about measurement. The answer to living longer and better is quantification and data, the hundreds of stalls in the “wellness” corridors of CES proclaim. Never mind that there is little evidence for the theory-assumed-as-fact that smartphone measurement leads to behavior change.
So what am I supposed to do with a scan of my belly that gives me a deep, dangerous red reading? Freak out about my potential for diabetes down the line? Work out and eat better than I already do? That’s what the app recommends. It gives you exercise and diet tips that should bring your score down over time (that is, if you have the sort of body and metabolism that responds to that, which not all bodies do).
Body shape is variable, and I’m not sure assigning a human being a health score based on where they store the results of their earthly pleasures is the best way to represent health. Or maybe I’m just mad that the data doesn’t lie about the existence of my soft, round tummy.
The Bello team was nice, and meant well. But rolling down my yoga pants and seeing the results on the screen gave me a sinking feeling. It erased the pride I’ve taken over the past year in meeting my goals (not an app’s). Writing this down, remembering what I’ve accomplished, was what brought a self-image of health — that I know true from my own experience — back to life.
Maybe the hyper-quantified world of health tech holds some answers, but perhaps it doesn’t need to hold them all.