Rationale and design of the SenseWhy project: A passive sensing and ecological momentary assessment study on characteristics of overeating episodes



Overeating interventions and research often focus on single determinants and use subjective or nonpersonalized measures. We aim to (1) identify automatically detectable features that predict overeating and (2) build clusters of eating episodes that identify theoretically meaningful and clinically known problematic overeating behaviors (e.g., stress eating), as well as new phenotypes based on social and psychological features.


Up to 60 adults with obesity in the Chicagoland area will be recruited for a 14-day free-living observational study. Participants will complete ecological momentary assessments and wear 3 sensors designed to capture features of overeating episodes (e.g., chews) that can be visually confirmed. Participants will also complete daily dietitian-administered 24-hour recalls of all food and beverages consumed.


Overeating is defined as caloric consumption exceeding 1 standard deviation of an individual’s mean consumption per eating episode. To identify features that predict overeating, we will apply 2 complementary machine learning methods: correlation-based feature selection and wrapper-based feature selection. We will then generate clusters of overeating types and assess how they align with clinically meaningful overeating phenotypes.


This study will be the first to assess characteristics of eating episodes in situ over a multiweek period with visual confirmation of eating behaviors. An additional strength of this study is the assessment of predictors of problematic eating during periods when individuals are not on a structured diet and/or engaged in a weight loss intervention. Our assessment of overeating episodes in real-world settings is likely to yield new insights regarding determinants of overeating that may translate into novel interventions.


Nabil Alshurafa

Tammy K Stump

Christopher Romano

Angela F Pfammatter

Annie W Lin

Josiah Hester

Donald Hedeker

Evan Forman

Bonnie Spring

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