Twitter was all worked-up about a new weight loss treatment, called AspireAssist, earlier this week (thanks to @markjmcgill for telling me about it). This treatment involves the insertion of a tube into the stomach that can be opened after a meal to allow a person to discreetly ditch half the food they just consumed into the nearest toilet. I think that the gut (pun fully intended) reaction of many is “gross”. I can understand that reaction. Thinking about pouring half of the gnocchi and broccoli I just ate for supper through a tube in my stomach for about 5-10 minutes does kind of gross me out. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with reacting that way. I also find vomiting gross. Essentially this is just vomit by-passing the stomach. Gross no matter what the route.
Maybe you don’t find vomit gross though. That’s fine. To each their own. Moving on to the real issue…
How this can be marketed as a “non-surgical weight loss procedure” is a little puzzling to me. Sure, it’s not nearly as invasive (or risky from a physical standpoint) as standard bariatric surgery. It still involves putting a hole in a person’s stomach and inserting a tube with a valve. If cutting a hole in the stomach isn’t surgery, then I don’t know what is.
Suggesting that patients can be home in a couple of hours really hits home that “quick fix” mentality. It says, here’s an easy way to deal with something that you’ve been struggling with for years. I assume that anyone willing to undergo such a procedure will have been struggling to lose weight for years. I can’t imagine anyone who wasn’t desperate to lose weight being willing to go the AspireAssist route. However, I can imagine a whole lot of people who don’t need to lose weight being willing to undergo the surgery and I hope that any surgeons offering this procedure will be following very stringent criteria to ensure that it doesn’t become the “new bulimia”.
I know I wasn’t the only one who immediately thought, this is just bulimia by-passing the vomiting. It’s slightly better than binging and purging, in the sense that you won’t be destroying your esophagus or your teeth. There’s of course risk of infection, as you would see with enteral tube feeds. I could quite honestly see this becoming the “new cleanse” if we’re not very careful. I could see stars having the tube inserted to help them lose weight for movie roles or for red carpet events. I can see Gwyneth talking it up on Goop.
While the makers say that “over time, as patients learn to eat more healthfully, they can reduce the frequency of aspirations.” I worry this sort of procedure/device won’t promote better eating habits. Are being forced to chew your food thoroughly and consume plenty of water with your meal going to be good enough to help a person develop healthy eating habits. Is learning that you can dispose of 30% of the food you eat giving a positive message about food? It’s certainly not encouraging reduced food waste. Is it telling people that food can be pleasurable and nourishing?
What about the social ramifications? People who struggle with over eating and weight loss often struggle with self esteem and confidence issues. Is hiding in the bathroom for 10 minutes after every meal going to help improve a person’s sense of confidence? If I had to spend 10 minutes draining my stomach after every meal I would avoid eating with others. I wouldn’t want to eat at work. I wouldn’t want to eat at a restaurant or a friend’s house. I would only want to eat in my own home (never with guests) because I would feel so embarrassed about the time I would need to spend in the bathroom after we ate. Maybe that’s just me. But maybe not. Would that foster a positive relationship with food? I think not.
I have huge concerns about this sort of device. About the message it sends about the importance of being skinny above all else. About the potential physical and emotional consequences it might have on the users. And about the message it sends that there’s a “quick fix” for obesity. As far as I can tell, this is nothing but a medically endorsed form of bulimia.