The story goes that over in the States, women are using a new ‘diet’ technique to lose a few pounds quickly, usually in the lead-up to their wedding day. They forego food altogether for ten days, and get their nutrition instead from a special formula delivered via a naso-gastric tube. They get around 800 calories per day, including protein and nutrients but no carbohydrates. Common side effects include halitosis, dizziness, fatigue and constipation.
Now, I am pleased to say that I have heard nothing but disbelief and anger from every commentator who has broached this subject, but my feelings on it go slightly further. It absolutely floors me. Boggles me. Makes me want to get on a plane, find the people doing this and slap them with something large and piscatorial. Sometimes, I think, healthy people can be incredibly stupid.
My expertise on this subject is very personal, and quite involved. Due to an auto-immune disease, combined with some quirks of my internal design, I have had countless naso-gastric tubes, both to feed me and to drain things out of my stomach. I have also tried feeding via a PEJ tube, which is inserted through the wall of your abdomen directly into the upper intestine, and parenteral nutrition, which is administered intravenously. For anyone who even, for a split second, thought this might be an easy way to drop a dress-size, I can tell you categorically it is NOT FUN.
Think about it. A big plastic tube up your nose. Even at the most basic level it’s not appealing. Then you need to consider it goes down your throat, where it rubs and irritates til you have trouble swallowing and talking, and that you’re tethered to a bag (or IV pole, or feeding pump) for the entire time it’s inserted. Is that how you’d want to spend the week before your wedding?
If you widen your focus and look at the broader health implications, this weight loss method becomes even more ridiculous. Like any crash diet, the kilos are going to come boomeranging straight back, and will probably bring some extra friends with them. As for your nutritional needs, 800 calories a day is less than half of what my dietician tells me I should be having, and I’m a pretty small person. And then there’s the less scientific, but equally valid point that even though the stuff they put up the tube says that contains all of your nutritional needs, there is something magic about real food that makes your body feel and perform better. Simply put, the whole process is just not good for you.
Why anyone would voluntarily have this done to them is beyond me. The countless nights I have spent attached to machines and tubes of various kinds, both at home and in hospital, are things that I wouldn’t wish on anyone. That the medical expertise exists now is amazing; I wouldn’t be here without it and I’m very grateful to the boffins who figured it all out. To be using it for such trivial purposes, however, is deeply disturbing.
Beyond the questions of women’s body image issues that it obviously raises, it also calls into question the ethics of the doctors willing to charge customers for this ‘service’, and a system under which unnecessary and potentially threatening treatments are administered for purpose of losing as little as ten pounds (that’s just over four kilos, in our language). As someone who relies the medical system of this country frequently, I want to know that the doctors treating me are only doing what they think is absolutely necessary for my wellbeing. Every procedure carries risks – a naso-gastric tube, for example, if inserted incorrectly, could cause internal perforations and cause infections. When there are medicos who will do things on a patient’s whim, or to make extra cash, is can make the trust we place in the whole system shaky.
If your happiness on your wedding day hinges on you being a couple of kilos lighter, chances are there is no ten day procedure that will help you.
Lara Irvine is a writer based in regional Victoria, who has not yet given up her day job in an office. You can hear from her sporadically on twitter here.
What do you think? Have you ever considered a risky weight loss method?