health

A controversial new weight-loss device has eating disorder experts concerned.

The sales pitch of every shonky diet tool, from weight-loss tea to diet pills, is that you can change the way you look without changing how you live.

Take the AspireAssist, an American weight-loss device that’s on its way to Australia.

“With the AspireAssist you can eat normal, healthy meals with your friends and family,” says a brightly animated information video about what is essentially a personal stomach pump.

“Afterwards, in the privacy of a restroom, the device lets you remove up to a third of the food you eat through a small tube in your belly.”

Source: iStock

Let's look at the sentence again with a few words removed, shall we?

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"Afterwards, in the privacy of a restroom, the device lets you remove up to a third of the food you eat through a small tube in your belly."

Geez, that sounds an awful lot like an eating disorder, doesn't it?

Billed by Aspire Bariatrics as an alternative to permanent weight-loss surgery, such as reducing the size of the stomach with a gastric band or by removing a portion of the stomach, the AspireAssist system can be installed via a 15-minute reversible procedure.

Source: Instagram

Basically, a thin tube is placed in your stomach that's connected to a button on the outside of your abdomen.

After your meal, you attach a device about the size of a smartphone to it and empty 30 per cent of your meal into the toilet.

Some experts have characterised the process as akin to "medical bulimia", which has Butterfly Foundation CEO Christine Morgan worried.

"This new device seeks to redress the consequence of eating food – allowing the person to experience the eating but trying to avoid the consequences," she told Mamamia.

Experts encourage a more holistic approach to weight loss. Source: iStock
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"Purging behaviours accompany a number of eating disorders, including Bulimia Nervosa.  As such, they are part of these neuropsychiatric illnesses. Such behaviours can also be learned and could be triggering of eating disorders."

A spokeswoman for the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) confirmed the system has been approved for supply in Australia but, because it is partially implanted, can only be obtained through healthcare practitioners.

"TGA does not regulate clinical practice. Patients using this device for gastric drainage are under the treatment of a healthcare professional," the spokeswoman said, noting the AspireAssist website being referred to by various media outlets is American.

Even so, the site lists a supplier in Australia; Sydney-based Australasian Medical & Scientific Ltd (AMSL).

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Mamamia reached out to AMSL and they clarified only adults with BMI's between 35 and 65 – considered an unhealthy range – "who have failed to achieve and maintain weight loss with non-surgical weight loss therapy" would be considered for the treatment.

When you consider almost two-thirds of Australian adults are overweight or obese, not to mention are a quarter of our children, such a "quick fix" might sound appealing, but as Morgan points out we need to be looking at the bigger picture.

"Rather than encouraging individuals to engage in a healthy lifestyle – taking into consideration diet, exercise and social aspects – this solely focuses on volume of food ... There appears to be no consideration of nutritional requirements," she said.

"This could send an alarming message that unhealthy weight control practices and compensatory behaviours are an appropriate means for managing weight and health in general.

"We need to look holistically at health, not just one aspect. We need to be encouraging people to live a healthy and sustainable lifestyle."

If you need help or support for an eating disorder or body image issue, please call Butterfly's National Helpline on 1800 334 673 or e-mail [email protected]

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