If Stephen Colbert ridicules something, it must be controversial, right?
The FDA recently approved AspireAssist, a new weight loss device that empties stomach contents after meals. Usage is restricted to patients who are “moderately overweight” and have been unsuccessful in managing their weight through other means.
This video provides a view into how the device works. Basically, an individual eats a meal, and 30-45 minutes later, places an external pump into a port on the outside of their abdomen. Approximately one-third of stomach contents are drained via a minimally invasive pre-installed tube. Users are instructed to repeat this process after every meal (2-3X/day).
The critics are calling AspireAssist “the bulimia machine,” “electronic purging” and “assisted bulimia” – among other choice terms. In my mind, it leaves open way too many (dangerous) gaps which seem counter-productive on several levels:
It can validate disordered behavior: I won’t go as far to say this is a true form of bulimia, but there are many parallels. Those with bulimia experience cycles of binging followed by varying types of compensatory behaviors. While those using this product may not be struggling with an eating disorder, you don’t eat just to get rid of what you ate. The purpose of eating is to provide nourishment for our bodies with appropriate nutritional choices specific to each individual.
It ignores thousands of vulnerable individuals. While there are parameters of individuals who are not appropriate candidates for this device (like those who have been clinically diagnosed with an eating disorder), I worry about those who struggle with unreported or undiagnosed disordered eating habits. Who’s going to help them to navigate their feelings when this device inevitably doesn’t magically erase their negative thoughts about their bodies?
It doesn’t promote mindful eating: Many in eating disorder recovery have a goal of being able to understand and interpret hunger and fullness queues. I worry how this device will affect individuals who may be unwilling or unable to listen to what their bodies are telling them. How will artificially tampering with nutritional intake help one understand their needs?
The physical risks are scary. Our bodies aren’t designed to aspirate, vomit or purge 2-3 times a day. Users are put at risk of malnutrition, electrolyte deficiencies, loss of bone density and cardiovascular issues. Add in the FDA warnings: bleeding, infection, nausea, vomiting, sedation-related breathing problems, abdominal inflammation, stomach sores, pneumonia and unintended puncture of the stomach or intestinal wall, and you have a lot of concerning possible outcomes.
It’s all about weight loss: The advertisements boast successes for clinical trials. – “3X the weight loss” or “12.1% reduction in size.” While that is an appropriate goal for some, the emphasis on weight is just another reminder of the “size matters” culture we live in. Were their moods improved? How about overall satisfaction with their bodies? Or how they truly feel about themselves? Those answers are what matter most at the end of the day.
I don’t have a magic formula for how to holistically improve one’s health. The way we feel about our bodies and how we connect to them can’t be “fixed” by a device, surgery or other invasive means alone.
There are many other pieces to the puzzle – like behavioral therapy, nutritional education and lifestyle adjustments. Taking a comprehensive approach is much more impactful – and safer – for sustainable, long-term results.
What do you think?
Michael McDonough is the director of communications at Walden Behavioral Care. Prior to joining Walden in February of 2016, he was the Marketing Communications Manager for the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce, elevating the organization’s brand awareness and increasing membership acquisition through digital and traditional marketing strategies. He also carries nearly ten years of public relations experience working with dozens of corporate and non-profit organizations.
Michael is a graduate of Syracuse University, where he obtained a Bachelor of Arts in both broadcast journalism and psychology. He is an avid runner, having completed five marathons (including four Boston Marathons).
*This blog post does not necessarily represent the views of Walden and its management. The Walden Blog is meant to represent a broad variety of opinions relating to eating disorders and their treatment. Comments are welcome, but respect for the opinions of others is encouraged.