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Feeding tubes? Really?

Google "feeding tube diet" or Ketogenic Enteral Nutrition (KEN) Diet. There are a whole bunch of neutral to positive, freak show style news items. Take your pick.


You may have noticed that this weight loss diet is so incredibly embarrassing and moronic that a Google search will turn up several negative articles on the first page of results.

  • Canadian obesity specialist Yoni Freedhoff, who is a bit of a nutritional puritan but who helped nix the Epcot Center's crap Habit Heroes exhibition, thinks it's medical malpractice. He skewers it in a post called "Church booked? Check. Flowers? Check. Feeding Tube? Check?" Well, yeah. Sounds like medical malpractice to me too. Thanks for pointing that out.

  • Google News has an item called "Feeding Tube Diet? Irresponsible Doctors Condone Anorexia". The fun thing about this article is that the author clearly finds the whole thing problematic - but only when it's used by people who aren't 'morbidly obese.' For very fat people, she thinks it sounds like an excellent weight loss option.

Much as I think that Freedhoff is an okay guy for a diet doctor, I've got to say that the Yahoo article is less hypocritical than his. Don't get me wrong. I agree with everything he says about the feeding tube diet. But, this is someone who is not terribly critical of weight loss surgery. A feeding tube is less invasive than weight loss surgery and it can be removed at any time. It seems likely that the only advantage that weight loss surgery has over a permanently installed feeding tube is that it's invisible. The fact that you're tampering with your body in order to physically enforce a starvation diet isn't apparent to every single person who looks at you. But really, it's not that different. In fact, the feeding tube is not nearly as extreme and risky. It is easily reversible and does not involve the ol' slice and dice.

The feeding tube diet is marketed as a quick and easy way to lose weight. Apparently it provides 800 calories a day with no carbs, and they claim that people don't get hungry. It would be nice for the dieters if that were true, because it physically prevents them from eating. Side effects may include bad breath, constipation, dizziness, acid reflux, and nausea.

In a society that thinks weight loss surgery is a good idea, why would anyone be surprised that people want a doctor to stick a feeding tube up their noses and down their throats to provide a minimum amount of nutrition and prevent them from eating? It makes perfect sense. Not-so-fat people who love the idea of weight loss surgery but aren't eligible for it must be delighted by this new option.

I'm not surprised by it, but it is still hard for me to understand (emotionally) why someone would do this to themselves. The old "easy way out" trope doesn't fit any better than it does with weight loss surgery. This is public. It is humiliating. It is physically unpleasant and disempowering. It seems to come from a place of deep frustration and an antagonistic mind-body relationship. I keep slipping into thoughts of masochism, penance, and the mortification of the flesh. It's a self destructive (or at least risk embracing) form of self punishment. The same human impulses have found a home in religion in the past. What are those impulses acting in service of here, and why are they such a persistent part of human nature? I obviously haven't thought this all the way through, but I'm putting it out there.

A few other thoughts...

As far as I can tell, there is currently only one American doctor who is willing to insert feeding tubes for weight loss. However, this is all over the North American news. It occurs to me that:

1. All of this news coverage is free publicity for this dumb idea and it will probably spread the word to every greedy and ethically impaired doctor in North America. Coming soon: a feeding tube diet doctor in your area!

2. The news coverage sure does support the "young women are stupid, lazy and vain" trope.

Study: the Biggest Loser increases weight bias | HAES vs. Weight Management

vesta44's picture
April 17th, 2012 | Link | As someone who's had an NG

As someone who's had an NG tube inserted and removed (when I had that WLS that failed), I can tell you that it's a most unpleasant experience and one that I definitely would not want to repeat for any reason. Thankfully, I wasn't conscious when they inserted the NG tube, but I was when they removed it, and it wasn't pleasant. It wasn't nice having it in place, either. It's not something with which you want to have to deal while having a cold - coughing, sneezing, blowing your nose, all are made nearly impossible by that damned tube. I can't even imagine what it would be like to cope with allergies while having one of those things in. And from what I remember, it's not easy to drink liquids while that thing is in place either, so dry mouth and all the complications from that are another mess to deal with.
I won't even start on the 800 calorie a day BS - anyone who thinks that is going to burn only the fat on one's body doesn't know how the body works. Sure, you'll lose some fat, but you're also going to lose some muscle, which means your heart is going to suffer (it's a muscle, after all). But people don't think about any of that in their quest to thin/perfect/ideal/whatever.

WLS - Sorry, not my preferred way of dying. *glares at doctor recommending it*

DeeLeigh's picture
April 17th, 2012 | Link | Thanks for that, Vesta. Now

Thanks for that, Vesta. Feeding tubes are so awful. I've had one once, too. It was during and after the surgery I had to remove the parts of my intestines that were blocked by scar tissue after the major car accident I was in. I developed an infection around the feeding tube, and I remember it being horribly painful. I remember telling a nurse "take it out right now or I'm going to do it myself." I'd never agree to have one inserted again, either - not unless it was needed to save my life.

rdiltan April 17th, 2012 | Link | Great article

This was a great take on this subject. This notion has been making the rounds in the media but you really break it down in an insightful way. You're so right about it being analogous to WLS. It is strange that people who find WLS advisable would find this procedure reprehensible. As for portraying young brides in a poor light, I personally think it's outlandish enough an idea that hopefully people will realize that people who have this procedure done arent representative of the population of young people at large.

stef's picture
April 18th, 2012 | Link | I read an article about it

I read an article about it and one woman they interviewed said "I like it because it's nice not to have to think about food for a couple of weeks." Society is really messed up if people want to get feeding tubes because it's less uncomfortable than thinking about food. I don't mean messed up only around food but also around medical procedures.

richie79's picture
April 19th, 2012 | Link | Evidence of desperation,

In the long-term it may be preferable to irreversible WLS, at least until the world finally gets fed up with demonising fat people and deals with the currently radical notion that we come in all sizes, but for now it strikes me as evidence of growing desperation. This applies to both the so-called 'professionals', who will no doubt wring as much cash and publicity as possible from this before it too is linked with side-effects and banned, and (unfortunately) the recipients of the procedure, who despite being told daily that anyone can (and should) be thin have usually found out the hard way that it doesn't in fact work like that at all, but are expected to nevertheless go on endlessly seeking the next magic bullet under pain of the inhumane treatment society metes out to fat people. I'd ask 'Whatever next?' but most of the nastiest, most extreme 'obesity solutions' have already been tried and amply demonstrated how weight loss invariably comes at a high price in terms of overall health.

"What is right is not always popular and what is popular is not always right" - Albert Einstein

Alyssa April 21st, 2012 | Link | Feeding Tubes

In a word, the use of feeding tubes for weight loss is sick. Furthermore, 800 calories a day is not a diet, it is starvation. What next? Placing people in induced comas for a couple of weeks with IV drips, so that they can "sleep off" the weight?

DeeLeigh's picture
April 21st, 2012 | Link | Don't give them any ideas.

Don't give them any ideas.

strawberry April 21st, 2012 | Link | That's not even a new idea.

That's not even a new idea. In the book "Valley of the Dolls", which was a best-seller in the 1960s, one of the characters went to a clinic where she was made to sleep several days in order to lose six pounds.

While the diet may be ill-advised, can someone tell me why it would be embarrassing, or scary to see, as one article mentioned?

DeeLeigh's picture
April 22nd, 2012 | Link | Embarrassing and scary to

Embarrassing and scary to see:

At work, at the shops, on the street, etc. I'd find it embarrassing, anyway. Especially if there wasn't a good reason for it.

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