Chew on this

Weight-loss tech, the bad and the good

When does a weight-loss intervention cross the line?

A few months ago I wrote about the K diet, in which women were taking high-protein, low-carbohydrate liquid feedings via nose tube in order to drop pounds.

That was disturbing, but a new strategy is even harder to swallow. The Aspire Assist Aspiration Therapy System is available in Europe and is in clinical trials in the United States. It involves implanting a stomach tube attached to a small port opening at the surface of the skin. According to the Aspire Assist website, patients use it to “aspirate [drain] a portion of their stomach contents into the toilet after each meal.”

Developed by three physicians with an assist from Segway inventor Dean Kamen, this is not an infomercial product. The website states that “lifestyle therapy” to encourage healthier eating and exercise is part of the system, but “most patients elect to continue to ensure weight loss is maintained.”

It is sad to think that medically supervised purging might become a treatment option. There are many less drastic, more wholesome alternatives: Consult a registered dietitian, join Weight Watchers, try an online support community, organize a lunchtime walking group. Call me old-fashioned, but in my book feeding tubes are for patients who need assistance in gaining or maintaining weight, not losing.

Another innovation, which I wish I had invented, is the HAPIfork. A familiar nutrition recommendation is to eat slowly enough so messages of fullness can make it to the brain. Slow eating techniques include putting down the fork after each bite or eating with the nondominant hand.

Now the strategy has gone digital. The electronic HAPIfork will light up and vibrate if you are eating too fast. It also measures how long a meal lasts, the number of times food is put in the mouth per minute and the interval between mouthfuls. For someone who has trouble slowing down, this kind of feedback could change behavior. HAPIfork will be available in a few month from, where else, HAPIlabs.

Sheah Rarback is a registered dietitian on the faculty of the University of Miami Leonard M. Miller School of Medicine.

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