The FDA Basically Just Promoted Crash Dieting With This Stomach Pump

by Talia Koren
.Luis Felix

Yesterday, the FDA approved a device called AspireAssist, which helps obese people control weight loss and calorie intake by pumping half-digested food out of their stomach.

Getting it only requires a quick and painless 15-minute procedure that allows patients to go back to their normal lives within a few hours. Except now, they can empty 30 percent of the food they've already eaten directly into the toilet.

On its site, AspireAssist says the pump is perfect for those who haven't seen changes in their weight with exercise, diet and lifestyle therapy. But, maybe candidates should keep pumping iron for a longer amount of time instead of resorting to pumping their stomachs.

Weight loss is something many people struggle with. In many cases of obesity, surgical procedures are suggested or required when weight becomes a huge threat to health. However, when it comes to long-lasting, real habit changes, a pump shouldn't be the answer. It's a cheat for people who don't want surgery, but can't make the changes stick. It doesn't change the patient's relationship with food because they can continue eating fairly normally.

Associate clinical professor of nutrition at Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Keith Ayoob, said he understands why this device was invented, but can't get on board with it:

This is an enabling device, not a helping device. It doesn't do anything to make someone change their relationship with food. Once you put this in someone, they're never going to want it taken out.

During the procedure, a thin tube is placed inside patients, and the tube is then attached from the stomach to a “discreet” button placed outside the abdomen. Twenty minutes after a meal, they use a small, smartphone-sized device to empty, or “aspirate,” one-third of what they just ate.

Digesting fewer calories leads to weight loss. That's a fact. However, I don't think this is a viable option for long-lasting change. AspireAssist also offers lifestyle coaching to build healthy habits, but isn't that what people should be doing regardless of this pump?

While I'm not a health professional or nutritionist and am at a healthy weight, I do know that real, long-lasting change starts with taking small steps toward living healthier. Change is a result of consistency, awareness and commitment.

This stomach pump seems like a total cop-out. I don't understand how pumping out 30 percent of the food you already ate helps teach you to eat less. Honestly, pumping out food from your body sounds gross in the first place. I don't know how people who have tried AspireAssist can even stomach it (no pun intended). It's basically like throwing up without the horror of vomiting. Yuck.

While those with the pump can't abuse it because the doctors set the number of times people can "aspirate" per day, the tube can get clogged, depending on the contents of the meal.

So, after using AspireAssist, 60 percent of food is left in the stomach, which is apparently sustainable. The AspireAssist team recommends that patients also eat vitamins so they don't lose too many nutrients. The idea of taking potentially good food away from the parts of my body that actually need and use it for energy just seems unhealthy.

I can see how this pump makes people feel like they're successfully working toward weight loss. Real change, however, starts in the mind, not with a device like this.

Therapy is also used along with with the device. Patients have one-on-one and group sessions to help them make healthier eating choices, enjoy smaller portions and increase exercise. Doesn't that sound kind of familiar? Oh yeah, those are three proven, healthy and necessary steps toward weight loss.

The thing is, this pump exists because people are already pretty set in their ways. Change is hard, and that's why so many people give up or yo-yo between an unhealthy and healthy lifestyle.

AspireAssist claims to not be invasive to the digestive process compared to other alternatives. While that might be true, I don't buy that this unnatural addition to a normal biological function is healthy.

The risks and side effects involved with the tube are similar to the risks of a feeding tube. Why put yourself through all that when you can completely avoid indigestion, bleeding, infection and perforation? None of those side effects happen during regular lifestyle changes.

AspireAssist is one of the many options for people who are searching for the answer to weight loss, but those considering it should do thorough research and talk to their doctor before making any decisions.