By Fritz Lenneman
Recent news reports have highlighted a new trend in the pursuit of weight loss that has nothing to do with health. The K-E Diet weight loss method, reportedly geared to brides-to-be, requires a perfectly healthy person to get a feeding tube inserted up through her nose, down her esophagus and into her stomach. A nutrition solution that consists of just 800 calories per day is released on a slow drip for 10 days. The patient is required at all times to carry with her a small bag holding her feeding solution.
Plenty of medical professionals have spoken up about this radical weight loss scheme, including the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, which does not endorse the K-E Diet or any other specific weight-loss plan.
To learn more out more about the truth about tube feeding nutrition, we asked Academy Spokesperson Marjorie Nolan, MS, RDN, CDN, ACSM-HFS, and Dr. Laura Matarese, PhD, RD, LDN, FADA, CNSC, a professor at East Carolina University and an expert of feeding tubes, about the procedure.
What Are the Intended Purposes of Feeding Tubes?
The majority of people with a feeding tube are not using it to lose weight; they are using it to stay alive. Tube feeding "is used for medical purposes when a patient can't eat food by mouth," Nolan says. "Conditions that warrant a tube feeding may include abdominal surgery or oral surgery, trauma, injury, stroke, and certain types of cancers such as mouth, throat and esophageal."
Dr. Matarese says using a feeding tube for weight loss falls in the category of "inappropriate" use. "There are guidelines and standards for [feeding tubes], and various societies have come out with indications and contra-indications. Now, the K-E Diet, per se, has not been listed as a contra-indication because no one has ever done this before. But certainly weight reduction has not been listed as an indication," she says. "I don't know any reputable physician or any reputable health care practitioner who would say that this is a good idea."
What Is in a Feeding Tube?
Patients with a feeding tube are usually given a formula that combines carbohydrates, fats and proteins, and a balance of other nutrients Nolan says. The K-E Diet claims that its 800 calories deliver protein and fats, but no carbohydrates. "The problem is nobody really knows what's in that [K-E Diet] formula," Dr. Matarese says.
What Happens After Stopping a Tube Feeding?
Nolan says people who use a feeding tube to lose weight put themselves at great risk for gaining weight back once the procedure is complete, because they are likely to go back to their old eating habits. "There is an increased risk of binge eating once the tube is removed, as the restriction of all food is a potential set-up of eating disorders and psychological disturbance," she says.
Nolan says there are also possible risks for infection and gastrointestinal problems. "The feeding solution may cause diarrhea or cramping," she says.
Dr. Matarese adds a few other potential digestive complications that most people would consider unwelcome during a wedding reception or honeymoon: "nausea, vomiting, bloating...and flatus — otherwise known as gas.
What Other More Serious Medical Complications Could Arise?
Dr. Matarese says one potential health risk of a feeding tube is pulmonary aspiration. "Whereby the contents of the stomach are inhaled into the lungs," she says. "This can result in pneumonia and be life threatening." While not common, she says this typically would happen at night, while the patient is lying flat in bed.
The Academy encourages anyone who wants to lose and maintain a healthy weight to contact a registered dietitian in his or her area. An RD or RDN can create a tailored and sustainable approach to healthful eating and weight loss that is based on your personal lifestyle and preferences.
Reviewed April 2013
Fritz Lenneman is an online content manager for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.