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Category Archives: Binge Eating & Food Addiction

A New Form of Bulimia: Pump Eliminates Need to Purge

Decades ago, patients had their mouths literally wired shut. Then came the era of the balloon inserted and inflated in the stomach to mimic the sensation of fullness. Then we moved into radical surgery that rerouted the gut altogether. The most recent attempt to achieve weight loss is the lap band, considered less invasive and still far short of a fail-proof miracle cure for most people.

Never let it be said that companies are asleep at the wheel when it comes to creating new, and ever more bizarre, devices to “help” the morbidly obese.

Acquiring rapid approval from the Food and Drug Administration this week, the AspireAssist is being touted as the new solution for those who have failed to lose weight. After all, it is minimally-invasive, reversible; it’s a simple procedure that offers quick recovery; it has proven results in clinical trials and is affordable. How great is that?

Now, let’s talk about what is actually true. This is a pump that allows people to consume food, and then mere minutes later drain it from their stomachs straight into the toilet. Many experts are calling it a bulimia-assist device. And well they should. The individual gets the same result without having to engage in that pesky, far more dangerous act of vomiting.

The makers of the device also tout that another “real benefit” of it is that people get to engage in “a healthy, normal lifestyle.” It seems they have skipped over the part about having to go to the bathroom after every meal and dump out undigested food from the stomach directly into the toilet.

The evacuation takes from five to ten minutes, should be executed after every large meal, and can “easily” be accomplished in a public restroom.

There is nothing normal about this.

In a statement, the FDA cautions that the device should not be used by those with eating disorders. Now what does this organization in its infinite wisdom think that, at the very least, a sizeable minority of those with severe obesity are struggling with? Cancer?

Many of those whose weight would classify them as obese have a very real eating disorder – most will go undiagnosed and untreated. These are exactly the people who will go to great lengths to get such a device installed. A quick fix; it’s every addict’s dream, indeed, every American’s dream.

The only thing this company is doing right is advocating lifestyle counseling while using this product. Imagine what results we would see if we offered ongoing individual therapy, lifestyle counseling provided by nutrition and exercise specialists and lifelong supportive group therapy without the “purge device.”

What does it say about our country’s obsession with thinness and its widespread disdain for people of size that the FDA so rapidly approved this device, essentially a bulimia-assist product for the “treatment” of those classified as obese based on their BMI?

Our healthcare system is short-sighted, symptom-focused and very broken. When we start to understand people first and foremost as human beings and view their “symptoms” in that context, perhaps we will deliver care to people in ways that enhance their health (physical, mental, emotional, social and spiritual) sustainably. And, at a fraction of the cost that we are currently dumping down the toilet due to our broken system.

Brain stimulation and eating disorders

Many women and girls with eating disorders receive benefit from prescription drugs and behavioral therapy. However, all of us in the mental health field have seen patients that simply can’t seem to recover from the disorder no matter what treatment strategies we try.

This is why the result of new brain research is so notable.

Recently, 20 patients with severe anorexia or bulimia received targeted, noninvasive magnetic brain stimulation through a procedure called “repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (RTMS).” These were people who had already tried every possible medication and therapeutic approach (although I’d bet that most had never tried going to eating disorder 12 steps groups and working the steps with a sponsor!) The stimulation was directed toward the region of the brain involved with control of thoughts, emotions and behavior. It is this part of the brain, the frontal lobes, that is “off line” in people with active eating disorders.

The result of this directed brain stimulation was a 50 percent drop in binge eating and purging behaviors by nearly half the patients and another third saw their problems decrease by at least 80 percent. In some cases the behaviors went away altogether.

Healing this part of the brain and connecting it to other areas of the brain may prove to be the biggest benefit of this treatment modality.

This aspect of brain dysfunction in the illness is one of the key reasons why people with severe eating disorders can’t “just eat” or “just stop bingeing and purging.”

Although such research is considered preliminary, I believe this approach will eventually offer hope to many who still desperately want recovery.

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