What are the dangers of the K-E diet?

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Dr. David L. Katz, MD, MPH
Preventive Medicine
“K-E” stands for ketogenic enteral nutrition. A better, more descriptive term for the new diet is the nasogastric tube diet. The K-E diet involves inserting a feeding tube into the nose, down the esophagus, through the stomach, and into the duodenum, and then infusing a high-protein feeding solution continuously.

This is done in the hospital routinely for people who can’t eat. But that’s not what the K-E diet is about. It’s about brides-to-be who want to lose 10 pounds or so in a hurry to look good in a wedding dress.

This diet is little short of lunacy on the part of any such bride-to-be; colossally misplaced priorities on the part of any groom-to-be watching it happen; and as profound an abrogation of professional ethics on the part of doctors peddling it (for $1,500) as I have ever seen.

Everything about this is appalling. Not so much because of the risk of metabolic complications from a ketogenic diet over a period of just 10 days. These are real, and include stresses on the liver, kidneys, and skeleton -- but for people healthy at the start, such concerns are both minor and remote. Bone loss will occur, but will be inconsequential if limited to a 10-day span. Constipation is the one complication that will occur almost without fail. A ketogenic diet is used in medical practice to treat intractable seizures -- but that's a case where the inconvenience and adverse effects of the diet are the lesser of two evils, because the alternative is uncontrollable epilepsy.

What makes the K-E diet truly appalling is that it transforms a medical therapy into the indulgence of a short-term, short-sighted, vanity-driven whim.

If the K-E diet survives a while -- and I sure hope it doesn’t -- I bet it will come to be defined as an eating disorder in its own right. I fully appreciate the frustration many people feel when trying to lose weight, but if bulimia is not the right answer for that problem, neither is this!

A nasogastric tube is an unpleasant, undesirable medical procedure we impose on sick patients who can't eat. It carries with it a risk of aspiration pneumonia, which can be fatal.

In terms of quick weight loss, this dangerous nonsense is a guarantee of quick rebound with interest, since it involves no useful behavior change whatsoever. As for the doctors involved in peddling this travesty, I condemn their actions. The job of physicians is not to come up with any way to satisfy a patient's whim no matter how fundamentally at odds with health.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.