What is the feeding tube diet for weight loss?

Katie Rickel, PhD
Formally known as the “K-E diet,” originally developed in Italy and currently offered in a Florida-based clinic, this $1,500 program limits an individual’s daily intake to an 800-calorie liquid supplement delivered through a K-E tube, inserted through the nose and going into the stomach. Dieters can drink water, unsweetened tea, or black coffee, but no other food or drink is allowed during the 10-day treatment period. The brochure promises that “most patients [lose] approximately 1% of their weight in 10 days, as long as you follow the program completely.”

I could expound upon the physiological dangers of following this very low-calorie diet outside of a supervised medical setting. I could also elaborate on the futility of embarking on any weight-management plan that does not include readily available forms of nutrition (food!) and exercise. But those very valid points have been belabored already.

The fine print of the K-E diet states that the program will only work if the sole source of nutrition is the 800-calorie supplement.

Well, newsflash folks! It is the drastic calorie reduction -- not the contents of the supplement, the use of a K-E tube, or the doctor’s visits -- that causes the drop on the scale (which is mostly water that will return as soon as normal eating is resumed). The fact remains that the feeding tube has no more power than a magic wand to help you override the strong physiological and psychological drives to eat food. In other words, I would suggest that this approach is relying heavily on the power of the placebo effect.

Once again, we are left with the sobering reality that losing weight involves some work. The good news is that the work is doable and gets you real results. Eat less, move more, get enough sleep, manage your stress, and utilize your support system. No feeding tubes or magic wands necessary!
Dr. David L. Katz, MD, MPH
Preventive Medicine
K-E stands for ketogenic enteral nutrition. A better term 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.

There is a risk of metabolic complications, including stresses on the liver, kidneys, and skeleton; for healthy people, such concerns are minor and remote. Bone loss will occur, but will be inconsequential if limited to a 10-day span. Constipation will occur almost without fail. A ketogenic diet is used in medical practice to treat intractable seizures, but then the inconvenience and adverse effects are the lesser of two evils, because the alternative is uncontrollable epilepsy.

The K-E diet transforms a medical therapy into the indulgence of a shortsighted, vanity-driven whim. If self-induced vomiting after meals constitutes an eating disorder, what is infusing liquid formula through a tube into the duodenum without medical indication? I fully appreciate the frustration 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 a risk of aspiration pneumonia, which can be fatal. Ladies, do you really want to marry a guy who stands by while you risk your life to lose 10 pounds?

In terms of quick weight loss, this is a guarantee of quick rebound with interest, since it involves no useful behavior change. It has nothing to do with health and basically endorses the notion that weight loss by any means is acceptable.

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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.