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Feeding Tube Diet: Shut Up, and Eat

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The biggest news this week hasn't gone down that well. "Feeding Tube Diet," anyone?

The recent New York Times article about a new diet fad among brides-to-be has generated a flood of headlines and outrage. And rightly so. Who could have predicted that such extreme dieting methods had the potential to possibly become all the rage?

The NYT article reports that Dr. Oliver R. Di Pietro has been offering what's been dubbed the "K-E diet" at his clinic in Bay Harbor Islands, Fla. Apparently this has been taking place since last summer.

Yes. Brides desperately craving to be "thin/thinner" so that they can fit into their wedding dresses are subjecting themselves to this eight- to 10-day hellish experience. They don't eat on their own. A feeding tube runs through their nose, down their esophagus and right into their stomach. They use a small tote bag to carry the solution -- it often resembles a purse -- which runs through the tube. The solutions contains zero carbs -- only fat and protein.

The daily calorie count? A whopping 800 calories.

The cost? About $1,500. All that includes a doctor's care, all the equipment and, of course, this miracle solution.

But let's set aside the lunacy and ridiculousness of this outrageous method for a second. (Wouldn't it best to offer anybody doing this, or considering this, some compassion for actually being in the mind space -- so insecure, so unsettled -- to go through with it?) Instead, it's best to point out how harmful the feeding tube diet actually is.

One word: ketosis. My co-author Dr. Maria Rago and I address it in our book Shut Up, Skinny Bitches!, which tackles body image issues, eating disorders and America's diet obsession, among other things.

Ketosis is problematic. It's a condition in which the levels of ketones (ketone bodies) in the blood are elevated -- this happens when glycogen in the liver runs out. Basically, the ketones are used for energy. Ketones are small fragments that are the fuel created by the breakdown of fat stores. Ketosis is potentially a serious condition if those keytone levels become too high.

When a person's body is in ketosis, they often feel less hungry, eat less and their body goes from being the carbo-burning machine that it naturally is and morphs into a fat-burning one. Fat storage suddenly becomes the primary fuel source. But our bodies are naturally designed to metabolize glucose from carbs for energy purposes -- not energy from fat. If glucose from carbs aren't available in the bloodstream, guess what happens? Your body takes it from fat stores for fuel and ketones in the blood are apparent.

Up north, in the brain -- you know, that great brilliant thing inside of our skull, the very thing these brides and their loved ones standing by them may want to consider exercising -- something else is happening. And it's not pretty. Imagine what the women on these diets are subjecting their brains to? If our brains are designed to use glocuse and ketones for energy, it can't naturally use fat for energy. These hungry brides may be shedding pounds and fitting into their wedding dresses, but imagine what kind of mood they'd be in when the "best day of their entire lives" finally arrives.

Another issue here is that the feeding tube diet leads to other potential problems, such as dehydration, problems with the kidneys and shortage of electrolytes. It's safe to say that it would fuel an eating disorder and body image issues, too.

Beyond that, consider what a questionable -- at best -- example this may set for young teenage girls, young women, and the millions of Americans who are already prone to indulging in the next diet fad?

Body image issues and eating disorders affect millions of women and men in America. We're already at battle with a flood of countless media and advertising images that promote the idea that you must look and be a certain way (that would be skinny, and only skinny) in order to be happy, successful and free. Forgoing loving oneself, pushing aside accepting oneself is not, contrary to popular belief, a loving act. It's not healthy. I'm not encouraging people to let themselves go and have a field day in vats of ice cream... I'm suggesting strongly that we turn back to our own natural hunger and fullness cues -- which we were born with -- and (don't freak out) really check in with ourselves. Often.

Certainly, there's more to healthy eating than that, but it's the best start.

The real issue here is something much deeper and, perhaps, a bit more challenging to access. It has to do with what is going on inside of the minds and hearts of the women (and men) who crave so deeply the desire to look and be something other than what they are.

When we become so eager to abandon ourselves, when we so easily reach for that quick-fix to fill up the empty hole we've decided we cannot stomach any longer -- that chock-full-of-lessons, low-self-esteem emotional weather pattern we'd rather run away from than subject ourselves to its downpour -- we starve ourselves from, well, ourselves.

The problem isn't really the feeding tube diet. It's not realizing, understanding, and integrating what we're really hunger for.

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