The Magic Bullet for Weight Loss

The latest trend in weight loss is the new “Magic Bullet” gastric balloon. Gastric balloons used for weight loss have been available for some time. This new balloon is a little different.

Previous balloons are placed in the stomach and filled with liquid. They take up space in the stomach and give the feeling of fullness. There are side effects such as discomfort and a breakdown of the balloon which could cause a blockage in the intestines. Usually, these balloons are used for approximately 6 months and provide significant weight loss. The new Obalon balloon is hailed as the “Magic Bullet”. It is a made of a “novel polymer” that resists breaking down in the stomach and is filled with an “inert gas” (most likely nitrogen). The Obalon balloon is about the size of a large vitamin and is swallowed. Once in the stomach it is inflated to the size of an apple. A new balloon can be swallowed each 30 days until there are 3 balloons. The recommended course of treatment is 90 days and then the balloons are removed. The treatment includes 90 minutes per day of exercise and healthy eating choices. Healthy foods are critical as patients can eat no more than a small plate of food each day – much like gastric bypass or banding. The cost is approximately $4000 and the treatment is not available in the United States. In fact, there are only 9 countries that have allowed this treatment so far – Austria, Belgium, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Spain, United Kingdom, and Mexico. The Obalon company estimates the weight loss to be 20 lbs. in 3 months (less than 2 lbs. per week) but other reviews state 17 lbs. over 3 months. There are, however, no side effects other than some discomfort during the first few days.

Sounds great! Doesn’t it? Just swallow this balloon and eat less to lose weight.  This truly is magic.

Magic is an illusion – it’s not real. The initial weight loss may be real but there’s no plan to keep the weight off. You can’t keep the balloons for the rest of your life. The hope is, that while the balloons are in place, you will learn to make healthy, low-calorie food choices and incorporate exercise into your routine to maintain the weight loss.

The reality is that gastric balloons are no better than any other “fad” diet. The potential to regain the weight (and more) is overwhelming.

Gastric balloons take up space in the stomach to produce a “full” feeling, but, they don’t decrease the levels of ghrelin (the “hunger hormone”). So, you’ll feel full and still be hungry. This doesn’t make sense! Do you eat because you’re hungry and then feel overfull? Overeating causes the stomach to stretch so that we can eat more. When the balloons are removed there will be a lot of room for lots of food. How can that be good for you? Healthy, low-calorie food choices are the best way to eat all the time. If you haven’t learned how to eat during the 12 weeks with the balloons, how will you deal with it when the balloons are removed. I don’t live on a farm and there is no all-natural, organic produce stand on my way home from work. The supermarkets have limited organic foods (not that everything labeled organic actually is organic) which means we’ll still eat a lot of the foods we ate before. This is a recipe for weight gain. When all-natural, organic, healthy, low-calorie foods are available, they’re usually more expensive and need to be cooked – no ready-made, microwaveable foods here. The best food choices are not the easiest choices, but they’re worth it.

So, while you’re spending more time shopping for better food choices and cooking healthy meals, let’s get exercising! The “hunger hormone” ghrelin may cause a problem here. Ghrelin is produced in the cells of the stomach lining to signal the brain that you are hungry. When you don’t eat, ghrelin will signal the body to slow your metabolism and store the fat you have. Now, you’re hungry at the supermarket, hungry when you cook, and because of a slowed metabolism, exercise will not burn calories as you would expect.

All around, the gastric balloon is a bad idea. There’s no “magic” to weight loss. We need to feed our bodies with high-quality foods in the least amount of calories – eaten in the proper ratio (40% carbohydrates, 30% protein, 30% fat). It sounds much more difficult than it is. There are great recipes available on the internet, on our website and on this blog. You can investigate healthy meal replacement shakes and bars for fast meals that fit into your schedule. Exercises can be done in a short time with no gym membership, no special clothes, and from the comfort of your own home.

Balloons are a toy and should not be eaten!

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