food for thought: tongue patches and habits

On days I go to the library, you can be pretty sure I’ll be blogging.


Today, I wanted to talk about another crazy diet that I’m struggling to wrap my head around (akin to the tapeworm diet I blogged about last month): the tongue patch diet. I read about the diet, which involves having a patch implanted on your tongue for 30 days that makes it painful to eat solid food, in this article from ABC.

tongue patch

The idea is that for the month you’re wearing the patch, you drink your calories (only 800 of them) in the form of low calorie beverages and shakes. When it’s removed, you go on a plant-based “bootcamp diet” before learning how to eat for maintenance.


The women in the article I linked to talk about their motivations for undergoing the procedure. One woman wanted to start dating and the other was planning a beach vacation to Hawaii. I have a novel idea: start dating now. Go to Hawaii as you are. In my humble (but experienced) opinion, the whole not thinking you’re “ready” or “good enough” to do what you want to do is indicative of a self esteem and self worth problem, not a weight issue. It’s these same issues that often have to do with having a weight issue.

beach body

While the patch is promoted as a way to address and change bad habits, I’m not sold.

First, what habits are you addressing? I doubt there’s much consideration given to the issues that might be driving or perpetuating a weight issue. I have a feeling that putting a patch on things isn’t going to change the underlying reasons that someone might be overweight (whether those are poor eating habits or emotional eating habits or self esteem issues that lead to emotional eating or whatever).

Second, what habits are you cultivating? Is the new habit bingeing? Both of the women talk about eating things that they suggest they shouldn’t following having the patch removed.

I pass no judgment there.

If I was in their shoes, I’d probably be miserable for the time the patch was on and then go proceed with the same response that seems to follow just about every “diet” or period of deprivation I’ve put myself through – bingeing. I’m not convinced that the “plant based diet” that follows the patch removal would be satisfying following a month of starvation. Even if you decided to get off the crazy train and proceed to eat normally when the patch was off, I have a feeling you’d end up gaining weight. I think of how quickly I gained weight when I started to eat (a seemingly normal amount of) food again in my recovery. I say this not to scare people away from eating more in recovery–I needed the food, the nutrients, and the weight that came along with it–but to deter people from depriving and starving themselves in the first place.

Eating (or drinking) 800 calories a day is starvation. For perspective, you’d be almost to your limit if you downed a delicious Starbucks holiday drink.

Screen Shot 2013-11-04 at 3.41.32 PM

To maintain health, I’d think those 800 calories would have to be the most nutrient dense calories out there. But I doubt that these people are blending up kale smoothies or drinking bone broth, so I worry about what would happen in your body during the month you’re wearing the patch. I know for sure that it wouldn’t be a happy situation for your metabolism, which would make any rebound (over)eating you do all the more likely to contribute to weight gain (yoyo, anyone?).

The women in the story did lose weight. But. Weight loss isn’t inherently good. You can lose weight without improving your body composition. Is muscle wasting because you’re not eating enough a good thing? If you were 50% body fat before and you lose 20lbs, you could still be 50% body fat, albeit in a smaller body. Weight loss is not the same as fat loss, but in a culture where there’s so much emphasis on weight loss and where so many people assume that weight loss is necessarily a good thing, this kind of insanity can happen. In a culture that values and glorifies “weight loss” without differentiating between what’s good weight to lose and what’s bad weight to lose, things can get crazy.

Conclusion: The tongue patch diet is an example of the kind of crazy that can happen when people get sucked into the weight loss world and want a band-aid to “fix” things.

Questions I’d like to consider:

  • What’s really going on with someone who is struggling with their weight? Are there psychological or emotional components that need to be addressed? Is there something simple in their nutrition that needs to be addressed?
  • How can weight loss be approached in a way that doesn’t compromise health?
  • What does assuming that weight lost = health gained leave out of the picture?
  • What companies and industries win when people assume that weight loss is what they need?
  • How can we reframe the focus to improving health? Body composition? Relationships with food?

What are your thoughts? 


7 thoughts on “food for thought: tongue patches and habits

  1. Excellent post. This is the first I’ve heard of the tongue patch and it’s just making me sad. I love that beach body thing–one of my favorites. Because it is sensible and kind.

  2. “In my humble (but experienced) opinion, the whole not thinking you’re “ready” or “good enough” to do what you want to do is indicative of a self esteem and self worth problem, not a weight issue” DING DING DING! My thoughts exactly….

    Great post. It’s funny how it’s a “patch” on the tongue – I’d say it’s not merely a physical patch…

  3. Unless you are severely obese and under the supervision of a doctor, I don’t think there is any reason why someone should be on an 800 calorie per day diet, even if it’s temporary. The average person would need 1200 calories per day if they were in a coma doing no activity whatsoever. So yeah 800 is definitely starvation. Besides, I agree with you that weight loss should be about getting to the root of the issue – weight is rarely the issue itself.

    Great post as always!

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