Everyone’s using feeding tubes (or are they?)

A typical news story on women, especially brides, losing weight by having a feeding-tube inserted nasally, is subtitled:

The latest weight-loss method to hit U.S. involves inserting a tube into your nose — and it’s proving popular with brides-to-be desperate to shed pounds fast.

I’ve seen so many internet links and alerts to this “disturbing new trend,” almost always described by columnists as popular!, hot!, dangerously widespread!, that I spent some of my limited and precious time on this earth trying to find a story that actually says how many women are doing this.  It must be bigger than Atkins was! Right?

Here’s the thing: I can’t find a story about more than two people doing this, and sometimes it’s the same one or two people.  As far as I can tell, it is possible that more people have written about the “trend” than have actually pursued it.  Why is this lighting up the interwebs, and why is it implied that the feeding-tube diet has the freaking momentum of a runaway freight train?  Whose interests does it serve to write about it this way? Who finds this so fascinating to read?  Possibilities:

  1. Don’t laugh, but it crosses my mind that providers of the dratted procedure are the ones salting the media with the stories of ersatz concern over just how awfully effective it is.  Not one of the stories I’ve read fails to call attention to this.  It’s bad but so gosh darn effective!
  2. Some of this coverage and alarm is reminiscent of the literature on the watchers of reality TV; evidence suggests that those who enjoy watching reality television are motivated by schadenfreude and senses of superiority, inclined to vengeful thinking, and self-comforting of one’s own insecure thoughts (of the “I’m better than THEM, at least” variety).  The more women that do it, the more foolish we are.  Silly women!  We’re not smart, are we!  Shake your head at how big the trend is!  Not that there are numbers on this, but come on!
  3. Some of us readers, on the other hand, are not motivated by meanness or schadenfreude, but fear.  We’re horrified to think that women would pursue dangerous ideals of body image and appearance, and really fear for the well-being of vulnerable people who suffer with varieties of disorders with respect to ourselves and our appearances.  But are we looking in the right direction?  Are an unstated number of well-off American women, who want to spend thousands of dollars to look a certain way in a photo, the people we should be attending to?

Don’t get me wrong – if even one person thinks this is a good idea for weight-management, I agree that it is one person too many.  But something about the spread of this as a news story bugs the heck out of me.

17 thoughts on “Everyone’s using feeding tubes (or are they?)

  1. As everyone knows, there are lots of rewards that a woman (or a man in some circumstances) can get from having a body that looks like those on the cover or center-fold of some magazines.

    You can point out that those rewards “matter” less than a life of virtue or of knowledge or spent getting others to think critically. You can point out that a perfect body is subject to the ravages of time and of ageing, while a good life based on virtue/wisdom lasts into old age, if one lasts into old age. You can also point out that feeding tubes and surgery in general can go wrong, leaving people worse off and a lot poorer than before they began the search for the perfect body. You will probably convince some people and get others to think about the subject a bit, to consider the pros and cons.

    However, to struggle against the weight of tons of mass media, even so-called liberal media like the NY Times and the Guardian, which in their fashion pages promote a look which few can obtain, is an up-hill fight.

    Yes, it is possible that the companies which push the tubes have astutely stirred up a scandal to draw attention to their products, to make them seem “transgressive”, “wicked”, “daring”, and above all, effective.

  2. In cases like this I think you should never discount the possibility that this is not, in any plausible sense, a trend or at all common, but is something blown way up by news sources desperate for something to catch the eye. When mixed with 1) above, it’s then possible that an exceedingly marginal activity gets much, much more attention than it deserves.

  3. I had similar concerns when I started seeing news stories about this “trend.” I didn’t even try to look for statistics, but I mentally flagged it as unlikely and a worrisome move by the media. Running stories that always mention the effectiveness of the diet is sure to increase interest. I’ve never seen an apparently healthy young woman with a feeding tube in her nose, though I spend all my time around college kids. I wouldn’t be surprised if the excessive news coverage (advertising) doesn’t encourage some people to try it, though.

    The three motivations for running the story that you mentioned seem like good explanations. The different handling of the “story” by different news outlets makes me suspect that they report this for different reasons, but I think it’s probable that, in many cases, they report it for one of the reasons you suggest.

  4. It isn’t only, or primarily this “trend” but, far worse Michelle Obama’s crusade against childhood obesity and the whole promotion of “health”–a code word for thinness. Fat isn’t just a feminist issue: it’s a CLASS issue. And the rhetoric of “health” gives the tall, slim beautiful people license to moralize at us fat little proles.

  5. This sort of sensationalist reporting is particularly common when the subject is teens, and seems to be geared toward scaring the bejesus out of parents. In fact there was a report on the evening news yesterday about kids drinking hand sanitizer. This sort of fear mongering was spoofed recently on SNL “Teens are souping” http://tonightsforecastdark.blogspot.com/2010/10/snl-souping-trampolining-and-silly.html .

    The feeding tube diet and teens doing scary things stories are all classic yellow journalism, which has been going on since the dawn of the newspaper. Tons of people click on these sensationalist stories and that generates ad revenue. Could there be someone behind the feeding tube thing trying to generate buzz for a product? Sure, but the main reason its all over the internet is because news outlets and journalists know stories like this attract readership, viewership, and lots of clicks, and that’s how they make money. And all your clicking around trying to find more info is exactly what they want you to do.

  6. “However, to struggle against the weight of tons of mass media …” SWallerstein is one of the few who could sneak 3 puns into a fraction of a sentence!

  7. Oh, Merry, groan, I know, but I didn’t want to call b.s. on this until doing due diligence to see if anyone actually offered more info. Consider my clicking finished!

  8. Hi Nemo,

    Thanks for the free publicity, but I only see one pun myself, the one on “mass” and I ended the sentence on a rather trite mixed metaphor: that is, if you’re struggling under a weight, normally you’re not fighting to go up a hill.

  9. Harriet B – I can’t help feeling that’s a bit too simple. Yes, food is a class issue, and lots of the discourse on fat and thin is deeply problematic. But it is also true that being overweight can be unhealthy, and there is an increase in weight-related diseases in developed nations. No amount of critical discourse can do away with that.

  10. [SW wrote:] “Thanks for the free publicity, but I only see one pun myself, the one on ‘mass’ and I ended the sentence on a rather trite mixed metaphor: that is, if you’re struggling under a weight, normally you’re not fighting to go up a hill.”

    I was thinking of your figurative use of “weight” and “tons” (in addition to “mass” media) in connection with a story about shedding kilos. At any rate, one *might* find oneself simultaneously struggling under a weight and fighting to go up a hill. But hopefully one wouldn’t make a sissy fuss about it.

  11. Oh, sissy fuss, that’s really bad. You belong in a pun-itentiary. You should be banished to Noman. (Noman is an island.)

  12. Ha, SW just fed me the perfect straight-line for that, what else could I do? Never heard the “banished to Noman” one, profbigk, but I plan to recycle it!

    Ah, puns. If it weren’t for them, sarcasm would have no form of humor to look down its nose at.

  13. Nemo:

    I was totally unaware of punning on “weight” and “tons”, until you called my attention to them. They may be Freudian slips or indicative of unconscious word associations.

    Having lived around people who were concerned about (overly concerned about, in my opinion) their weight “problems” and their body image, I would never intentionally joke about the subject or even be playful about it, unless I wanted to hurt people and that is not the case here.

  14. PBK, I just want to thank you for the very healthy sceptical attitude you took to this. I confess I was all too ready to jump on the shock horror bandwagon!

  15. All I could think of was old Welcome Back, Kotter episodes. “Up your nose with a rubber hose….”

    This kind of fad diet comes and goes. You know it, I know it. It’s neither safe nor effective and I’m sure it will soon join the ranks of other scary things like the cabbage soup diet and the TAPEWORM diet (if you really want to freak yourself out, go look at that page). I think MSN even has a list of these out there somewhere.

  16. Monkey- (1) you don’t get this kind of moralizing and disgust at other unhealthy or dangerous behaviors, e.g. extreme sports. The rhetoric of “eating healthy” is a coverup for aesthetic interests and plain snobbery. Of course you can’t say “Ugh. You’re ugly and the food you’re eating is disgusting” and still regard yourself as a virtuous tolerant liberal. But you can tsk, tsk at “bad eating habits” and use “unhealthy” as a euphemism for fat. (2) Consider also the Chocolate Exemption. The same self-righteous elitists that rant about “unhealthy” food make a cult of chocolate–not regular chocolate, but the ultra-expensive imported sort. And there are probably a lot of other expensive gourmet foods that are just as bad but escape censure because they’re the sort of foods that the elite eat.

  17. Good heavens, I thought everyone here was surely right that this weight loss method is rare and not newsworthy, but here’s a link that says otherwise–


    The story says a study of the method’s effectiveness involved 19,000 patients in Europe! Wow. Of course, using this method to lose 10 pounds before your wedding might be rare, but apparently the method itself is not rare.

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