Extreme Venezuelan Diet Craze Involves Having Patch Stitched Onto Your Tongue
A new form of dieting involves not biting off more than you can chew — literally.
Time reports that this so-called ‘miracle’ tongue patch, which has become popular in Venezuela, is a piece of plastic that is sewn onto the tongue (yes, you read that correctly) that makes eating solid food so painful that patients are forced to turn to a liquid diet.
Beverly Hills plastic surgeon Nikolas Chugay first developed the patch in 2009. It’s an abrasive piece of marlex, which is typically used in hernia repair, and about the size of a postage stamp. It’s secured to the tongue surgically with stitches.
According to patient Yomaira Jespe, “I don’t have the willpower to go on a diet, so this was the only way.”
The Los Angeles practice where Dr. Paul Chugay works with his father Nikolas is the only place in the U.S. where this ‘miracle’ diet is available. He says, “We wanted to offer patients something effective without resorting to the risks of invasive surgery.”
The patch does seem to work: Patients sometimes drop up to 30 pounds in a month, but securing of a foreign object to the tongue obviously comes with side effects. Patients can experience sleep difficulties, while others have trouble with their speech.
The patch is typically worn for a maximum of one month, after which patients consult with nutritionists on how to continue pursuing their weight-loss goals. “If you leave it in for more than a month it starts to become incorporated into the tongue,” says Chugay.
Chugay says most U.S. patients view the patch as a “last resort,” but Ana Maria Parra of Obesiesbel in Caracas, one of the first clinics to offer the procedure, says she has seen around 900 clients a month since she began offering the procedure two years ago.
The cost of the procedure at Venezuelan clinics is also much cheaper than at U.S. clinics — around $150, compared to the $2,000 it costs in Los Angeles. These prices mean that Caracas could become something of worldwide destination for the procedure, as it is for other aesthetic improvements.
It’s not really a surprise that it’s become so popular in the South American country. Venezuela prizes female appearance so highly that breast implants are a popular 15th birthday gift. Venezuelans are no strangers to extreme diets, either. Methods of losing weight like insulin injections, syrups which induce vomiting, and fasting pacts among friends are common.
Many U.S. doctors express concerns about the procedure. Brian Evans runs a Beverly Hills plastic surgery practice, and he has doubts anything yet to receive FDA approval.
“Adding a foreign substance to the body comes with the risk of infection or rejection, which means swelling, pain, and discomfort,” he says. “A procedure like this would have to pass the rigors of testing before I would consider it.”
Still, not even extreme diets work all the time. According to Vilmaris Ojeda, Yomaira Jespe’s aunt, “...the real challenge is going to come once they take it out. Not eating is easy when you physically can’t.”
Venezuelan women clearly don’t agree. In their culture, women are expected to rely on looks in order to get ahead in their professional careers, and the competition is fierce. The average Venezuelan woman spends 20 percent of her annual salary on cosmetics and beauty treatments, and the beauty industry is the largest per capita in the world. A whopping 4,000 patients get plastic surgery every month, and many banks offer loans for aesthetic procedures.