Lifestyle

K-E diet: quick, potentially dangerous | Gustafson

Shedding pounds in a hurry is never easy and it's certainly not without health concerns. Yet, the so-called "crash diets" rank among the most popular weight loss programs in America.

In our culture of instant gratification, getting fast results is what seems to matter most.

Now a new program is making headlines that elevates the meaning of "radical weight loss" to a whole new level. The K-E diet, abbreviation for Ketogenic Enteral Nutrition, promises astounding short-term success without hunger pangs or the need for exercise.

And it's radical all right, even by the looks of it. Instead of following a specific meal plan, dieters have a feeding tube inserted through their nose into their stomach to facilitate a constant drip of a protein and fat solution mixed with water that can lower their daily calorie intake to about 800. Although this equals a near-starvation scenario, those who have tried the procedure say they never felt hungry.

"It's a hunger-free, effective way of dieting," said Dr. Oliver Di Pietro of Bay Harbor Islands, Florida, who offers the program in his clinic. "Within a few hours, your hunger and appetite go away completely, so patients are actually not hungry at all for the whole 10 days (the program lasts). That's what's so amazing about this diet."

Although the K-E diet is not entirely new and has been in use in Europe for some time, it has suddenly attracted wide attention over here ever since Jessica Schnaider, a soon-to-be bride, has been wearing the feeding device in public for over a week so she could slim down enough to fit into her wedding gown.

"I don't have all the time on the planet just to focus an hour and a half a day on exercise, so I came to the doctor, I saw the diet and I said, 'You know what? Why not? Let me try it.' So I decided to go ahead and give it a shot," she said in an interview with ABC News.

Di Pietro asserts that his approach is perfectly safe. He says body fat is burned off through a process called ketosis that leaves muscle tissue intact. Although exercise is not required during the short diet period to ensure weight loss, Dr. Di Pietro agrees that exercising to maintain muscles may still be a good idea.

Outrage initially

When the K-E diet first made the news, many nutrition experts responded with skepticism and a few were downright outraged.

"Any extreme low-calorie diet is associated with side effects (such as) kidney stones, dehydration, headaches," said Dr. Louis Aronne, director of the Comprehensive Weight Control Program at New York Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center. "Nutrition should probably be included in that. If you lose muscle mass and water, what's the point of that."

That is a problem with most crash diets. The quick success in weight loss rarely lasts. As soon as people go back to their normal eating habits, they regain their lost pounds and sometimes add even more. This can result in the notorious "yo-yo" effect when body weight fluctuates considerably within relatively short periods of time.

Another potential danger is the development of eating disorders in connection with crash dieting, warns Dr. David L. Katz, director of the Prevention Research Center at Yale University and founder of the Integrative Medicine Center at Griffin Hospital in Derby, Conn. He has little patience with concepts like the K-E diet and compares them to disorders like bulimia.

"This 'diet' is little short of lunacy," he wrote in a recent article published in the Huffington Post. "If self-induced vomiting after meals constitutes an eating disorder, what exactly is infusing a liquid formula through a tube into the duodenum without medical indication? It has nothing at all to do with health and basically endorses the notion that weight loss by any means is acceptable."

Di Pietro argues that his method applies mostly to people who are in need of a quick fix and not to those who have large amounts of weight to lose or deal with weight-related illnesses, such as diabetes or heart problems.

"I get a lot of brides, nervous eaters," he said.

But that may not be enough justification for resorting to such radical measures, according to Dr. Jodi Krumholz, director of Nutrition at the Renfew Center in Philadelphia, who specializes in the treatment of eating disorders.

"Even though they might do this one time for the wedding, I think there can be addictive qualities to these diets, and I think that someone might continue to do something like this. And it could put them in a really dangerous low weight place," she said.

Timi Gustafson R.D. is a clinical dietitian and author of the book "The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun"®, which is available on her blog, "Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D." and at amazon.com. You can follow Timi on Twitter and on Facebook.

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