Meet Marlene Beltran and Lysander Lanuza. They are two women about to start one of the most extreme weight-loss methods yet: the tongue patch diet.
Plastic mesh, meant for hernia repair, is sewn onto the tongue, making eating solid food painful, if not impossible.
Both Lanuza and Beltran each hope to drop 20 pounds in 30 days.
“I'm determined to lose weight,” said Lanuza. “In a month's time I'll be going to Hawaii and I'll be wearing a bikini and hopefully I'll be looking great.”
When it comes to food, she said she can’t help herself and loves eating everything.
Beltran has a similar problem and said she gets cravings, for a brownie or ice cream, in the middle of the night. She wants to look like she did back when she was 16 years old, and is also hoping to catch a man.
“I'm just really motivated because I am almost 21, and I do have plans and I want to look my best and feel good,” she said.
So how does the patch turn a tongue into a tormenting deterrent to dinner? It was pioneered in the United States by cosmetic surgeon Dr. Nikolas Chugay. He introduced the procedure four years ago after first seeing it done in Latin America.
“As you’re swallowing, say, a cheeseburger or something, that tongue is pushing things up against the roof of the mouth and back into the throat,” explained Chugay. “And so while it's doing that, it's going to basically be uncomfortable if you have that on top of the sutures, which are basically fishing line. So now you have two little sharp points on the tongue, rubbing up against the top of the mouth, and it’s going to be uncomfortable.”
The procedure takes about 10 minutes. Chugay said he has not encountered any risks or infections and no patients have swallowed the patch. The average weight loss is anywhere from 18 to 20 pounds. The price tag is $2,000.
His 81st patient is Lanuza. With the tongue patch in place, her customary greasy fried food is now off limits. It’s a strict 800-calorie per day liquid diet of juice, broth and protein shakes until the patch is removed in one month.
“I am actually terrified of eating solid food, just thinking about having that much pain,” she said.
But the tongue patch has its critics.
“I think it’s a barbaric procedure,” said Dr. Rob Huizenga, who specializes in long-term weight loss and has spent 14 seasons as an expert on the television program “The Biggest Loser.”
“This is so primitive an approach,” he continued. “You could hire somebody to hold a gun to your head and threaten to shoot you every time you eat. The idea that you put this patch in and every time you even take one morsel of solid food you get this stabbing pain, who the heck knows what the long-term consequences of that are.”
Dr. Huizenga also pointed to studies that show how most extreme dieters who lose weight rapidly eventually gain it all back – and more.
Dr. Chugay’s son and partner, Dr. Paul Chugay, did submit a study that claims 70 percent of their patients lost an average of 16 pounds and kept it off for 8 months. But the American Academy of Cosmetic Surgery won’t publish it without more data.
No matter. Beltran is getting all that she needs from her bathroom scales as 18 pounds fall away.
“My double chin isn't as bad as it used to be,” she said. “My arms are a lot thinner.”
Lanuza is also watching the pounds melt away. After removing the patch, she discovered she’s lost 23 pounds.
“I see myself better,” she said. “And really, my husband is the happiest person. He's over the moon about my weight loss.”