Here's Exactly Why That Viral Jaw-Locking Weight-Loss Device Is So Dangerous
A registered dietitian shares her thoughts on this "research-approved" device.
There's no shortage of supplements, pills, procedures, and other weight loss "solutions" out there that claim to be an easy and sustainable way to "combat obesity" and lose weight for good, but the latest one going viral feels particularly insidious — and it's actually backed by health experts.
A group of researchers from New Zealand and the UK have developed a device called the DentalSlim Diet Control, and when you read about it, you're sure to be low-key horrified. Dubbed the "world-first weight-loss device to help fight the global obesity epidemic," it works by using magnets to restrict the user's jaw from opening by more than 2 millimeters, essentially locking the jaw closed and forcing the wearer to consume a liquid diet. Don't worry, though — you can reportedly breathe normally and there's an emergency release mechanism in case of choking or a panic attack, which should definitely help you feel at ease, right?
According to the British Dental Journal, the device was tested on "seven healthy obese participants" — all adult women — who lost, on average, around 14 pounds in two weeks. They were limited to a liquid diet of around 1,200 calories per day. The women reported that it being uncomfortable, having trouble pronouncing some words, noticing a decline in their quality of life, and feeling "tense and embarrassed only occasionally." (Yikes.) That said, they apparently reported feeling "happy with the outcome and were motivated to lose more weight" after the two-week study was over and the device was removed — though all of the participants gained some weight back within two weeks of being able to eat real food again. (Related: Pinterest Is the First Social Platform to Ban All Weight-Loss Ads)
Of course, a device that sounds like something out of The Handmaid's Tale might seem laughable, but it's implications are far more serious. Its creation is rooted in weight stigma and fatphobia that doctors and health experts have perpetuated for decades, says registered dietitian Christy Harrison, host of the Food Psych podcast and author of Anti-Diet.
"There's no reason to put people of any size on a restrictive diet like this," says Harrison. "No matter your weight, a regimen like this is often a recipe for disordered eating, weight cycling (gaining and losing weight), and weight stigma, all of which are detrimental to both physical and mental health." (Related: Tess Holliday Revealed She's Recovering from Anorexia — Twitter's Response Highlights a Major Issue)
"I also just want to point out how utterly ridiculous it is to try to draw any real conclusions from a study of only six or seven people conducted for two weeks, since one person didn't actually finish the study," she says. "That's way too small a sample size and too short-term of a trial to conclude anything, and what we know from much larger, longer-term, better-designed studies is that the vast majority of people end up regaining all the weight they lost, with many regaining even more. Also, weight cycling in and of itself is a health risk factor — it's generally less risky for people to stay the same weight, even if that's a high weight."
Even if the DentalSlim device proved to be effective in jump-starting weight loss, it's doing so at a marked risk for all kinds of disordered habits and patterns, says Harrison. "It's incredibly dangerous to go on a diet like this for the purpose of weight loss. It can trigger disordered eating and/or exacerbate pre-existing disordered eating in vulnerable people, and we know that higher-weight people are especially susceptible to developing eating disorders because of the cultural pressure on them to lose weight and be thin." Shaming people into losing weight simply does not work, even though anti-fat biases and messages exist just about everywhere, from your social media feeds to your doctor's office. (Related: Twitter Is Fired Up About This Intermittent Fasting App's Ads)
"I think researchers and practitioners continue to promote dieting and restrictive practices like this because diet culture (including messages embedded in most medical training) has convinced them that weight loss by any means necessary is preferable to being at a higher weight," added Harrison. "The diet industry is also highly profitable, and unfortunately most 'obesity experts' receive large consulting and research fees from the diet and diet-drug industries, incentivizing them to keep pushing restrictive practices and creating evidence that they 'work.'" (Here's why you should give up restrictive dieting once and for all.)
Frighteningly enough, this jaw-locking technique isn't even new — jaw-wiring first surfaced back in the early 1980s, according to the British Medical Journal, and it didn't produce any positive effects on health or lasting weight loss back then, either. "It's common practice in the diet industry to take an old trend that didn't produce long-term results and rebrand it as somehow 'updated' or 'version 2.0' in order to create a new market for it," noted Harrison, "but there's really no reason to believe that this version of jaw-wiring is going to work any better now than it did 30-40 years ago."
Extreme measures like this serve only to "pathologize individuals with higher BMIs, which is the definition of weight stigma," said Harrison. "We know that weight stigma in and of itself causes higher levels of stress and poorer treatment at the doctor's office, and is associated with diabetes, heart disease, mortality, and many of the other conditions that get blamed on higher weight. In fact, this stigma — along with weight cycling, which is also more prevalent in people at the higher end of the BMI chart, and other factors like poverty, racism, and disordered eating — likely explains much if not all of the difference we see in health outcomes between higher- and lower-weight people." (FYI, here's why racism needs to be part of the conversation about dismantling diet culture.)
"In other words, these other factors are likely the true drivers of health outcomes for higher-weight people, rather than their weight itself," she continued. "The healthcare and public-health fields need to stop focusing on and demonizing 'obesity' (itself a stigmatizing term) and start working to create accessible, affordable, and non-stigmatizing care for people of all body sizes, offering the same evidence-based treatments to larger-bodied patients as they do to smaller-bodied ones."
The TL:DR, according to Harrison, is to stop stigmatizing those in larger bodies and instead focus on affirming health care, access to a variety of nutritious foods, mental health care, and rest, which are more proven markers of long-term health than dangerous quick-fixes like the DentalSlim device. (Related: These 5 Simple Nutrition Guidelines Are Undisputed By Experts and Research)
"We don't actually need a 'fix' for 'obesity,' whether a quick fix or a slow one," says Harrison. "What we need is to stop pathologizing higher weights altogether, and to look beyond weight at the factors that really matter for well-being, which are largely access to care, freedom from stigma and discrimination, having your basic economic needs met, and other social determinants of health. Those are so much more important for overall well-being than individual health behaviors."
Tossing medieval torture devices also sounds like a solid plan, too.
Seriously, how bad could it really be? I definitely know some people who could stand to skip a meal here and there. There’s been liquid diets for years. Just no one has the will power to follow them. With this, they wouldn’t have a choice. Plus there’s a tool to use to unlock your mouth in case of an emergency. Not to mention people have had their jaws wired shut for surgery or accidents all the time for even longer than 2 weeks, some for months. I had braces on for 3 years and 2 of the three I had elastic bands everywhere which held my mouth shut 24hrs a day. It wasn’t so bad once I got used to it. I’m not even obese, maybe a little overweight, but if it didn’t cost so much, I’d be willing to wear this for a month or more just to prove it’s possible and not as dangerous as you say. It even says you can still open your month a little, just not far enough to eat solid foods. The worst would be that I couldn’t eat cheese burgers and pizza unless blended up, which is just nasty. But I’m sure a person would get used to it. Only serious problem i see is dental hygiene.... brushing the backsides of your teeth. But let’s be honest, most people don’t brush their teeth anyway.Read More