This Device Sucks the Calories From Your Stomach After You Eat

AspireAssist | Courtesy of AspireAssist
AspireAssist | Courtesy of AspireAssist

You know all those times you're eating an incredible meal of barbecue or fried chicken, and you sort of wish you could clear some room in your stomach?

Well, three doctors know the feeling well, and they decided to solve the pesky quirk of biology that causes humans to become satiated after eating. The result is the AspireAssist, developed by two gastroenterologists and an interventional radiologist, and recently approved by the FDA. It's a device that allows you to dump your undigested food straight into the toilet, right after you've eaten it. Seriously.

Now, before you overreact to the superficial ridiculousness of a device that sucks calories out of you after you eat, weight loss can be exceptionally difficult to achieve and maintain. For those who have tried the traditional methods and don't make a lot of progress, there are weight-loss surgeries available, which usually come after extensive counseling. Again, those aren't for everyone; they're often pretty invasive and can carry major risks. Some aren't reversible and some require strict diet rules following the surgery. This device aims to add another tool to fight obesity, which by all accounts is spiraling out of control in America.

How does this machine work?!

Under light anesthesia, a thin tube (called a gastric tube) is snaked through the mouth, down the esophagus, and into the stomach. Then, a 1in incision is made to allow the tube to exit the belly, forming a port, while the remainder stays inside the stomach. It's an outpatient procedure, crazily enough, with most patients being able to return home in a couple hours... only with a hole between their stomach and the cruel, harsh outside world.

What happens next is the truly wild part. Around 20 to 30 minutes after you've demolished a burger and a baked potato, you attach a device to this port, which literally sucks out around 30% of the contents of your stomach.

"Where does this food go?" you wonder. Into the toilet, where you'll be dumping a load of freshly chewed, undigested mush. Aspire Bariatrics, the company behind this weight-loss wonder, says the process takes around five to 10 minutes to complete -- think of it as akin to pooping before you digest your food, which is something Aspire Bariatrics definitely does not say.

By aspirating your stomach in this manner (this is the actual science-y term for it, although "dumping," "sucking," and "siphoning" sound more fun), the food can't make its way into your intestines, and therefore doesn't wind up plastered to your body in the form of fat. Clinical results from this device are promising, with those using it carving off around three times as much weight as their peers who tried basic weight-loss lifestyle alterations -- the basic stuff, like eating fewer calories and moving around more.

Another intriguing aspect of this system is that there are really no dietary restrictions. A lot of weight-loss surgeries have a long list of no-nos, not only to ensure it works, but that you don't inadvertently give yourself health problems due to putting too much food into too tiny of a tummy.

Does that mean people with the AspireAssist can eat all the donuts and pizza and Ding Dongs they want? Well, that leads to a larger question about the potential effects of the device: what the hell is the point of this thing except to enable bad choices?

The device on its own probably won't lead to lasting results

Aspire's President and CEO, Kathy Crothall, PhD, says that while a person with the device can technically eat what they want, there's really more to the story. "There are no specific food restrictions," she explains. "However, in lifestyle therapy, which is given in conjunction with this therapy, patients are taught portion control, making wise food choices, understanding their triggers for overeating, strategies to avoid overeating, reading food labels, etc."

Crothall goes on to note that the only way the device can successfully work is for the patient to chew food very carefully and thoroughly, which makes logical sense, since you physically can't suck out a big hunk of chicken nugget through a tiny tube. She says this helps with portion control and mindful eating, because patients must slow down and become more aware of what they're consuming. Also, you have to drink a load of water, which also helps your gut feel full. Thanks, water.

The device is removable, but patients have to work carefully with their doctors to determine when that happens, and they're often advised to go longer between aspirations to see if they start gaining weight again. Basically, you have to find out if you've successfully changed the habits that got you to needing the thing in the first place.

And if you're thinking this could be an easy, if absurdly over-the-top, way to eat more food all the time without gaining weight, its use is limited to obese adults who have tried unsuccessfully to lose weight and keep it off. There's also a built-in feature that limits the total number of aspirations per device to 115, so you have to check in with your doctor before re-upping.

Since little else seems to have had an impact on the obesity epidemic, a less invasive, less risky alternative to weight-loss surgeries isn't a bad thing. At the very least, you have to agree that there's probably nothing more American than a device that lets you eat what you want, then sucks it directly out of your stomach.

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Monica Beyer is a health writer who loves weird stuff like dumping food into the toilet before you digest it. SCIENCE! Follow her @monicabeyer.
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