obalonThe gastric balloon is back – after more than thirty years in exile. Here it is the promise of having a balloon in for a few months, lose weight – remove the balloon and there you go. Minimal risk and weight loss – at least that’s what the companies want you to believe. It was taken off the market because there were so many complications years ago- did those complications leave? Well, we don’t know yet. Probably not.

So let us do a few comparisons:
The gastric balloon – NOT COVERED BY INSURANCE. Cost $7500 (give or take). The Lap-Band – is covered by most insurance. If not the cost is $10,000 (give or take). The gastric balloon – Must be removed by endoscopy in six months. That’s it- you get six months of weight loss and then the balloon must come out.
The Lap-Band – is built to last a lifetime, can be removed if needed. So you have something inside that will help you make better choices and lose weight for as long as you need it.

The gastric balloon – for BMI between 30 and 40 willing to follow a diet. The Lap-Band – FDA approved BMI 30 and above. And, as with all weight loss operations – change how and what you eat. Not a diet.

The gastric balloon – you return to your normal eating and will regain your weight.

The Lap-Band – changes your set point for what you eat. You can eat less and not be as hungry – for more than six months.

Better yet let’s compare the balloon to vegetables and legumes

The gastric balloon – $7500 for six months.
One cup of vegetables or legumes – $200 for six months

Nutritional value of the balloon – none
Nutritional value of vegetables and legumes: reduces risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer by 25%.

You can take vegetables and legumes for the rest of your life and improve your health. You will be eating better.

I was trained in the obalon – the “swallow a pill” balloon. In six months you have to have it removed by endoscopy.

The week before two of my colleagues were removing balloons that had been placed the week before. Their comment, “I am never putting these in again.” The patients could not tolerate the balloon and had them explanted- the patient still paid them $7500. The next week those colleagues were on the Obalon website. I asked them why, their comment, “it is for marketing, people will come in asking for that and we will tell them about real operations.” Another colleague in California related a similar issue:  75% of patients want the balloon out in the first three days. Three days of nausea for $7500.

The same week another weight loss surgeon from California was telling me about a balloon that caused a part of the stomach to die and the patient was doing poorly.

My answer: if you want a balloon, do yourself a favor. Eat an equivalent amount of fruit or vegetables before each meal. You will be healthier, you will feel better, and you won’t have to pay me $7500. If you have real obesity – then you need a real operation that will last you and help you.  If you have a BMI of 35 or greater you don’t need a balloon – you may need a band. Or a gastric sleeve.

For a brief period of time I thought about swallowing the pill myself and having the balloon in me. Great marketing, eh? Then I went to spend a weekend at the Goldring Center for Culinary Medicine workshop. A week of cooking healthy foods. I am not going to swallow that pill, but I will be eating more vegetables and legumes. I will tell you, in two weeks, down two pounds – and I am not hungry or suffer from nausea.

So if you come to me, because my name may be on the Obalon website (until they take it down and take back their stuff) – I will spend time telling you how to change some things in your diet. You won’t pay me much for that advice, and I would make a lot more if you swallowed a pill. But it will be better for you to learn to eat and not swallow plastic that can kill your stomach, cause you nausea, and get lodged in your small bowel and need an operation for bowel obstruction.