Every single time I think the world can’t get more Black Mirror-esque, it does. Society’s obsession with diet culture has people trying everything from juice cleanses and meal replacements to locking their mouths shut. Yes, you read that right. The new weight-loss tool has been researched and developed by both Leeds-based scientists and medical professionals from the University of Otago in New Zealand. No, the headline wasn’t clickbait, the device locks your mouth shut—quite literally.
As someone who has dealt with an eating disorder and accompanying body dysmorphia my entire life, I should warn you that this device may be triggering for some.
The self-proclaimed “world-first” device, named the DentalSlim Diet Control, is fitted to the upper and lower back teeth by a dental professional. The tool’s core mechanics comprise magnetics that is fitted with custom-manufactured bolts; these work to restrict the wearer from opening their mouths any wider than about 2 millimetres. Its intention is to restrict the user to a liquid-only diet without affecting speech or breathing.
According to a study conducted by the same team of researchers, the DentalSlim Diet Control was responsible for a “mean weight loss of 6.36 kilograms” in participants across a two-week period. They reported that once the time period was up, participants “were further motivated to lose more weight.” That’s hardly shocking though, given that they literally had their mouths sealed shut. It’s nothing more than a starvation diet. It places the ‘solution’ to obesity on calories and liquids, rather than mental health and proper nutrition. I mean, what’s stopping me from drinking melted chocolate? Trust me, I’d do it.
The lead researcher behind the torture device is University of Otago’s Health Sciences Pro-Vice-Chancellor, Professor Paul Brunton. He claims that it is “a non-invasive, reversible, economical and attractive alternative to surgical procedures. The fact is, there are no adverse consequences with this device.” People don’t seem to agree, the fact is, it’s crazy.
This medieval sounding machine has obviously been criticised by many. The director of external affairs at Beat—the UK’s leading eating disorder charity—Tom Quinn, told The Independent, “It is incredibly concerning to read that this is a proposed solution to supporting someone with obesity. We know that many people living with obesity are also affected by binge eating disorder (BED), which often goes undiagnosed.” SEED Eating Disorder Support Services’ manager and actress, Gemma Oaten agreed, calling it “horrific.”
She added, “The fact that a university has gone to the lengths to produce this and then share it on social media where all of the people who are struggling right now have access to it is only compounding the whole narrative that obesity is just a physical thing that needs addressing.” The reaction on social media to this device has been anything but positive.
Shortly after making headlines for its invention, the university tried to further justify itself on Twitter, writing: “To clarify, the intention of the device is not intended as a quick or long-term weight-loss tool; rather it is aimed to assist people who need to undergo surgery and who cannot have the surgery until they have lost weight.” In spite of this reasoning, the device does little to actually combat the causes of obesity and is just another dangerous fad in diet culture.
One Twitter user responded to the University of Otago with the perfect summary, “A holistic solution to obesity that focuses on its socio-economic roots and promotes access (time, cost, etc) to healthy sustainable diets? No, let’s bolt fatties’ mouths shut and put them on a forced juice cleanse!”
For anyone struggling with the subject matters in this piece, there are a number of UK-based eating disorder charities available to contact. Beat is the UK’s leading eating disorder charity and its helplines are open 365 days a year, 9 a.m. to 8 p.m., available on 0808 801 0677.
We’re waking up, looking outside and going right back to our computer screens. We’re socially distancing, as we should, but it’s having a profound effect on our headspace as a country. We’re stressed while remaining stationary, struggling while adjusting to a new normal—and we’re drinking and using drugs more than ever before. Why? Simply put, it’s all about human connection—and the lack of it as we weather the storm of COVID-19. Here’s more on that.
It’s easy to think from the outside that addiction is a binary affair. That you take an addictive drug and ‘poof’, you’re an addict. The truth involves many more shades of grey and, to the surprise of many who are uninformed on the subject, relates far more to the availability of meaningful relationships and connections.
Addiction thrives and grows in isolation. The mind of someone who is abusing substances is rarely a positive, happy place; when left alone with nobody to check their destructive trains of thought, feelings of self-loathing and worthlessness have fertile ground in which to blossom and take root. When isolated, what begins as a coping mechanism to simply survive strong feelings of stress and depression grows into a self-fuelling cycle of destruction. It’s a private, self-sustaining and intimate form of self-destruction.
And it largely stops when we’re surrounded by friends and loved ones. Studies consistently show that adults who are isolated have an increased likelihood of mental health issues and are more likely to abuse substances and develop addictions. The opposite, of course, is true; the more a person has friendly and loving connections that make them feel safe and supported, the less likely they are to turn to drugs and alcohol.
For many adults, extreme isolation is something that is linked to feelings of social anxiety, depression and other issues such as medical complications. Insidiously, the individual finds their bubble shrinking around them; over time, the adjustment to isolation becomes a way of life that is profoundly difficult to free themselves from.
We’ve traditionally seen this reflected in its most clear manner in Japan’s ‘Hikikomori’ population—a demographic of usually young adults who cut themselves off completely from society and in-person interaction. Estimated at one to two million adults in Japan, the number is rising and expected to multiply in years to come.
And along comes COVID-19. The danger is clear: many adults who struggle with life are now required to adopt a life that is more isolated than ever before. Initially alleviating the feelings of isolation they experience, many of these adults across the world will find themselves incapable of digging themselves out of the lifestyle they have formed out of necessity—and many will turn to drugs and alcohol as a coping mechanism while they’re alone, be it through falling into alcohol dependency or other forms of substance abuse such as prescription drug addiction.
What, then, can be done? For any adult struggling with isolation and substance misuse, the difficult truth is that there’s no real magic solution. COVID-19 has led many adults to gradually see their routine and lives deteriorate around them, leading them gradually towards substance abuse. The answer is similarly gradual; life can be restored through the respect of the fundamentals of self-care and routine.
If substance abuse has reached a critical point, professional help and rehab support is appropriate and affordable. For many who have a less extreme degree of dependency or substance abuse while isolated, however, freedom from the prison of their creation lies in restoring the basics of self-care, self-respect and routine. Sleep patterns that settle and restore the body’s circadian rhythm will improve mental health, proper nutrition will restore energy and the gradual pushing of one’s comfort zone by leaving the home for walks and essential shopping trips can see a previously isolated and substance-dependent adult reintegrate into the society that provides the emotional connections so important to a happy and healthy life.