The latest weight-loss fad in Venezuela is the “miracle” tongue patch: a plastic patch that is actually sewn onto the tongue with six stitches, rendering the consumption of solid food so painful, users are forced on a liquid-only diet.
Time Magazine claims the patch — an abrasive piece of marlex material — was launched in 2009 by Nikolas Chugay, a Beverly Hills plastic surgeon.
“We found a niche,” says Paul Chugay, who works with his father Nikolas in their Los Angeles practice, the only place in the United States where this diet is available. “We wanted to offer patients something effective without resorting to the risks of invasive surgery.”
The patch can be worn for a maximum of one month, because after more than a month it starts to become incorporated into the tongue. And there are powerful side effects — patients can experience speech difficulties, while others have trouble sleeping.
Some complain that in the beginning, after the patch is initially sewn on, it’s too painful to even move your tongue.
In Venezuela, women can get the patch for just $150. Ana Maria Parra, who works at a clinic in Caracas, told Time she has seen upwards of 900 clients a month since she began offering the procedure in 2011.
“Venezuelans are very beauty-conscious,” says Giovanni Sosa of the Caracas-based Sosa-Reyes practice, which has been offering the tongue patch to its patients for the past nine months. “So when we offer something that shows concrete results, people will put that before its extreme-nature.”
Times writer Alasdair Baverstock, a foreign correspondent based in Caracas, Venezuela, comments that Venezuelans are no strangers to extreme diets. Common weight-loss methods include the abuse of insulin injections, syrups which induce vomiting and fasting-pacts among friends.
“Venezuelan women, expected to be sexy yet chaste by their machista culture, experience fierce competition from contemporaries, and are expected to rely on looks in order to get ahead in their professional careers.”
Baverstock claims the average Venezuelan woman spends 20 percent of her annual salary on cosmetics and beauty treatments, while four-thousand patients go under the knife every month in the name of self-improvement. Many women get loans by banks that offer plastic surgery loans.
In the U.S., the procedure costs $2,000 at Dr Chugay’s Los Angeles clinic, where he said he has performed it on just over 60 women since 2009.
Brian Evans, who runs a Beverly Hills plastic surgery practice, has expressed doubts about the procedure which has yet to receive FDA approval.
“Adding a foreign substance to the body comes with the risk of infection or rejection, which means swelling, pain and discomfort,” he says. “A procedure like this would have to pass the rigors of testing before I would consider it.”
“It’s the latest fad,” says Robert Rey, who also runs a Beverly Hills cosmetic surgery practice. “No matter how creative we get with these insane mechanical barriers, nothing replaces discipline.”