‘It’s not the best few seconds of your life.
‘But once it’s done, it could change how you live forever.’
We’re sat with Dr Samuel Levy, creator of the world’s first and only swallowable weight loss balloon, Elipse.
It comes compressed in a pill, and once the patient has managed to gulp it down, it’s inflated with liquid, like dieting’s version of a ship in a bottle.
So far more than 10,000 people have used it, losing on average 13.5kg (2st 2lb) over four months, when the balloon automatically deflates.
‘It works by filling stomach space and slowing gastric emptying, so people feel fuller and find dieting easier,’ says Dr Levy.
Dr Levy’s aim was to create a less invasive and expensive alternative to traditional, irreversible gastric surgery.
Elipse also differs from other gastric balloons in that it doesn’t have to be inserted and removed via endoscopy, which requires anaesthesia and a costly specialist team.
Perhaps the hardest part is actually swallowing the 1.1in balloon pill, although Dr Levy says most patients manage fine with the help of anti-nausea drugs and plenty of water.
‘The capsule is attached to a catheter, which lets us fill the balloon once an X-ray has shown it’s in the right place,’ he says.
‘Then we detach the catheter and just slide it out of the patient’s mouth.’
It’s normal to get stomach pain and nausea afterwards, although this is helped with anti-sickness drugs and ‘for 97% of patients’ it goes after the first few days. (The unlucky 3% can have it removed, again without surgery.)
Complications are rare, but include early deflation of the balloon and needing to have it surgically removed.
While Elipse makes patients feel physically full, Dr Levy is keen to point out it’s just one part of a bigger programme, including compulsory monitoring by a nutritionist.
‘It’s about setting up a whole new lifestyle for when the balloon’s gone,’ he says.
– The Elipse balloon is suitable for those aged 18+ with a body mass index (BMI) of 27 or more, which is mid-range overweight and above. Your BMI is your weight in kilos divided by your height squared, or you can use NHS.uk’s online calculator.
‘I feel so confident – it’s changed my body and my mind’
Valeria Rebeque de Brityo, 42, from Surrey, had the Elipse last November with Mr Simon Monkhouse at Spire Gatwick Park Hospital.
‘After my son was born with special needs, I found myself eating my emotions.
‘Whether I was anxious or celebrating his progress, I would binge eat for comfort.
‘By the time he went to school, I was coping better psychologically, but I was three stone overweight and struggling to control my overeating.
‘I knew I couldn’t do it on my own, and when I was recommended the Elipse balloon by Dr Monkhouse I was fascinated.’
Swallowing it down
‘On the day of the procedure, I was given fizzy water to help push the balloon down.
‘It was like trying to swallow a huge tablet, and on my first go I gagged and the doctor had to pull it out. But on my second go it went down.
‘It was a little scratchy, but not painful.
‘With the doctor still holding the other end of the tube, I was X-rayed, then he began filling the balloon.
‘I could feel the cold liquid going down the catheter and the balloon inflating inside my stomach. It felt strange, but the whole thing was over in 15 minutes.’
Getting used to it
‘The nausea started soon after.
‘I felt sick for the first three days and took pain relief for stomach cramps.
‘It was uncomfortable but not unbearable, and I lost 4lb right away.
‘I was back on solids the next week and I had an amazing nutritionist to make sure I was eating the right foods.
‘That was crucial, because the balloon meant I got full so quickly.’
‘Having the balloon meant I could finally control my eating in a way I couldn’t with willpower alone.
‘It also began to teach me I could eat less and still feel satisfied. The weight was falling off, and that motivated me to start exercising too.
‘By the time the balloon deflated 14 weeks later, I’d lost 1st 7lb and gone from a size 16-18 to a 12.
‘Since then, I’ve carried on eating healthily and exercising every day and I’ve now lost nearly 2 stone, and I’m determined to lose more.’
A changed person
‘I don’t have the balloon inside me anymore, but the new routine it’s set up is here to stay.
‘I used to be a very anxious, negative person, but now I feel so confident and empowered. It’s changed my body and my mind, and I’ll never go back to how I was before.’
Five things we had to know about a gastric balloon…
1. What happens if you can’t get it down?
The doctor can use a thin wire to help guide the capsule.
Around 3 in 10 people require this, but there’s still no need for endoscopy or anaesthesia.
2. Can you feel the balloon in you?
You feel it being inflated and it’s ‘like having a big lunch’, says Dr Levy.
‘At first, people feel permanently full, then they just feel fuller faster after food.’
3. What can you eat?
It’s a liquid diet for a couple of days, followed by soft food (yoghurt, etc), then after a week you can eat normal food, as advised by the nutritionist, but less of it.
The aim is to have no more than 1,200 calories a day.
4. How does the balloon deflate?
It has a valve that opens and empties it at roughly 16 weeks (it’s similar to absorbable stitches).
The liquid inside is mostly water.
5. Do you know when it’s gone?
Some people know the instant the balloon has deflated, others just notice they can eat more.
Oh, and around 50% see the balloon in their poo!
– The Elipse Balloon is available at private clinics in the UK, from £4,000. For more information – CLICK HERE
– For appointments with Mr Simon Monkhouse – CLICK HERE