How far would you go to lose weight? In Venezuela, beauty-conscious women who don’t have the willpower to go on a diet have plastic patches the size of a postage stamp sewn onto their tongues, which makes the consumption of solid foods extremely painful.
The so-called “Miracle Patch” weight loss method was invented in 2009, by Nikolas Chugay, a plastic surgeon from Beverly Hills who wanted to offer his patients an effective way to shed extra pounds without the risks of invasive surgical procedures. But while it can help people shed up to 30lbs a month, having the patch sewn on the top of the tongue does come with a series of side-effects. Some patients experience speech difficulties, while others have trouble sleeping, not to mention the excruciating pain felt when trying to move the tongue after it’s been patched up. The abrasive patch is made of marlex, a material commonly used to repair hernias, and contains pores that make it adhere to the tongue if left on for too long. “The material has pores which allow for in-growth of tissue. If you leave it in for more than a month it starts to become incorporated into the tongue,” says Paul Chugay, who works with his father Nikolas at their Los Angeles practice. After that period, patients consult with nutritionists to keep their weight under control.
The Miracle Patch isn’t as popular as other weight loss techniques in the US, and it’s only available at Dr. Chugay’s practice, but it’s a big hit in Venezuela, where women would do just about anything, even sew a patch on their tongues, to look their best. Ana Maria Parra of Obesiesbel, one of the first clinics in Caracas to offer this extreme weight loss procedure, told TIME Magazine she has had around 900 clients a month ever since she started offering it two years ago. The low price of $150, compared to the $2,000 charged in the US, also makes the Miracle patch very appealing. And according to Giovanni Sosa, another Venezuelan doctor who has been doing tongue-patching procedures for nine months, “Venezuelans are very beauty-conscious, so when we offer something that shows concrete results, people will put that before its extreme-nature.
I’ve tried to eat solid food but it’s impossible,” says Yomaira, a woman who opted for the Miracle Patch to shed extra pounds. “It’s a huge inconvenience, but I’m doing it to feel better about myself. I was very fat.” Her mother approves with her choice, and says that “it teaches you to eat differently and proves that there are alternatives.” In South America, such alternatives also include insulin injections, syrups that cause vomiting and fasting pacts among friends. Beauty is very important in Venezuela, a country where breast implants are commonly offered as birthday gifts to girls as young as 15, and where banks actually offer plastic surgery loans.