WTF: The tapeworm diet

Apr 15, 2014 at 8:30 a.m. ET

What is the most extreme thing you’ve done to lose weight?


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I've tried everything from weeklong juice cleanses, to the "one meal a day" plan where I would starve myself all day long until I couldn't hold out any longer and then go crazy on dinner. This was not only an ineffective way to lose weight, but also left me feeling hungry and cranky 90 percent of the time. Needless to say, my boyfriend refused to hang out with me until after I'd eaten my daily meal.

After years of obsessive calorie counting and extreme over-exercising, I've discovered that I'm both happier and healthier when eating well-balanced meals throughout the day and indulging when I so desire.

I'm not the only one who has tried a crazy diet in an effort to drop pounds. There are some pretty weird diet plans out there from the "apple cider vinegar diet", where you take a swig of vinegar before each meal, which results in weight loss because everything you eat afterwards tastes horrible, to the "celery diet" where you subsist solely on celery. But the absolute craziest, most disgusting diet I've heard of is called the "tapeworm diet."

What is the tapeworm diet?

You start by ingesting a tapeworm, a parasite that can grow up to 100ft in length in your intestine. The idea is that the food you eat will be split between your own body and the tapeworm. To survive, the tapeworm will attack the inside of your stomach and feed off of the foods that you eat. The principle behind the diet is that you can ingest the same number of calories, but since the tapeworm will be feasting on half of them, you'll end up losing weight without eating less. Simple, right?

Not so fast. Although weight loss may result from ingesting a tapeworm, the innumerable side effects greatly outweigh the perks of dropping a few pounds. You are infecting yourself with a foreign living organism, so your body will try everything it can to fight it off. Side effects may include nausea, diarrhea, and bloating, to name a few.

The problem is, although the tapeworm will eat some food, it will also eat your vital nutrients, leaving you vitamin deficient. Furthermore, tapeworms are not obedient creatures. If you tell them to stay only in your stomach, chances are they won't listen. It is possible for the tapeworm to move to other parts of your body through your blood steam. This could cause seizures, meningitis, or even death if, for instance, it gets into your brain.

It's hard to believe that anyone would risk their life for the sake of a diet. However, history tells us that particularly during the late 19th century, tapeworms were thought to be a useful and acceptable way of losing weight. Luckily, today, possessing a tapeworm to treat weight loss is illegal in the U.S., although there are several recently documented cases of people trying it.

Upping your fruit and vegetable intake and hitting the gym a few times a week sounds like a much safer and more effective way to lose weight.

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