The Tapeworm Diet Is an Actual Thing and Here's Why You Should Never Do It

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There are plenty of fad diets circulating the internet these days, ranging from low-carb diet practices, to the (probably) useless gluten-free diets. However, one diet is so dangerous, that the product it uses was banned in the United States by the Food and Drug Administration. 

The tapeworm diet involves ingesting the parasitic worms or its eggs which grow in the intestines and absorb nutrients and energy from the digestive system. It's "extremely risky," Dr. Patricia Quinlisk, the medical director of the Iowa Department of Public Health wrote in an advisory to state public health workers, reported TODAY

"Tapeworms will cause you to lose weight because you have this huge worm in your intestines eating your food," Quinlisk said, citing the dangers of having a tapeworm parasitizing the body. Certain tapeworm species can grow up to 30 feet (and in some cases, even larger), and can enter the body through undercooked contaminated meat.

Read more: Are Juice Cleanses Good for You? Doctors Debunk the Myths About All-Liquid Diets

In 2013, an Iowa woman swallowed one of the parasitic worms in an attempt to lose weight. As she soon found out, there aren't any shortcuts when it comes to losing weight. "Ingesting tapeworms is extremely risky and can cause a wide range of undesirable side effects, including rare deaths," Quinlisk wrote in an email statement, according to the Des Moines Register. "Those desiring to lose weight are advised to stick with proven weight loss methods — consuming fewer calories and increasing physical activity."

The tapeworm diet is a "virtual dieter's dream," according to Diets In Review. Dieters brave enough to host a tapeworm in their bodies are able to "eat whatever" they want "and lose weight." The review site says that consuming extra vitamins can help avoid serious risk during the tapeworm's time in the body.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the parasite infection is known as taeniasis, which has a number of symptoms, but can also lead to human cysticercosis, a disease that can cause seizures or result in eye damage. "Cysticercosis can occur when [tapeworm] eggs are ingested. For example, people with poor hygiene who have taeniasis – with or without symptoms – will shed tapeworm eggs in their feces and might accidentally contaminate their environment," the website reads. "This can lead to transmission of cysticercosis to themselves or others unknowingly." 

The tapeworm diet isn't completely new, having origins dating back "to the 1900s," Louise Foxcroft, historian and author of Calories and Corsets: A History of Dieting Over 2,000 Years, told BBC News

If you'd like to participate in the illegal dieting practice (which we don't recommend, by the way), Anabella Smith provides the four ways a person could start. Tapeworm dieters could participate by eating a live worm, eating the eggs of a tapeworm, taking tapeworm pills, or by eating tapeworm soup

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