Thursday, August 28, 2014
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Still can't lose weight? There's always the tapeworm diet

You still need to get rid of the worm afterward. But you can use milk, cookies, and a hammer for that.

Still can't lose weight? There's always the tapeworm diet

Ahhh, the quest for the perfect weight loss diet—the one that lets you eat and shed pounds. With so many Americans obese or overweight, the marketplace is full of diet books and over-the-counter drugs. There’s the Paleo diet —eat meat like a cave man! And the Mediterranean diet —eat vegetables like a peasant! And the grapefruit diet —eat like a Florida farmer!

There used to be more daring choices. Like the tapeworm egg diet. That’s right, a program that told you to swallow tapeworm eggs and lose weight.

In the early 20th century, marketers began selling this program to what were then called “fleshy people” under brand names like “Lard-B-Gone.” Sanitized tapeworm eggs delivered what they promised. You got rid of pounds without exercise, dieting, surgery, or dangerous drugs like arsenic pills, which were once a popular means of weight loss because they allegedly cut the appetite. With the tapeworm diet you swallowed the eggs and the tapeworm did all the work—consuming your meal while living in your digestive tract. Meanwhile, the tapeworm produced and shed millions of eggs in your intestine and grew up to 20 feet long.

Maria Callas, the divine and large opera star, reportedly became svelte—losing 80 pounds--thanks to the tapeworm diet. One pasta company claimed her diet trick was “physiologic pasta” (what the heck is that?) — and she sued them. Callas told people her diet trick was salads and chicken, but the tapeworm rumors persisted. Could opera’s “biggest loser” have really used the tapeworm diet? We’ll never know. And we’re not likely to see that technique on reality TV or an infomercial. (For some actually helpful weight loss information click here.)

More coverage
 
How not to be a sucker for weight loss scams
 
Healthier eating: Use laziness to your advantage

So, you've probably been wondering: What do you do when you’ve finished losing all the weight you want and it's time to get rid of the tapeworm? The scientific answer . . . is de-worming medications. But there are several other worm-removal urban legends. One involves placing milk, cookies, and a hammer — I think I'll just quote the rest — “near the afflicted person’s anus for a few nights and letting the tapeworm gorge himself into complacency on the treats. Once this has been accomplished, when the worm comes out all the way to demand 'Where’s my cookie?' whoever is stuck with the worm-watching duty that night bashes it with a hammer.”

Who came up with the tapeworm diet? That isn’t clear. Someone probably figured out that people who accidentally ate tapeworm eggs (in undercooked meat) looked pretty thin and thought, “there’s a money-making idea.” If you browse the web for “tapeworm diet,”  you’ll find the method is still in use; the Iowa Department of Public Health sent out an advisory on about it last year.

So, with all the failed diet plans out there, should we head back to the future with tapeworm eggs? I’ll just say, no thanks. And so do public health experts. If you fall for this plan, I’ve got a hammer and some cookies to sell you!


Read more about The Public's Health.

Janet Golden, PhD Professor of history, Rutgers University-Camden
About this blog

What is public health — and why does it matter?

Through prevention, education, and intervention, public health practitioners - epidemiologists, health policy experts, municipal workers, environmental health scientists - work to keep us healthy.

It’s not always easy. Michael Yudell, Jonathan Purtle, and other contributors tell you why.

Michael Yudell, PhD, MPH Associate Professor, Drexel University School of Public Health
Jonathan Purtle, DrPH, MPH Research Director, Drexel Center for Nonviolence and Social Justice
Janet Golden, PhD Professor of history, Rutgers University-Camden
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