You may have noticed medical facilities offering hCG injections or drops under the tongue as the “secret no one wants you to know about” solution to your weight loss battle. As a Registered Dietitian and Certified Personal Trainer, I’m all for solutions – as long as they’re safe, you understand how and why they work, and you’re willing to live with the consequences. So let’s dig into how this diet works, the available science and why people who go on this particular diet experience results.
- hCG is an acronym for human chorionic gonadotrophin. This hormone is produced in pregnant females and its presence in urine results in a positive pregnancy test. hCG is used as a drug to treat infertility among women and to help increase sperm count among men. In the 1950s a British doctor claimed hCG injections would help obese patients lose weight more comfortably.
- The hCG protocol includes regular injections or oral drops and a strict 500 calorie per day diet for 26-45 days. The diet typically consists of
- Coffee for breakfast, no sugar
- A small portion of lean meat, one type of vegetable, one breadstick or melba toast and one type of fruit with lunch and dinner
- Two liters of water daily
- Exercise, especially weight training, is not allowed due to the very low calorie and nutrient intake (this is a red flag, as exercise is an essential part of healthy weight management)
- After the initial 26-45 days, you cannot eat any sugar or starches for three weeks
- The original diet called for no medicines or cosmetics other than lipstick, eyebrow pencil and powder may be used without special permission
- The current cost of this diet ranges from approximately $150 to $400 per month.
- According to the scientific research , there is no evidence that hCG is effective for weight loss. The reason people lose weight on this diet is NOT because of the hCG. It’s because the requirement for going on this diet is eating approximately 500 calories per day. To put this in perspective, my body requires approximately 1,200 calories per day just to fuel my brain, heart, lungs and basic metabolic functions. When I’m active, I require more – closer to 2200 calories per day. So eating 500 calories per day would essentially allow me to lose half a pound a day, or 3 pounds per week. Again, it’s NOT because of the hCG. It’s basic human physiology – when you eat drastically fewer calories than you burn, your body will use its energy stores for fuel and your body weight drops.
- The hCG diet is considered a very low calorie diet, or more commonly, a starvation diet. That means your body will not only burn your fat stores to fuel your brain, heart, lungs and other organs, but it will also burn muscle. When you return to your normal eating habits, you will gain only fat back. In essence, you end up lowering your metabolism, which means you gain weight more easily.
- The only proven method for losing weight is burning more calories than you take in. There are many ways to go about this, as evidenced by the array of diet books on the market. However, when you take a closer look at all of these diet books, they all cut calories. Low carb/high protein diets cut calories by cutting carbs, low fat diets cut calories by cutting fat and cleansing diets cut calories by cutting, well, food. The hCG diet is no different, except you also take a drug, which purportedly reduces hunger. Although there are many claims that this is the case, there’s no hard-nosed science to back it up.
- Approximately 90% of those who attempt dieting fail in the long run. Why? Because it’s very difficult to go on a diet forever. Losing weight is NOT the issue for most people – keeping it off is. The hCG diet allows people to eat only whole, unprocessed foods, which is a good thing, but you must continue to eat this way in order to sustain the results. However, eating 500 calories a day is not recommended because you won’t be getting enough essential nutrients. Plus, rapid weight loss typically results in weight rebound.
- There are side effects to taking this drug and it’s not FDA approved for weight loss. Noted side effects are nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, stomach pain and swelling, severe pelvic pain, shortness of breath and weight gain.
If you’re looking to lose weight AND keep it off, burn more calories than you take in by making adjustments to your food choices and activity level that you can stick to. It will take longer to lose those unwanted pounds, but it’s safer, much cheaper and you’re more likely to maintain your success. There is no magic cure for weight loss. Here’s the formula for success: Good choices +Consistency + Time. It’s probably not what you want to hear, but it’s the truth, and you know what they say about the truth…
Until next week,
- Simeons ATW. The action of chorionic gonadotrophin in the obese. Lancet 2:946-947, 1954.
- Lijesen GK and others. The effect of human chorionic gonadotrophin (HCG) in the treatment of obesity by means of the Simeons therapy: a criteria-based meta-analysis. British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology 49:237–243, 1995.
- Bosch B, Venter I, Stewart RI, Bertram SR. Human chorionic gonadotrophin and weight loss. A double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. S Afr Med J. 1990 Feb 17;77(4):185-9.