The hCG Diet

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,


  1. Simeons ATW. The action of chorionic gonadotrophin in the obese. Lancet 2:946-947, 1954.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
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3 thoughts on “The hCG Diet

  1. This is a well written blog, but loaded with misinformation.

    1) the hcg protocol sample diet is completely incorrect. No where does dr Simeon suggest a bread stick.
    2) this isn’t a diet, it is a medical protocol. The normal rules of calories in vs. calories out does not apply.
    3) the clinical trial that you referenced by Bosch, Ventner, Stewart & Bertram has five fatal flaws that deviate so far from the hcg protocol that each flaw individually would cause failure on the hcg protocol.
    4) the body MUST enter starvation mode for hcg to work. That is why a protocol w/ 1200 daily calories doesn’t exist.
    5) the side effects/symptoms you listed are skewed. Behavioral hunger is expected with any weight loss. Headaches & nausea are rare but occur for the same reason morning sickness happens in pregnant women. 
    6) no clinical trial or study has ever shown hcg to be unsafe or dangerous. Even the ones they lead people to believe it doesn’t work.
    7) the hcg injection is approximately 1/10,000 the amount a pregnant woman has on a daily basis in her body.

  2. Hi Greg, thanks for your response. I believe we have a difference in opinion, rather than misinformation in my blog. I respectfully disagree for the reasons stated below. I have no financial incentive to provide this information. I’ve outlined my responses in line with your comments.

    1. The hCG protocol was taken directly from the creator of this diet, Dr. Simeons, from his manuscript “Pounds and Inches.” The third item under Lunch in his protocol is “One breadstick (grissino) or one Melba toast.”
    2. Any food plan that restrict calories is considered a “diet” and this plan definitely does. To your point, it could also be referred to as a medical protocol since physicians and chiropractors are administering it. Could you explain why the rules of calories in vs. calories out do not apply? Please provide scientific references.
    3. The meta-analysis I referenced included a review of all studies on hCG – 8 controlled trials and 16 uncontrolled trials. Here is the statement from the research: “We conclude that there is no scientific evidence that HCG is effective in the treatment of obesity; it does not bring about weight-loss OR fat-redistribution, nor does it reduce hunger or induce a feeling of well-being.”
    4. Please explain why the body must enter starvation mode in order for hCG to work and provide scientific references. Weight loss will occur during starvation without the presence of hCG. Also, licensed/registered dietitians and/or nutritionists routinely provide 1,200 calorie diets for weight loss. Patient compliance is the main issue for why people don’t maintain results.
    5. The side effects are simply those listed by the drug manufacturer.
    6. You may be right, a clinical trial on the safety of hCG may not have been performed to date. However, any diet with less than 800 calories per day is considered a very low calorie diet which is unsafe due to lack of energy and vital nutrients.
    7. Regardless of the dose of hCG given, it is not an FDA approved drug for weight loss.

  3. Thank you for posting about this diet. I am also a dietitian and have tried to find the studies to back up using HCG as an effective weight loss therapy. Of course there are no studies showing any statistical significance showing that HCG works – because it doesn’t. It just kills me that people are willing to drop tons of money on some “gimmick” but are unwilling to spend money or time to do what needs to be done for effective weight loss/maintenance. Thanks again for your investigation on this. I am going to pass this along to my patients/friends/family and whoever else needs to read it.


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