What it is
The HCG diet combines a very low calorie meal plan (usually 500 calories a day) with either oral or injected Human Chorionic Gonadotropin (that’s what HCG stands for). The supplement-diet combination is supposed to reduce your appetite and increase your body’s natural fat burning mechanisms in order to help you shed weight fast. The plan is followed for 40 days, with weight loss of claims of 1-2 pounds per day. If you still have more weight to lose after 40 days, a 3-6 week rest period where you do not take the HCG drops is recommended so you don’t build up a tolerance to the HCG. After the rest period you can resume the drops and diet once again for another round of weight loss. Promoters of the diet claim that the HCG causes your hypothalamus to mobilize fat specifically from your abdominal region and that it actually changes your hypothalamus to prevent future weight regain.
First, it’s helpful to know a little more about what you’re putting into your body. HCG is a hormone produced by the placenta during pregnancy and also found in the urine of pregnant women. It’s necessary to maintaining a healthy blood flow to the growing fetus. It’s approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for use in some cases of infertility in women and hormone treatment in men, but must be prescribed by a physician. But if you’re looking for the FDA to tell you it’s safe to use HCG for weight loss, you’ll be waiting for a long time. The FDA hasn’t approved any forms of HCG for use related to weight loss and, along with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), has issued warnings to companies selling HCG to people for weight loss purposes. Further, many of the over the counter HCG drops are called homeopathic versions of HCG and don’t contain any HCG at all. Following the FDA and FTC warnings, companies are still selling drops to go along with the very low calorie diet, but many are calling them by a different name.
Not only is the HCG component of this plan potentially dangerous, but the diet portion brings potentially serious side effects. Fatigue, constipation, nausea, and/or diarrhea are a common result of following a 500 calorie per day diet and gallstones are also a real risk. In fact, consuming so few calories is medically defined as a very low calorie diet (VLCD) and should only be followed under strict medical supervision. And the big bummer is that weight gain is really common after following a VLCD and VLCDs haven’t been shown to be any more effective than less restrictive diets (shout out to healthy eating and exercise!) in the long-term.
Now to address the claims that the HCG diet drops/injections will actually change your hypothalamus (the area of your brain that controls metabolic processes, hunger, body temperature, thirst, sleep cycles, and many more important body functions) and “reset” it back to that of a thin person. There’s no research to support the claim that HCG will change your hypothalmus in a positive way. A couple studies have found that following VLCDs for short periods of time can have a beneficial effect on the hypothalamus of people with type 2 diabetes. However, the benefits are not permanent and a VLCD is not recommended for the long-term.
Are there any benefits?
Nope! Unlike even the craziest of fad diets, which might have the sole redeeming quality that they increase your awareness of what you’re eating, or encourage more mindful eating, the diet that accompanies the drops is dangerous on several levels. First, you risk side effects like gallstones. Second, you risk developing a disordered, fearful, unhealthy relationship with food. Third, you risk eating so little that you don’t have the energy to exercise. Plus, as with any supplement you take — you need to be sure you can trust the company to prevent taking a contaminated supplement.
Should you follow it?
Again, absolutely not. We’d never recommend a program that would have you eat less than 1200 calories each day (and we really prefer at least 1500 to get all of the nutrition you need in without feeling totally starved). You will be hungry on this program — like, really hungry. You’ll also feel tired, grouchy, worn out, and your body will be deficient in all of the nutrients it needs to be healthy. The supplements can also be pricey ($60 or more per month’s supply). That would be money better spent on stocking your fridge and pantry with healthy food, taking a healthy cooking class, or enrolling in some fun group fitness programs. And finally, you won’t be acquiring any skills that will help you make long-lasting healthy lifestyle choices. Definitely skip this diet.
Have you or anyone you know tried the HCG diet? What were the results? Are you more or less likely to try a diet plan that includes a weight loss supplement?