The HCG Diet – Weight Loss Miracle or Fad?
Andreea Macoveiciuc | On 07, Jan 2014
The human brain seems to be the most creative when we’re slightly tired, and involved in not so organized activities. It therefore comes as no surprise that lots of the discoveries that continue to amaze us on a daily basis are the results of “accidents”.
The HCG diet is one example of weight loss solution discovered accidentally. Although not a new concept, this diet continues to gain new followers and capture the attention of people looking for quick ways to drop a few pounds.
How does it work and what makes this diet so attractive?
Created over 50 years ago by Doctor A.T.W. Simeons, an obesity researcher, this eating plan bases its results on the ability of the hCG hormone (human chorionic gonadotropin or “the pregnancy hormone”) to stimulate fat loss.
As mentioned in Dr. Simeons’ book “Pounds and Inches”, besides taking hCG supplements, followers also have to commit to a restrictive eating plan – extremely restrictive, in fact, since the daily allowance is somewhere around 500 calories, regardless of the dieter’s body weight or goal weight.
Principles behind the HCG diet
Basically, this weight loss strategy uses hCG drops, which are thought to reset the hypothalamus’ functioning and determine the body to burn more fat during its daily activities.
As you probably know, fat is found in different forms inside the human body, but Dr. Simeons classified the fat tissues as structural, reserve fat and abnormal fat deposits. Of these, the most harmful and figure-destroying one is abnormal fat, which is targeted by the HCG diet.
Abnormal fat, in Dr. Simeons’ theory, is the fat our body should be using when extra energy is needed, just like reserve fat. Yet, the scientist says this tissue isn’t actually available; in fact, it’s trapped or locked away in some fixed deposits, so the human body isn’t capable to access these deposits and destroy them without help from the outside.
As he was doing a research study on pregnant women, the scientist observed high levels of hCG in the urine of those women. The hCG hormone, produced by the organism only during pregnancy, has the role of signaling the body to release the stored fats into the bloodstream, in order to make them available and ready to be used by all cells and tissues for nourishment.
The hormone acts on the hypothalamus, and the higher its levels are, the more fats from the abnormal deposits are released into the bloodstream. However, this doesn’t mean one will automatically lose weight, as the released fats are primarily used for feeding the baby and fueling the body if extra energy is needed.
The good news is that in new moms who reduce their food intake, the hCG hormone does contribute to weight loss, as it mobilizes the fats from hips, thighs, buttocks, lower abs and upper arms, allowing the organism to use them more efficiently. So it’s quite normal for women to lose weight after birth by simply watching their food intake and taking advantage of the presence of this hormone.
But how does this plan apply to non-pregnant women or to men?
How the HCG diet works
The HCG diet was not created for moms to be or with pregnant women in mind, so it’s not a solution geared toward them. In fact, the target public is represented by obese people – men or women – who want to boost their weight loss quickly, efficiently and in a simple manner.
Once the hCG drops are taken, they exert their effects on the hypothalamus and fat deposits, so additional amounts of lipids are released into the bloodstream and become available for energy production. However, unless the body is forced to use those specific fats for its needs, it may access the “traditional” lipid deposits, or burn the carbs received from foods.
This is why the HCG diet comes with caloric restrictions: in order for the organism to burn the released fats, a caloric deficit needs to be created, meaning that the amount of calories taken from foods needs to be lower than the calories burned during the day. And as we all now, fat loss is 80% diet and 20% exercise, so this is why this eating regimen revolves around the idea of restricting your caloric intake while encouraging the body to burn the excess fat in a more effective manner.
To benefit from this weight loss plan, patients need to take hCG drops or to give themselves regular injections, ideally over a period of 45 days, in order to reset their metabolism. Along with this, they need to cut back on calories and only provide their bodies with 500 calories per day.
Sounds crazy, I know, this is why it’s crucial to get a physical exam before starting the diet and to seriously ask yourself whether this is absolutely the only remaining solution for you to lose the excess fat.
Eating rules of the HCG diet
Once you’re done with the blood tests and exams, it’s time to get familiar with the eating principles of this regimen. The diet protocol proposed by Dr. Simeons is very strict and includes four distinct phases. All of the indications provided by the researcher need to be followed as closely as possible, as taking the drops alone will not make you lose weight, the scientist warns.
In the first phase, you’re supposed to be eating high fat foods for two days – cheese, avocado, creams and so on. This helps in resetting the body and preparing it for managing the extra fats in a different way.
In the second phase, you’re allowed to eat only 500 calories per day, mostly from fruits, veggies and seafood. During this phase the hCG intake is started, and it lasts for 20 to 40 days depending on the amount of fat that needs to be lost.
The third phase is the maintenance stage and allows pretty much the same foods as stage 2, but forbids starchy foods and sugars. This phase lasts for 3 weeks, then the first stage is repeated and so on, until the patient reaches his or her goal weight.
The last phase starts after the diet is completed, and should last for the rest of your life. Theoretically, your metabolism should be reset and you should be able to maintain the achieved weight as long as you keep an eye on your diet and continue to follow some restrictions.
Yet, reality shows most of the dieters who manage to lose weight with this plan fail in keeping the results for long enough to be worth all the effort. So once they get back to their pre-diet lifestyle and eating habits, the lost weight comes back as well.
Claimed benefits and drawbacks of the HCG diet
Nutritionists and researchers consider this diet unhealthy, threatening and likely to lead to starvation and yo-yoing in the long run.
The hCG drops have not been approved by the FDA as weight loss supplements, and this alone should be a good reason for you to think twice before joining the HCG club. Yet, the drops are available and widely used for this purpose, and if you’re a full-time dieter, you’re probably hard to convince that this diet is not the best approach to weight loss.
I advise you to do some research or at least take the time to read not only the claimed benefits of this diet, which will be listed immediately, but also its potential or proven side-effects. Losing weight is a chore, I agree, but if you decide you need to drop some excess fats, it’s a lot better to do it by embracing a more active lifestyle and switching to a cleaner eating regimen.
Weight loss is not a marathon, it really isn’t! So it’s not about how fast you manage to lose those fats, but about the damage you’re causing to your body in the long run.
But let’s get back to our topic. The claimed benefits of this diet include:
- higher testosterone levels,
- an enhanced metabolism,
- a changed body composition as a result of the fat redistribution,
- less frequent sugar cravings,
- fat loss without muscle loss,
- higher energy levels;
Apparently, people following this diet don’t experience hunger pangs despite the low caloric intake. It already sounds just too good to be true, right? If it’s too good to be true, it’s probably not true, a simple rule says, and unfortunately this applies to the HCG diet as well.
The main drawbacks of this weight loss strategy are the already mentioned yo-yo effect, which means you gain back the lost weight after abandoning the eating plan and stopping the intake of hCG drops.
- You may not have enough energy for your daily workouts, and may easily feel exhausted if you stick with a vigorous exercise program. Although Dr. Simeons does encourage physical activity, the general recommendation is to pick only moderate intensity exercises, or to limit yourself to walking for 20 to 30 a day. So bye-bye lifting.
- According to Dr. Simeons and hCG drops producers, the diet has little to no side effects. But according to real people who underwent this weight loss plan, during the 40+ days you’re very likely to experience leg cramps, muscle aches, headaches, to feel weak and light headed during the day.
- Other observed side effects include skin rashes (they disappear after a couple of days though), constipation, nausea, hair loss (although very rarely), irritability, depression and restlessness.
- Some followers said they felt hungry during the first weeks, and deprived of energy. The low calorie regimen promotes starvation tendencies, increases the risk of gallstones and deprives the body from nutrients, although it’s a balanced eating plan.
These side effects may not seem threatening, but the problem is that scientific evidence supporting the use of hCG hormones is significantly lacking. Moreover, most of the studies available in journals show that these drops are not as effective as claimed in promoting weight loss, and physicians do not encourage using the hormone as a fat loss solution.
Effective or not, the hCG drops or injections should only be used under direct medical supervision, and only if your physician recommends this method as the best way for you to lose weight.
Remember that obesity is more than a cosmetic issue, so instead of putting your health at risk with diets lacking scientific arguments, how about putting your sport shoes on and going for a walk?