Lose 20 pounds in 20 days! Have you heard of the hCG diet? I’ve had quite a few clients ask me about this “miracle” diet that allows people to shed pounds fast and lose up to a pound a day. Please, proceed with caution when you hear about these fast fix weight loss diets.
hCG stands for Human chorionic gonadotropin, a hormone produced during pregnancy that is made by the developing embryo after conception. It’s what’s detected in urine in home pregnancy tests. Nowadays it’s gaining popularity as use in a homeopathic tincture or injection that, combined with a very low calorie diet, promises quick weight loss. hCG is said to suppress appetite (preventing hunger on the 500 calorie a day model) and burn body fat while preserving muscle.
The hCG Diet: Miracle or Dangerous?
The hCG diet bans certain carbs, dairy, sugar, and booze, so you stick to protein and veggies with minimal fruit. Because the hCG suppresses hunger, you can stick to this strict diet without hunger or cravings. According to one website, you’re not hungry because hCG instructs the hypothalamus to release 3000-4000 calories in stored fat every day. You’re encouraged to stick strictly to the plan. I can’t confirm this, but I read in US News that if you blow it, you get back on track with an apple fast?! “If dieters slip up, they’re encouraged to compensate by drinking only water and eating nothing but six apples for 24 hours. That’s thought to help squeeze out water weight, a psychological boost to help them get back on track.”
The injections are apparently the most effective and truest form of hCG. You must get them from a doctor. One of the companies I buy products from distributes the hCG homeopathic tincture. Their products are not available over the counter, and they have high quality standards (you must have a license to buy from them). Many of the tinctures online have a reputation of being crappy or ineffective, but I took a look at the tincture and it contains the following:
- hypothalamus & pituitary to reset the hunger feedback loop in the brain
- various homeopathics to reduce hunger/prevent cravings, manage blood sugar (so you don’t feel shaky and weak at 500 calories!), support metabolic functions, and eliminate toxins
The hCG Diet
There are 3 phases to this diet. You are receiving injections or taking the tincture during the time you follow the phases. The first phase is the loading phase that happens during the first two days. During this phase, you eat all you want to “load up” enough fat, energy, and essential nutrients to sustain you during the rest of the days that you will be following the diet plan. Then comes the “Very Low Calorie phase,” the 500 calorie per day model wherein you eliminate certain foods such as sugar, carbs, and fats.
NO FATS?! You’ll stick to eating lean meat per day and specific kinds of vegetables. Of course you’re also taking the hCG this entire time which is melting the fat away, especially from the chin, thighs, arms, buttocks, hip and belly. Then the latter phase is “stabilization” where you’ll increase your caloric intake to 800 for women or 1000 for men.
Is the hCG Diet Safe?
A 500 calorie a day diet is not safe. Rapid weight loss can cause gallstones, and hCG is implicated in blood clots, constipation, and even leg cramps (probably because it may cause mineral imbalance). Also, if you’re basically starving yourself and tricking your body out of hunger cues, of course you’ll lose weight. Obviously the point of the tincture or injections is that it rids the body of fat, prevents hunger & prevents blood sugar instability so you don’t pass out, but not everyone will react the same. I’ve heard of a fainting case, and in another case, a woman gained back all the weight she worked so hard to lose.
The other issue is that you’re not working to change your behaviors. You’re going “on” a diet and then transitioning back to whatever eating plan you were on before. I preach strongly against diets. In fact, I despise the concept. I teach my clients what foods are right for their unique individuality, and teach them how to eat in a way that’s sustainable for life. It’s not something you go on or off. Your old habits clearly weren’t working in the first place. Losing weight is a complex issue, and there are many factors (hidden food allergies or adrenal/thyroid dysfunction, for example) that need to be explored and solved for weight loss to be maintained.
I also think there is a lot of bogus hCG out there, so if you do elect to try this diet, you must make sure you’re purchasing the tincture from a reliable source–either a doctor or nutritionist that supplies certified product–or that you’re getting the injections from a trusted doctor.
In short, I cannot recommend this diet due to the fact that I don’t agree with its tenets–the loading, the starving, and the lack of uncovering behaviors or physiological reasons that have caused weight gain or prevented weight loss. To me, this is an example of the “magic pill” syndrome that our society thrives on–quick fixes. This is not holistic.
I can imagine this potentially as a last resort for obese folks who have a lot of weight to lose–they can get down to a manageable weight working with a doctor or nutritionist and then get down to the nutrition education. But it just doesn’t feel right to me to recommend that someone who has 30 pounds to lose eat 500 calories a day. If someone is experiencing difficulty losing weight, there may be physical reasons behind it: thyroid, adrenal, digestive, detox, or deficiency issues that must be addressed. I just can’t get behind that magic pill philosophy. And there’s a lot of risk involved in the hCG diet plan, which is why most reputable health organizations don’t endorse it.
Mary Vance is a Certified Nutrition Consultant and author specializing in digestive health. She combines a science-based approach with natural therapies to rebalance the body. In addition to her 1:1 coaching, she offers courses to help you heal your gut and improve your health. Mary lives in San Francisco and Lake Tahoe in Northern California. Read more about her coaching practice here and her background here.