As a personal trainer and nutritionist, I have taken a stance against the hCG diet.
Aside from the obvious “quick fix” it appears to advertise, my research has unveiled the harrowing side effects of the hCG diet.
Then yesterday, in working on an article for my day job, I interviewed a few doctors – who do not offer hCG as a primary part of their business – on the topic of the hCG diet. When the interviews commenced, I knew that for the most part, I would have to keep my opinions to myself, and feign interest as I listened to the doctors speak. But as they spoke, I found myself surprisingly intrigued – I began to understand that the hCG diet is not always evil.
It has its place in the world of medically-supervised weight loss. And, when I say “medically-supervised,” I don’t mean overseen by a college student or retiree in a white coat working out of a store front promising weight loss nirvana or your orthodontist, who is making extra money handing out hCG to the desperately overweight. No, I am talking a board-certified, practicing M.D. or D.O., who will carefully monitor your hCG diet from the beginning to the middle and all the way to the end, when it is no longer the hCG diet, but a healthy lifestyle.
I knew from my research that the hCG diet wasn’t something new that someone recently stumbled upon. The concept of using hCG (human chorionic gonadotropin), the “hormone of pregnancy,” dates back to the 1950s, when obesity researcher, Dr. Albert T. W. Simeons, published Pounds and Inches – his research showing supplementing hCG with a very restricted calorie diet results in rapid weight loss.
His findings went beyond rapid weight loss. As Dr. Simeons describes it in his paper, there are three types of fat: structural fat, reserve fat and abnormal fat. Structural fat provides the body with cushioning and protection – it is the fat we all need to survive. Reserve fat, on the other hand, is the nutritional reserve that fuels the body, while abnormal fat is fat that gets trapped in places like the abdomen, hips or thighs and never seems to budge. This abnormal fat is the key to the success of the hCG diet. In his research, Dr. Simeon suggested that hCG “resets” the hypothalamus in the brain, and under a very calorie restricted diet, will fuel the body using these abnormal fat stores. Not only will you lose weight, but you will lose weight in the most difficult places without feeling hungry.
The doctors I interviewed informed me that hCG is definitely not for everyone and is certainly not be used as a crash diet or “quick-fix.” For patients facing chronic disease related to their weight, hCG can be the needed stepping stone toward healthy weight management and reversing markers of disease for the patient.
However, the hCG diet is designed to be used for no more than a 21 to 40 day period and then the patient must be carefully monitored and assisted with the transition into healthy eating and routine activity. Unlike many diet programs, the hCG diet does not teach healthy eating or behavior modification patterns. This is one reason a dedicated physician must administer the program – beyond the 21 or 40 day period.
The other reason hCG must be supervised by a physician is the safety of the product. HCG sold over the counter is dangerous and unregulated. HCG, as a hormone supplement, was designed to treat women for infertility and that is the only use approved by the FDA. Many doctors prescribe hCG for its off-label use as a weight loss supplement, but the FTC recently mandated that no physician may advertise it for this purpose.
As I listened to the doctors describe how hCG worked and why screening patients was an absolute must, I became curious about the store fronts and websites that offer hCG as if it were frozen food from mainstream weight loss centers. And, as each doctor reiterated, it is not meant to be used like a crash diet or a life line for weight management. It is meant to help individuals whose life depends on weight loss for health and longevity and for someone, who will be dedicated to the program from the initial stages with hCG to the difficult middle stages of transitioning back to normal, healthy calorie consumption.
There isn’t enough scientific evidence to support the hCG diet as an effective weight loss strategy for long-term weight management. Many people, myself included, speculate that anyone will lose weight eating only 500 calories per day. The real challenge is weaning off the hCG and transitioning into a healthy diet and fitness plan without gaining the weight back. That requires discipline and, in many cases, the care and dedication of a physician, who truly cares about your health and well-being – not the money to be made on multiple treatments of hCG.
This post should not be considered an endorsement for the hCG diet, but merely an attempt to educate. A healthy diet, routine fitness and quality sleep are irreplaceable as the pillars of healthy weight management. Please feel free to share your opinions and experiences below.