The HCG Diet

23 08 2010

Recently, I was on Amazon and noticed in their discussion forums a question about the HCG diet. I only became aware of this diet a few months ago, after someone on Facebook mentioned it.

If you’re unfamiliar with the diet, it is based on the work of a Dr. ATW Simeons, published in his book Pounds and Inches more than 50 years ago. The diet is based on eating 500 calories a day for several weeks, accompanied by daily shots of human chorionic gonadotropin (HCG), which he claimed would help mobilize stores of “abnormal” fat that is not normally available for your body’s energy needs. After several weeks, people on the diet transition to normal caloric intake with a diet based mostly on whole food (meats, fruits, vegetables, etc.). The cycle is repeated as many times as necessary to attain the desired weight loss.

Interest in the diet was revitalized in 2007 with the publication of informercial king Kevin Trudeau’s The Weight Loss Cure They Don’t Want You to Know About.

Now, anyone who knows me is aware of the fact that I am more than happy to deviate from the mainstream and embrace ideas that at first seem totally whacky, as long as there is solid reasoning and evidence to support the idea. So although I was skeptical when I first heard about this diet, I tried to keep an open mind when researching it. After reading from a lot of different sources, I came to the following conclusions:

  1. If you limit yourself to 500 calories a day, you’re going to lose fat pretty quickly, but doing so can be dangerous, and if you’re not smart about it, you’re going to lose muscle too.
  2. If you adopt a diet based on whole, natural foods, you’re probably going to have an easy time maintaining any fat loss, and may even be able to slowly lose weight.
  3. Numerous independent studies have shown that HCG is no more effective than a placebo when used in conjunction with this diet’s eating plan. Injecting HCG also has some potentially very serious side effects, and of course, it’s not free.

In other words, any successes of the HCG diet can be attributed to the first two points, and there are many other diets that use these principles, especially the second (and if you want to go with a very-low calorie diet for rapid fat loss, there are alternatives that are much more attractive). But because this diet includes injecting something that is not only unnecessary, but potentially dangerous, I’d steer clear of it.

Sifting Through the Garbage

In researching this diet, I noticed a couple of disturbing things.

The first is that, no matter what combination of search terms I used in conjunction with HCG, Google’s first several pages of results were dominated by sites that are owned and operated by companies or individuals selling HCG. To me, that suggests that there is a lot of money being made selling HCG to people who are desperate to lose weight, and the people making that money have a vested interest in people believing that HCG is an essential part of the process. In order to find more objective information on HCG, I had to go directly to sources like WebMD, Pubmed, Wikipedia, and the personal websites of weight-loss professionals that I trust.

The second is that any time I found any information critical of the HCG diet, the comments section would be inundated with people attacking the article, generally not by rebutting the facts but by sharing their own testimonials, usually along the lines of “I’ve been on this diet for 4 days and I’ve already lost 10 pounds.” This happened to me when I posted on Amazon, which caused me to want to write this blog. These people display almost cult-like characteristics, a phenomenon that has been commented on at a few of the fitness forums I visit. My theory is that these people are either being paid by companies that sell HCG, or they are people who have genuinely lost weight on the diet but suffer from confirmation bias preventing them from recognizing that the HCG itself has nothing to do with their success.

Further Reading

If you or someone you know is seriously considering the HCG diet, I strongly recommend that you thoroughly read some of the following articles and come to your own conclusions:

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5 responses

23 08 2010
Success Warrior

Dude! You should create a website where people can go to this kind of information all in one place. A place that people can trust to give them straight up info.

I went off on my own rant today. The misinformation gets old.

23 08 2010
Ron

My bullshit detector generally goes off when someone is trying to sell me something. The human body is a machine, and the only proven way to safely lose weight is to simply watch what you eat and exercise more. That’s all it takes.

It’s a shame that so many people let themselves get so out of shape (myself included) on todays ridiculous processed food diets that are difficult to escape, but after cutting out that crap I ended up in a state where I had completely lost my appetite for anything processed after a mere two weeks. More effort needs to be put into helping people get off the processed crap rather than finding miracle cures/snake oil.

23 08 2010
myopicrhino

That’s a great idea, Alan. Maybe a site based around a basic philosophy of eating real food, moving often, and lifting heavy things? You and I should work together on something like that.

Ron: Sadly, people want a quick fix for a problem that took years to develop. There is also a lot of confusion caused by the fact that a lot of mainstream weight loss information is flat out wrong. Case in point: I again came across some blog posts today about the KFC Double Down. All of these posts, and most of the comments, were made by seemingly well-educated, intelligent people, who all vilified cholesterol, saturated fat (and fat in general), and sodium, despite the fact that research (some of it more than 20 years old) has overwhelmingly shown that these are at worst neutral and at best extremely important to your overall health.

24 08 2010
Ron

Yeah that was another mistake I made at first; I cut my sodium intake to 1300mg, thinking that would be a great idea. Weeks later, I had an electrolyte imbalance. Back up to 2000mg (~90% DV) and feeling better.

The problem is that sodium gets a bad rap because the average american diet contains up to 40,000mg of sodium, which over time is ridiculously dangerous.

The other day I found an article saying that because of the “no/low fat” diet craze, many people are now having a fat intake deficiency. Crazy.

24 08 2010
Success Warrior

Ron, I just read an article about researchers that added fish oil to a low fat/high carb diet and found that it was healthier. The article was trying to justify a low fat/high carb diet could work. They still called it low fat even though the way they fixed it was to add fat. They don’t want to admit that the low fat/high carb diet they espouse is unhealthy so they fixed it by adding fish oil and still called it low fat (+ fish oil).

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