The HCG diet has been around for more than 60 years, but is it effective, does it need to be updated, and is it safe?
Weight alone is not a satisfactory criterion by which to judge whether a person is suffering from the disorder we call obesity … Every physician is familiar with the sylphlike lady who enters the consulting room and declares emphatically that she is getting horribly fat and wishes to reduce. Many an honest and sympathetic physician at once concludes that he is dealing with a ‘nut’ … The patient distinctly feels that something is wrong with her, that a subtle change is taking place in her body, and this alarms her.
As someone who has contended with stubborn weight, I can relate to the above passage, especially the niggling feeling that something is off and that my body is not utilizing energy optimally. Despite all the excellent food choices I’ve adopted throughout the past 15 years (no sugar, minimal carbs, no gluten, dairy, or processed foods, and lots of organic veggies) and my array of varied exercises (vinyasa flow yoga, cycling, and hiking), I put on 10 pounds over the past year, making the difference between me feeling “OK” and “wonderful.”
According to data by Marketdata Enterprises, Americans spend a hefty $60 billion annually on weight-loss products and services. Considering these stats, it’s no surprise that I’m one of the many who has battled weight issues over the years.
Growing up in the ‘80s, I ate Doritos, Coca-Cola, fast food, and tons of carbs. When I was 15 and working at McDonald’s, I classified a McFish as a healthy food. Yikes!
Since then, my idea of “healthy” has certainly run the gamut. I haven’t eaten fast food in more than two decades. If I am going to eat fish these days, I try to make sure it’s wild-caught and low in heavy metals like Mercury. The fish also needs to have eaten a real diet as opposed to being fed GMO corn. I also avoid processed foods and eat organic whenever possible, with a focus on micronutrients and superfoods. Today, I am truly in better shape at 43 than I was at 26.
Whenever I made slight adjustments in my diet in the past, I observed weight loss results. Meanwhile, since my thyroid, which regulates body temperature, metabolism, and heartbeat, among other things, was found to be under active, I’ve also adjusted the dosage of my thyroid medication with success. This has led to effortless weight loss while giving me more energy throughout the day. Low thyroid hormone = weight gain.
In this model, weight gain is primarily driven by hormonal abnormalities, NOT excessive consumption of calories. Food has a direct impact on our hormones and metabolism; a hundred calories of carbs and sugar from a pastry will not be processed in your body the same way as 100 calories of lean organic protein like bison.
In the past six months, I’ve continued to consume superfoods such as bee pollen and spirulina, while experimenting with a ketogenic diet. Explains Dr. Westin Childs, this particular diet is high in fat and low in both protein and carbohydrates, and can be helpful for those with insulin and leptin resistance. Dr. Childs, who practices Functional Medicine, specializes in balancing hormones for long-lasting weight loss, with a focus on hypothyroidism, insulin resistance, and leptin resistance.
A very low intake of carbohydrates stimulates the breakdown of fat which, at a certain threshold, causes the liver to produce ketone bodies. Your body can now run optimally, burning fat instead of glucose.
I was going to be on a cruise ship off the coast of Miami in a few weeks, and I wanted to feel good enough in my skin to wear a bikini. But my weight loss bundle and organic smoothie weren’t doing the trick. At 5’4 and 118 pounds, I was still viewed as “tiny” or slim. But I knew something was off. It all seemed to be concentrated around my belly, and I felt sluggish. I needed a weight-loss option that was more immediate – and still safe.
My naturopath Lisa Fillis suggested I try the “HCG Diet” and read the manuscript Pounds And Inches: A New Approach to Obesity. She said I could easily drop those extra pounds – it had worked for her. I would need to follow a strict 500-calorie-a-day diet and inject myself with a hormone that would banish my hunger and dissolve the abnormal fat reserves around my stomach. I asked her to sign me up. I would also “guinea pig” myself and write about it.
HCG Diet: Weight Loss Success Or Dangerous Hooey?
Human chorionic gonadotrophin (hCG) is a hormone produced by the placenta, present at high levels in early pregnancy. It’s actually the hormone used as a marker in home pregnancy tests.
In 1954, a British doctor named Albert Simeons combined hCG injections with a 500-calorie-a-day diet plan, consisting of specific types of protein, certain vegetables (certain veggies like Brussel sprouts are barred), very few fruits, and no grains, except for two pieces of Melba toast, which I ditched because GMO wheat with chemicals and gluten just doesn’t appeal.
Simeons, trained as an endocrinologist in Germany and Switzerland, discovered the power of a HCG diet while doing research on extremely obese young men he believed had an unusual endocrine disorder. He dubbed them The Fat Boys.
HCG stimulates the hypothalamus to produce chemicals that release stores of fat into the bloodstream to be burned as energy. During this process in pregnancy, nutrients normally stored in fat are also released into the bloodstream, helping to provide sustenance to the mother and her growing fetus. When pregnancy is not present, however, hCG still causes the release of fat stores into the bloodstream.
The HCG diet has gone on to be touted as a “weight-loss success” and has been highlighted on shows such as Dr. Oz. Yet there are many critics who maintain that the HCG diet’s effects on weight loss have not been proven through peer-reviewed studies. They maintain that eating the calorie deficit is what allows a person to lose weight.
“There is no scientific evidence that hCG helps people lose weight,” maintains Madeline Basler, RDN, of Real You Nutrition. “It can certainly help you lose weight in the beginning, as the calorie restriction is severe, but people I have worked with that have tried this diet have all gained back the weight they lost, and then some.”
Over the past four decades there have been four double-blind, placebo-controlled trails testing the HCG diet. All of them show that hCG does nothing to improve weight loss compared to the diet alone.
But how about the practitioners and all the millions of people who swear that the hCG hormone can serve as a catalyst? I decided to keep a diary.
Dr. Oz Review:
I administered my first shot. Lisa, who I have been working with for almost a decade, walked me through it on the phone. A month’s supply of insulin needles and hCG were delivered to my home for $90. I mixed the hormone vial into a bacteriostatic water solution and injected 25 ml near my belly button. Injectable hCG is FDA-approved for certain uses, such as deficiency treatment of the pituitary, but not for weight loss. In fact, in this regard, the FDA calls hCG “dangerous and illegal” but that’s likely because many places online sell faux nonprescription products that don’t even contain hCG while charging lots of money. Basically most places sell a homeopathic version that is sometimes nothing more than scams. My hCG came from a legitimate compounding lab and is being prescribed by a doctor.
The first two days of the HCG diet are “fat loading” – you gorge on fats since hCG can distinguish good fat from abnormal, fixed fat deposits. Since fat reserves supposedly maximize your weight-loss potential, gaining weight during this period is regarded as a positive.
But the thought of putting on one more pound, even if just for a few days, did not appeal to me, despite Lisa’s explanation and assurances. I decided to start dropping my caloric intake for those two days but still eat like I always do, which contains a good amount of healthy fats.
I made a smoothie, which included tahini mixed with avocado (very high in fat), bee pollen, and superfoods. For dinner, I ate six pieces of spicy tuna and a green apple.
I searched for blogs on fat loading and found some that had taken eating “the most fattening food you can to capacity” to another level. Some meal plans sounded like an effin heart attack. I initially thought it was a farce. How could anyone consider Oreos (which contains more sugar than fat), ice cream, pizza, and doughnuts to be suitable on a diet!!!!? There seems to be no discernment for healthy fats in this regard.
Back in the ‘50s, Dr. Simeon recommended the following foods for loading days:
- Bread with thick butter and jam
- Fried meats (particularly pork)
- Milk chocolate
- Pastries with whipped cream and sugar
We’ve learned a lot since his day. For instance, we now know that the food pyramid is skewed to benefit Big Ag and their deep pockets. And we know that not every calorie is created equally. Food chemistry acknowledges that the chemical and biochemical composition of foods is fundamental to the study of their properties and processing applications.
A study in The New England Journal of Medicine indicates that several lifestyle behaviors may influence whether or not a person can maintain energy balance over the long term.
“This study shows that conventional wisdom – to eat everything in moderation, eat fewer calories and avoid fatty foods – isn’t the best approach,” says Dr. Dariush Mozaffarian, a cardiologist and epidemiologist at the Harvard School of Public Health and lead author of the study. “What you eat makes quite a difference. Just counting calories won’t matter much unless you look at the kinds of calories you’re eating.”
It’s 2017 and our current mainstream paradigm still suggests that your weight gain is due primarily to the increased amount of calories you consume. That is not the only factor to consider.
Today marks my official start. I start with an optimized cup of coffee. Conventional coffee has pesticides and may also contain mold, so I drink David Asprey’s Bulletproof coffee. The HCG diet allows for all the coffee you want with only a minimal amount of milk, but since I don’t drink milk, which does nothing to boost my coffee or being, I add half a tablespoon of raw unsalted organic butter from grass-fed cows that eat a diet rich in beta-carotene (the form of vitamin A found in plants), MCT oil, and collagen. I then mix it in my Vitamix. I savor this drink in the morning. It’s beyond tasty and boosts my energy levels.
Drinking coffee this way also encourages ketosis, so I decided not to give the butter and oil up.
Incidentally, after my HCG diet experiment, I asked Asprey (the King of Ketosis) whether he knew of any link between hCG and a ketogenic state.
There is nothing definitive I have ever seen. I think that the best option would be to use a zero fat diet except for brain octane, which does not act like a normal fat and will not store as fat. If I understand things right, hCG makes you store any fat you eat.
For lunch and dinner, I eat a small portion of organic chicken I’d grilled with water. You’re supposed to invest in a food scale to weigh your meals, but I decide not to be anal about it. I want to see what my minor adaptations will do.
My morning ritual now consists of weighing myself first thing in the morning. I really have an aversion to doing this. That’s how I found out that I weighed 118 pounds at the onset of this diet. I had not gotten on a scale in several months, maybe even a year, mostly because I could feel I was gaining weight and didn’t want to feed an obsession. How you feel means more than a number on a scale.
My friend recently remarked that weighing herself after a long sabbatical actually helped inspire her to lose weight. In fact daily weighing is associated with greater weight loss and less weight regain than less frequent self-weighing. I’d lost 2 pounds and was now 116 pounds.
Dr. Simeon’s manuscript advises against heavy exercise, but I went to yoga flow class anyway. As you lose the pounds, toxins get released through sweat. Moving your body is essential. In my opinion, so is incorporating some kind of gentle detox strategy, like coffee enemas, which I did.
While this diet plan calls for more animal protein than I care for, it’s not a far cry from the way I eat. There are no carbs, starches, or sugars, so I valued the opportunity to give up the last vestiges of brown rice, quinoa, a banana a day, carrots, and beans. Another protocol: You are to continue to restrict certain carbs, starches, and sugars for six weeks after you’ve completed the diet.
I am definitely hungry today and vow to stop the diet. There is no way I can subsist on this for another 15 days or so, I think, while in plank pose in a hot yoga room with a temperature of 100 Fahrenheit, fueled on simply Bulletproof coffee.
I was hungry. Was this normal? I searched online. According to Inside Out Wellness and Weight Loss:
The good news is that while your hunger is peaking during the first week, so is your weight loss. The most exaggerated weight loss on the HCG diet is experienced in the first 10 days to two weeks. So while you’re hungry and possibly frustrated during the first week, you’re also being rewarded by losing 1-3 pounds per day. This will certainly motivate you to continue knowing that you’re already seeing success and that after day 7, it will get considerably easier.
I grill some grounded, organic, grass-fed, grass-finished beef with steamed collards and lemon. I also “cheat” and drink coconut water for the electrolytes.
I feel low-energy and achy today. But still manage to go to yoga on 250 calories! I am weighing in at about 114, and I am losing inches. And my brain still feels sharp.
I touch base with Lisa when I get my period – 10 days early. That’s when I learn that the hCG hormone has been known to do this to women.
I haven’t eaten this much chicken in years. I definitely feel lighter. And my body looks more tone. Inches definitely count, too. While I lay in bed tonight, I think about food I haven’t eaten or craved in eons. We’re talking more than 25 years. Duncan Hines chocolate cake. Fries with tons of ketchup. Bacon. Spaghetti. Bread and butter.
I eat an organic strawberry instead.
I am definitely losing some more inches. My tummy is flatter, but there’s also one area that is flabby, like when you lose weight too fast. I am feeling better in my skin. I am chugging water and peeing more, which is another byproduct of the HCG diet. I am prepping my meals in advance to curb any hunger.
I weigh 108 pounds – 10 pounds shed. It’s gotten easier, and honestly I don’t feel hungry. But given these drastic measures, I feel like I should have dropped more weight. Is my metabolism slow or did my slight modifications to the diet lessen my weight loss? Since it will be too difficult to inject myself in Miami (hCG must be refrigerated) or unlikely I’ll continue the hCG diet on a huge cruise, I decide to stop.
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The Skinny On Your Metabolism And HCG Diet
According to Westin, studies show that as few as 21 days of consistent calorie restriction is enough to reduce your metabolism by up to 40 percent.
“Calorie restriction reduces your energy expenditure, and your resting metabolism is what is responsible for the majority of weight loss maintenance,” writes Childs. In other words, your metabolism slows down because your body believes its starving and starts storing fat as a precaution against death.
While the limit on calorie intake is damaging, unlike hCG knockers, Westin finds value in the hormone.
“Actually hCG has been shown to boost thyroid function by itself, so as long as it is not coupled with severe calorie restriction, it can still be effective,” adds Westin who uses hCG, other hormones, dietary changes, and supplements to help promote thyroid function, which leads to weight loss in about 95 percent of his patients.
Considering all we’ve learned about nutrition since 1954 and my own studies, I concluded that restricting calories was not in my best interest since in the greater content I was basically shooting myself in the foot as I ran the risk of damaging my metabolism.
I decided to resume the HCG diet and increase my caloric intake to 1000, which was rather easy given that hCG diminishes appetite. I even ate foods I deemed OK, such as salmon and steamed Brussels sprouts.
I found others who had modified the strict HCG caloric protocol with success, making smart modifications (i.e., increasing the amount of veggies) and abstaining from carbs and sugar. They didn’t seem to have the weight gain problem after they went off the HCG diet. They could also exercise without feeling like they would blackout.
Dr. Zach LaBoube, founder of Inside Out Wellness and HCG Weight Loss, also believed HCG was in need of an upgrade.
“In its 60 year existence, the HCG diet has helped millions achieve rapid weight loss. However, in that time, the diet has not once been updated to incorporate advanced research in low-carb, ketosis dieting, caloric ratios, or even basic food chemistry.”
Although the weight is still off, I ultimately decided to stop the HCG diet for good because I had three mini periods in a month. This of course meant my hormone levels were all over the place. Since I’ve had a cyst surgerically removed in the past, I made an appointment for an ultra sound. Sure enough, it revealed a fluid-filled, egg-sized cyst, which I discovered is yet another side effect of gonadotropin. After the prodding I developed a constant aching pain. This eventually subsided thanks to castor oil packs, and ozone therapy.
Writes Byron J. Richards, Board Certified Clinical Nutritionist, “As with any hormone, the timing and the amount are vital to its efficient function.”
While low levels of hCG are associated with inability to become pregnant or miscarriage, high levels are associated with Down syndrome. High levels of hCG are also associated with abnormal growths in the reproductive system, such as tumors and cysts, and other dysfunctional situations involving complex hormone dysfunction. In animal studies, administration of hCG routinely produces ovarian cysts.
Given my experience, if you are going to undergo this diet, I absolutely recommend working with a professional. If you don’t have solid eating habits and are obese, the HCG diet may help give you the discipline you need. But keep in mind that weight gain involves a lot more than calories. You will need to determine if possibly messing up your hormones, metabolism, and developing a cyst is worth the cost of being skinny.