Wednesday, March 26, 2014

HCG: The Ugliest of Fad Diets

HCG:  The Ugliest of the Fad Diets

When it comes to fad diets, as long as weight loss is promised, people will follow it, even if they have no idea what they are injecting or swallowing.  This is definitely the case with the HCG diet; ask someone whom is following this fad diet what HCG is, and they will probably respond with a vague or clueless response.

Before discussing the harm this diet can cause, let’s outline the details of how it’s supposed to work.  HCG, Human Chorionic Gonadotropin, is a hormone that supports normal egg development in the ovaries, and stimulates the release of eggs in one phase of a women’s menstrual cycle.  It is also present in the placenta during the first trimester of pregnancy.  How in the modern world of science does this relate to weight loss?  It has been proposed that HCG can tell the brain to use body fat as a fuel source when on a Very Low Calorie Diet (VLCD), instead of breaking down muscle mass, which normally occurs during inadequate calorie consumption.  The use of body fat for energy “tricks” the body into thinking it is receiving adequate calories.  In addition to HCG injections or the ingested droplet form, one must follow a diet that is 800 or less calories per day.

The HCG diet poses a double risk, the first from the hormone itself, and the second from the VLCD.  HCG is prescribed for fertility issues, but in some cases, the following side effects have been reported; fatigue, low energy levels, constipation, blood clots, numbness, tingling, confusion, dizziness, headaches, ovarian hyper-stimulation and cysts, vaginal bleeding, and decreased sperm production and breast enlargement in men.  VLCD’s provide less than 800 calories per day, and may cause gallstones, irregular heartbeat, electrolyte imbalances, and low energy levels.  It is also impossible to meet daily nutritional needs at such a low calorie level.

If the proposed side effects have not sent followers running in the opposite direction, consider the fact that the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) has not approved HCG for weight loss, and it has not been proven that its use results in weight loss.

Those on the HCG diet may lose weight, but this is solely from the VLCD.  When considering the VLCD separate from the HCG, it is a quick fix that often leads to the person gaining all, or even more weight that was lost.  Several doctors believe VLCDs are safe when medically supervised, but as a dietitian, the writer of this note, in most cases, never recommends meal plans that provide less than 1500 calories per day.

Weight loss is more successful and long-term when clients are taught how to create well-balanced meals, and incorporate an exercise program as part of a healthier lifestyle.  Off-and-on use of VLCDs causes one’s metabolism (the ability to use food for energy) to become less effective, and weight loss more difficult.  When thinking about it, a body that is frequently starved wants to hold on to everything possible in order to survive.  Finally, the diet component of the HCG plan is chock-full of rules and regulations; only 2 meals per day, no butter or oils, 1 tablespoon of milk per day, 1 protein/1 vegetable/1 bread/1 fruit per meal, and each food group has a minimal list of “allowed foods.”  It makes one wonder, who made these lists, and what is the logic behind the chosen and unchosen foods?

In considering all of this, the smart consumer is the educated consumer.  If effortless weight loss is promised, treat it like a stop sign; before proceeding do the research!  Advertised weight loss products and diets often fail because their restrictive nature leads to frustration, many possible side effects, and a rapid weight loss that is temporary and unhealthy.

Michel D. Harris, RD, LDN, CDE!

Michel D. Harris is a Registered Dietitian with 14 years of experience as a clinical and outpatient dietitian.  Her areas of practice include eating disorders, weight loss and management, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancer, and food allergies/gluten sensitivity.  As an exercise physiologist, she also assists individuals of all fitness levels in planning exercise programs.

At the Awakening Center, Michel provides individual nutrition consultations, as well as multiple group classes and workshops.  Individual sessions include the development of a comprehensive wellness plan that focuses on establishing a healthy relationship with food and exercise, as well as identifying and changing detrimental eating behaviors/patterns.  The nutrition counseling and mindful eating groups allow individuals to share and receive help with the recovery process via discussion of certain topics and activities.  If you would like to speak with Michel regarding your interest in any of her services, please contact her at 773-929-6262 x24


  1. I find my self intrigued by the idea of weight loss without work every time I see a new fad diet emerge.

  2. Amy Grabowski, Director The Awakening CenterMarch 26, 2014 at 12:04 PM

    Thanks for clearing up the confusion about HCG shots! I appreciate hearing the honest facts!