There are a few sure-fire ways to generate conversational heat at a dinner party. Discuss politics, religion or yes, dieting, and you are guaranteed some spirited debate. Few diets spark more controversy than the hCG diet. The diet delivers stunning weight loss, but at what price? Here are some things to consider.
HCG stands for human chorionic gonadotropin. It is a hormone that is produced naturally by women when they are pregnant and has been approved by the FDA for use to treat certain, fairly specific fertility issues. Back in the 1950s an endocrinologist found that hCG injections seemed to help his patients lose fat when coupled with severe dieting. This type of use was never approved by the FDA but it was too late. At that point the hCG diet craze was on.
A typical hCG diet consists of daily (or so) injections of hCG combined with a diet plan that limits your daily intake to 500 calories. This is an extremely aggressive diet, given how quickly 500 calories can be consumed. Dairy, complex carbohydrates, alcohol and processed sugar are forbidden. Fresh and organic foods are recommended. But realize that 500 calories comes down to a bit of fish, two pieces of fruit and a small bowl of vegetables for an entire day.
Contrary to what may be claimed on hCG sales web sites, there are no peer-reviewed medical studies that have demonstrated the effectiveness of hCG injections. Ten studies found that injecting sterile water had the same benefits. The weight loss is entirely due to the drastic reduction in daily calorie intake. But as Shakespeare said, therein lies the rub.
Eating only 500 calories a day is considered a starvation diet. When your body experiences starvation the reaction is nearly immediate. Fatigue, muscle aches, irritability and insomnia can begin after just a day or two. Lack of food causes cholesterol to increase in the gall bladder, reducing your ability to get rid of bile. This can cause the formation of painful gall stones, especially in obese people. Continuing the starvation diet can trigger heart arrhythmia, heart attacks or stroke. Your body loses muscle mass, bone density and hair rapidly as body cells of all types are metabolized to generate energy. The resulting electrolyte imbalances make muscle cramps and extreme weakness common.
So why is the hCG diet so prevalent in the media and diet circles? One factor may be the "magic bullet" syndrome, where people want to believe that there is an elixir that will melt away their extra pounds without weeks or months of discipline and deprivation. Modern society loves the quick fix, and at 500 calories a day, this diet is certainly quick.
If you really need to lose weight, the government recommends that you eat at least 1,200 calories a day. This is a safe level of dieting and will allow a safe and gradual weight loss. Since it has been established that the hCG injections have no value, why get a daily shot at all? The hCG drops that are taken orally or dripped onto food have been banned by the FDA, so that shouldn't cloud the issue any more.