Losing weight at lightning fast speeds of 1 to 2 pounds a day sounds like a dieter’s dream right? Well, the HCG diet promises you just that. Following this diet surely will get you on the path to thinner thighs and a sleek, sexy waistline. No wonder why it has caught the attention of nearly every fitness magazine and health experts like Dr. Oz. Few diets out there have gained the notoriety the HCG Diets have.
But is the HCG diet too good to be true or is it the key to finally jump starting your weight loss rut? While this diet’s quick results make it tempting for anyone looking to lose weight and lose weight fast, is it just another fad diet?
Read on to find out what the HCG Diet is, how it works, and if the diet is a good option to help you achieve your weight loss goals.
Here’s what you will discover in this article:
- What is the HCG Diet? How Does it Work?
- The HCG Diet Meal Plan and Phases
- HCG Approved Foods and Substitution Information
- Pros and Cons of the HCG Diet
- The HCG Diet Results
- What does an actual user of the HCG Diet say?
- Dangers of the HCG Diet
- The Bottom Line: The Verdict on the HCG Diet
The HCG Diet is an extreme approach to weight loss created by a British doctor in 1954. Dr. Simeons, the diet’s creator, studied the effect of HCG injections on weight loss. This diet not only involves cutting calories to a dangerously low level or as Simeons dubbed it a very low calorie diet (vlcd) but also involves taking a hormone manufactured by the body during pregnancy. Dieters on this plan either inject themselves daily with a shot of human chorionic gonadotropin (HCG) or dissolve a tablet of the hormone (known as an HCG drop) under the tongue. Aside from ingesting the pregnancy hormone, dieters will also consume ONLY 500-800 calories per day for 8 weeks.
During the 8 weeks spent on the HCG diet, dieters adhere to a strict set of rules and guidelines. These guidelines include some specific rules including not mixing vegetables at meals, only eating a very limited selection of foods, and not exercising.
After the 8 weeks spent on the diet plan, dieters must take 6 weeks off. It is thought that bodies become immune to the diet and the HCG supplements after the 8 week time frame and need the time off to allow the HCG to clear from the system.
How Does It Work: The Science Behind the HCG Diet
With the calorie count being so low on the diet, anyone who tries the diet and sticks to it will lose weight. At it’s most simple level, weight loss is eating fewer calories than your body burns. According to Medical News Today, a calorie is a unit of energy that can generate heat. Humans need calories to stay alive and take in calories by eating food. The key is taking in the right amount of calories for you. One pound is roughly equal to 3500 calories. (1)
On the HCG Diet, dieters are allowed to eat only 500 to 800 calories per day. However, the average adult burns far more than 800 calories per day just by existing. The number of calories burned by the body to simply stay alive and perform its basic functions without taking into account activity is called the body’s basal metabolic rate. You can calculate your basal metabolic rate here.
Basal metabolic rates vary by size, gender, and age. A tall, heavier man will need significantly more calories to keep his body running than a petite, slender woman of the same age. Even a petite 30 year old woman of 5’4 and 125 pounds would need at least 1358 calories per day to keep her body running, which is far more than the 500 calories consumed on the HCG diet. Assuming that this woman is not lying in bed all day, she will burn additional calories as she moves around, putting her at around 1000 calories short for what her body needs per day. A heavier, taller man will burn far more than that and have an even larger deficit on the HCG diet. This calorie deficit will result in weight loss.
So you can see that even without adding in the element of HCG to this extreme diet, followers will lose weight and lose weight rapidly on the diet.
So why the need for HCG then?
The theory among the HCG diet supporters is that HCG reduces feelings of hunger. This makes some sense if you remember that HCG is the protein based hormone generated when a woman is pregnant.
During pregnancy, nearly 75 percent of all women experience morning sickness, a common term designated for the nausea and vomiting of pregnancy. While scientists aren’t exactly sure what role HCG plays in it, they think a connection between the rapidly rising HCG levels in the first trimester of pregnancy and morning sickness exists. The fact that women with a higher level of HCG, like those carrying multiples, are more like to suffer from this affliction supports this idea. (2)
Aside from reducing appetite, HCG injections may keep you from losing muscle while you diet. How? HCG causes the body to increase the level of testosterone, a hormone responsible for enhancing athletic performance and muscle mass. Studies have shown that twice weekly HCG injections can stimulate this effect and cause dieters to build lean muscle mass. (3)
Why is this important for weight loss? Well, muscle burns more calories than fat. A pound of muscle burns an extra 4.7 calories per hour while the same amount of fat according to Shapefit, only burns 2 calories all day long. That adds up to over 110 extra calories burned per day if you add one pound of muscle. Thus losing muscle mass would significantly slow your daily calorie burn, making it harder for you to lose and maintain weight loss. (4)
Though this is the theory behind adding HCG supplements and injections into the HCG drop diet plan, it is important to be aware that only injecting HCG directly into your bloodstream will cause HCG to rise without a pregnancy or other medical condition. These injections are only available under the care of a doctor.
Many of the supplements marketed for the HCG diet craze are homeopathic and don’t actually contain any real HCG as the FDA has not approved the use of any HCG treatments outside of injections for fertility and other medical issues. In fact, the FDA has sent cease and desist letters to several companies claiming to manufacture over the counter products containing HCG. (5)
It’s not just the FDA that sees issues with this diet. Science has some serious issues with supporting HCG injections as a viable weight loss supplement. Let’s look at these problems science has found below:
- Multiple studies show that HCG does absolutely nothing to help anyone lose weight. The studies compared the effects of HCG injections with placebo injections when given to individuals on a calorie-restricted diet. There was absolutely NO difference in weight loss in the group receiving placebo injections versus the group receiving HCG injections. (6)
- Other studies exist that disprove that HCG alone stimulates muscle production. The study compared the body composition of on obese women who were placed on a 500 calorie diet and given daily HCG injections compared to other obese women with the same calorie intake who received only placebo injections. At the end of the study, there was no noticeable difference in body composition between the groups suggesting that HCG DOES NOT BUILD MUSCLE. If this is true, then HCG would not alter your body composition on its own. (7)
Followers of the HCG Drop Diet are only allowed a very small number of calories per day: 500-800 calories a day. The HCG Diet has a very restrictive set of guidelines for what you can and can’t eat while on the diet. The diet is broken down into 4 phases.
The number of days spent on the diet depends on the individual’s weight loss goals. People with more than 30 lbs to lose may choose to do the diet for up to 40 days. Those with less weight to lose may want to spend less time on the diet because most people lose 1- 1.5 pounds a day. If you are dead set on trying this crash diet, you want to make sure that you choose a realistic time frame for your diet. If you are only trying to lose a small amount of weight absolutely should not follow the diet for the full 40 days.
Phase 1: The Loading Days
The first phase in the HCG Drop Diet is known as the Loading Days. During this 2 day long binge, you are basically loading your body full of all the food that you will not be eating over the remainder of the day. On the first day of the diet, when dieters start taking HCG, you are allowed to eat whatever you want and as much of it as you please. HCG Diet supports tell HCG diet first timers to eat all of the things that would be missed during a diet like cake, fries, ice cream, pasta, bread and candy.
Phase 2: Very Low Calorie Diet Days
The food party is over after Day 2. On day 3, dieters start the second phase of the HCG diet. Those following the HCG Diet should still be stuffed from all the binge eating on the first 2 days of the diet.
On this phase, dieters take the HCG at the time you selected and eat only the approved foods for a predetermined amount of time chosen based on the weight loss goal.
The first meal of the day is practically nonexistent. Breakfast is only morning coffee or tea. No sugar is allowed however some people choose to use alternative no calorie sweeteners like Stevia or Splenda. With these sweeteners, only use 1 packet or teaspoon at a time. One and only one tablespoon of milk may be added to your coffee for the day.
For lunch you actually get to eat, but not much. Dieters can eat some of the 100 grams of protein by weight, only one vegetable, one fruit, and a single breadstick or piece of melba toast.
Everything eaten must come from the list of approved foods, which significantly limits a dieter’s options. Protein chosen should be as lean as possible. Choices include:
- Lean beef
If choosing lean beef, pick a beef at least 93 percent lean. If a leaner cut is available, choose that instead. Limiting fat is key. The same principle goes for fish. Followers of the HCG Drop Diet may want to avoid fatty fish like salmon, catfish, and tuna in favor of fish like flounder or tilapia.
For the 1 vegetable at lunch, you must only eat an approved vegetable. Examples of vegetables allowed on the diet include:
Fruits again must come from the approved food list, which limits the fruit selection greatly. Approved choices include:
- 6 strawberries
- Half a grapefruit
- 1 cup of blackberries
- 1 cup of blueberries
Dieters may also have one bread stick or piece of melba toast with every lunch. Many varieties of bread sticks and melba toast are available in most grocery stores, but only plain ones are allowed.
Dinner is a repeat of lunch with 100 grams of protein, 1 veggie, 1 serving of fruit and the small serving of starch.
Weigh Yourself to Check Your Progress
Measure the progress you’re making throughout this phase with a daily weigh-in. Ideally, you should only weigh yourself once a day at about the same time. You may choose to way yourself in the morning before having anything to eat or drink, or you might prefer an evening weigh-in just before bed. Whatever you choose, try to stick to it. If you alter your weighing time, you may get a skewed view of your progress. Why? Your body weight varies throughout the day and may increase even due to fluid intake. That means that if you weigh yourself in the morning one day and after lunch the next day, it may appear that you aren’t losing weight. However, what you’re going for is the longer-term results. By weighing yourself at the same time every day, you can ensure that you’re getting an accurate picture of your progress.
Phase 3: The Maintenance Phase
Phase 3 of the HCG Diet is the 3 week long maintenance phase of the diet that begins 3 days after the last HCG supplement or shot. The additional 3 days of Phase 2 supposedly give the body enough time to clear the HCG from its system. At the end of the 3 days when the HCG is gone, dieters move to this maintenance phase. Now dieters can introduce larger portions of food back into the body and increase daily food intake to 1500 calories or less.
Dr. Simeons outlines the guidelines for this phase as follows:
The point behind Phase 3 is body stabilization. When the HCG clears the system, supposedly the hormones rebalance and stabilize. As more food is introduced, it is crucial for lasting weight loss to stay on track as the body adjusts to the new weight.
Note that you’ll continue to weigh yourself on a daily basis. On your last HCG does day, you’ll need to make special note of your weight. This is your “Last Dose Weight” or LDW. The goal throughout phase three is to essentially maintain this weight, or allow no more than 2 pounds of fluctuation. In our above guidelines, you’ll see that there are rules in place for what happens if you gain more than 2 pounds on top of your LDW.
During Phase 3 of the HCG Diet, followers can now eat previously forbidden foods like dairy products and other healthy fats. However protein is still the most crucial part of this phase’s meal plan. When moving into Phase 3, people can be excited by the new food choices open to them, leading to not eating enough foods full of protein like steak and chicken. The average person needs about 80 nutritional value grams of protein per day.
If you’re following this diet, remember to place equal emphasis on following the guidelines for Phase 3. Although Phase 2 is the most intense, failure to follow Phase 3 rules can lead you to regain weight.
Phase 3: Steak Day
Protein is such an important part of Phase 3 that if a dieter gains more than 2 pounds between daily weigh ins, they are required to have a high protein Steak Day. The body does not store protein as fat so if the only thing consumed all day is a large amount of protein the body has no choice but to burn existing fat. This Steak Day is a protein packed day full of steak and little else. A typical steak day is outlined below.
Steak Day Breakfast
- 2 eggs
- Coffee or tea
Steak Day Lunch
Steak Day Dinner
Sometimes, dieters in Phase 2 During Steak Day, each serving of steak should be a lean cut of steak. Fatty cuts like New York strip are forbidden. Portions should be no larger than the size of your palm. It is important to drink at least 12 cups of water during a steak day. Sometimes dieters in Phase 2 use a variation on the Steak Day where the only thing they eat all day is a single palm sized serving of steak for dinner to break a plateau.
Phase 4: The Lifelong Journey
Phase 4 is essentially the way graduates of this diet should eat for life. This phase begins after giving the body 3 weeks on Phase 3 to adjust to and maintain its new weight. After completing the first 3 phases of the HCG diet, the attitude towards food is supposedly changed for good. Supporters of the diet claim cravings for bad food will be gone and being hungry all the time will be a thing of the past.
In Phase 4, dieters will can now eat a normal, healthy diet of reasonable portions. Any clean, healthy food including good for you carbohydrates like sweet potatoes and whole grains are now allowed in moderation along with the occasional indulgence. The diet promises if you make it to this phase you’ll notice that you’re more alert, more agile and have better skin, hair and nails. Better yet, it claims you will maintain your weight loss and if you don’t- no sweat- do a Steak Day or two and you’ll be back at your post Phase 2 weight in no time.
During Phase 2 and 3 of the HCG Diet, it is important to only eat foods approved for the current phase of the diet. In Phase 2, those foods include:
In Phase 3, the diet is slightly more lenient and now allows everything in Phase 2 and the following:
- Low Fat dairy
- Good fats like avocado
- Limited amounts of olive oil or butter
- Prepared salad dressing as long as they contain no added sugar
- Almost any vegetable that is not high in starch
Phase 3 still heavily restricts carbohydrate and starch intake.
Strict vegetarians will have a hard time sticking to the HCG diet. When you cut out meat and fish, a vegetarian needs to rely on beans, legumes, and other sources of protein including soy.
Who is the HCG Drop Diet best for?
If you are seeking ways to lose a large amount of weight, should consult a medical professional for guidance before selecting the appropriate moderate approach to weight loss that will most safely and effectively work for you and your lifestyle.
When deciding whether or not you want to give this extreme diet a go, you should carefully weigh the pros and cons. You are making a difficult and possibly very dangerous commitment and it’s important to know if it’s truly worth it to you.
- There is the potential for very quick, drastic weight loss.
- The plan is laid out for you.
- The food you are allowed to eat is healthy.
- It drastically limits your calorie consumption particularly during Phase 2 of the diet. Very low calorie diets can be dangerous.
- This diet can in no way provide enough nutrients for a healthy body.
- It won’t likely lead to a lasting weight loss.
- It can promote yoyo dieting.
- The very restrictive nature of this diet can encourage dangerous eating disorders, particularly anorexia. In fact, this diet’s extreme restrictive nature and emphasis on eating a very low calorie diet is very similar to what those suffering from anorexia do. (8)
- This diet can lead to long term negative health effects including anemia, anorexia, and other nutritional deficiencies linked to not eating enough calories and nutrients. Other possible side effects include weakness, heart palpitations, cardiac stress, increased risk of heart attacks, and a slower metabolism. (9)
- The diet doesn’t teach you good eating habits or portion control that will set you up for long term success.
- Science has not proven HCG has a real effect on weight loss.
- HCG injections are the only way to guarantee increasing HCG in the blood. These injections are expensive and not available without a prescription.
- HCG supplements may not actually contain any HCG.
- There are no health benefits to the diet and only risks.
The HCG Diet will deliver some impressive weight loss results if you stick with it as outlined. However, these results are not healthy.
Users report rapid weight loss following this diet plan. However, the weight loss is a result of the very low calorie diet and extreme restrictions.
In the video below, you can check out the experience this real woman had with the diet. She has done the diet 3 times, the first time losing 20 pounds in a month. The second time with no results, and the third time trying to lose the last 10 pounds. Watch this video below:
Any diet that has you extremely limit the calories you eat comes with serious dangers to your health and well being. These diets set you up for malnutrition and related conditions. According to the Mayo Clinic potential side effects of the HCG Drop Diet include in addition to malnutrition:
- irregular heartbeat
- dangerous electrolyte imbalances
- life threatening blood clots
- fluid build up
- unwanted breast swelling in men
The HCG Diet is an unhealthy crash diet with too many negative side effects. While you may loss a lot of weight very quickly on the HCG Drop Diet, there are other, much healthier ways to lose weight. Instead of an unhealthy trend like this diet try some of the tried and true weight loss methods including:
- Eating less processed food
- Increasing the amount of leafy green vegetables
- Eliminating sugar
- Drinking more water
- Getting at least 30 minutes of cardio exercise most days a week
- Adding 2 to 3 days of weight training to your exercise routine
- Getting more sleep
- Reducing stress
While these tried and true methods are not a magic bullet to produce rapid weight loss, they will produce a gradual, sustainable weight loss. When you lose weight like this, it becomes a lifestyle change that positively impacts your health and well being. The HCG Diet does not of those things and only sets you up for failure with an increased risk of eating disorders and health problems.
The extreme measures of this diet only reward you with a temporary weight loss and a host of scary side effects. Avoid it at all costs.