Doctors and healthcare professionals agree that the best way for us to lose weight is to gradually introduce positive changes to the food we eat, our portion sizes and the amount we exercise. But whether its impatience, laziness or just human nature, many of us look to fad diets for a quick weight-loss fix. One diet which has been around for many years, but recently gained major popularity is the HCG Diet.[Tweet “Whether its impatience, laziness or just human nature, many of us look to fad diets for a quick weight-loss fix.”]
Like most popular diets, there are many variations of the plan available online, almost all of which are based solely around the pairing of a HCG-based injections with a 500 calorie diet over a period of around 3 weeks. Some plans offer “homeopathic” supplements in various forms which in some cases are not actually HCG hormone and are not recommended for a number of medical reasons. Although perhaps the best reason to avoid the pills or drops is that, because HCG is a protein, it gets broken down as a food when taken orally, which actually renders the hormone inactive and therefore useless when taken this way.
So, what is HCG?
HCG stands for Human Chorionic Gonadotropin, a hormone produced by the placenta* during pregnancy which has two primary functions. The first is to ensure that the foetus develops sexual organs, this is true for both genders so it’s fair to say that without HCG humanity literally would not exist(!!!) as it is key to our early development of sexual organs and therefore our ability to reproduce later in life. The second function of HCG in the placenta is to help make sure that both mother and baby receive enough nutrients during the pregnancy.
(HCG is also produced by certain types of cancerous tumour, an odd coincidence which potentially saved the life of one fortunate Reddit user who, after using a pregnancy test as a joke, was surprised to see it return the result, “positive”. Bemused by this, he posted an image of the test on the forum and was informed by several users about HCG and its presence in both female placentas and cancerous tumours. Surely enough, the user consulted a doctor who, upon inspection, found a small tumour in his right testicle. Thankfully the tumour was caught early enough in its development to be operated on and removed instantly)
*It’s important to stress that whilst HCG is a naturally-occurring hormone, the HCG based products available are made with a synthetic version of the hormone, developed in a lab and, of course, not extracted from the placenta of a pregnant woman.
Does it work?
In a word? No.
As far back as the 50’s, scientists have tested HCG’s effects on obesity patients and the results have been conclusive; HCG has no measurable effect on weight loss… whatsoever. One study in the 1970’s did show that patients taking the HGC hormone in conjunction with a strict 500 calorie per day diet plan, lost weight, however as part of the same study several patients were given a placebo and asked to adhere to the same strict diet plan. Unsurprisingly, these patients achieved very much the same level of weight loss, which shows that any weight lost as a result of the HCG diet is purely down to the low calorie diet, and not the hormone itself.[Tweet “The HCG Diet has no measurable effect on weight loss… whatsoever.”]
Is that a problem?
But weight lost is weight lost right? Well not quite. Whilst low calorie diets of this type are occasionally used for obesity patients, it is only in extreme cases and even then, the calorie intake is monitored closely by healthcare professionals throughout the process. This is because low calorie diets of this type can have many negative effects on health, including but not limited to gallstone formation, irregular heartbeat and an electrolyte imbalance. Eating only 500 calories a day for this amount of time basically amounts to starvation, which is far from a healthy way to lose weight.
What can I do?
Well, aside from the aforementioned diet, portion and exercise adjustments, there are other plans which offer a healther and safer way of losing weight fast. One such diet is the 5/2 diet which was originally developed by doctors to encourage healthy, but rapid weight loss. The basic premise is to eat as you normally would (within reason, binging on a gallon of Ben & Jerry’s each night is not recommended) for 5 days of the week and then reduce your calorie intake drastically the other two days.
Marc Dressen, MSc
Personal Trainer in London
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