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Is The HCG Diet Good Or Bad?

I’ve gotten a bunch of emails recently asking me about my opinion of the HCG diet so I figured it would be a good idea to do a blog post about it.

I try and answer all the questions I get personally but there are some topics that require more depth than a simple “yes or no” answer. This would certainly be one of them.

I need to preface this discussion with some opening comments. I understand that the more controversial a topic is, the more polarizing it will be with people. This is just human nature as people love to take sides on issues based on a host of reasons that extend far beyond the scope of this discussion.

Bottom line is I know going in that some people will already be strongly in favor of this diet and some people will be strongly opposed to it BEFORE ever reading this post. Nothing I will say is likely to sway their opinions, and that’s ok.

I simply want to reach the person who wants to learn more about this subject, objectively and with an open mind. To do that you have to be able to leave bias, pride, perceived knowledge, and all that other crap at the door.

It’s good advice to question everything!

I say this in all humbleness, as I don’t believe I should have the final word on this subject or for that matter anybody else. You should question everything and draw your own conclusion on what’s best for you. Look to do your own research on any subject matter before moving forward and then simply go with your gut.

It certainly helps when you have trusted resources to go to for information, people that you know at least take the time to research the facts. Hopefully, that’s why you read this blog. But even then, question everything and move slow…that’s my best advice.

Let me know your thoughts, opinions, and experiences…

Having said that, if there’s some position you don’t agree with in this post, I encourage you to make your case and state your reasons why in the comments section.

I welcome all viewpoints, personal experience, and opinions on this blog, even when they may be in opposition to my own. That’s what this is all about, but for heaven’s sake try not to take things personal as we’re discussing “issues” here and not people.

Alright, let’s jump right into this…

What is the HCG diet?

Just a little basic background info in case you weren’t familiar with this diet. The HCG diet in a nutshell is a severe low calorie diet (500 calories) where the individual takes HCG (human chorionic gonadotropin) through daily site injections or sublingual drops to assist with fat loss, appetite control, and muscle preservation.

I’m not even going to get into the specifics of the diet or the dosages you use, the when, how, and all that stuff since it’s really irrelevant to our discussion. Do a “Google” search if you want to find all the details, or of course talk to your physician which is always a pretty good idea.

Even if your doctor doesn’t agree you should be on this diet, if nothing else you can get their opinion and counsel regarding any risk factors. From there what you do is your business.

In case you’re wondering what in the world is HCG?

HCG stands for “human chorionic gonadotropin” which is a a hormone produced by pregnant women and extracted from their urine (eewh….I know). When this hormone is produced naturally in women during pregnancy, its role is to signal the hypothalamus (the area of the brain that affects metabolism) to mobilize fat stores.

In pregnancy, this helps the body bring nutrients into the placenta, fueling the fetus with the energy it needs to grow.

Is the use of HCG approved by the FDA?

The use of HCG as a “drug” has been approved by the FDA for the treatment of certain problems of the male reproductive system and in stimulating ovulation in women who have difficulty becoming pregnant. From this point you enter into a grey area on what the drug will do.

For the purpose of this discussion, I won’t go any farther into other “uses” for this drug outside of weight loss, although you’ve probably heard about it in the news related to athletes and steroids, etc. If you’re really interested “Google” it and knock yourself out.

Just know that from the FDA’s standpoint, the drug has NOT been approved for use in weight loss. In fact, since going way back to 1975 the FDA has required all marketing and advertising of HCG to state the following:

“HCG has not been demonstrated to be effective adjunctive therapy in the treatment of obesity. There is no substantial evidence that it increases weight loss beyond that resulting from caloric restriction, that it causes a more attractive or ‘normal’ distribution of fat, or that it decreases the hunger and discomfort associated with calorie-restricted diets.”

Once again, just because the FDA hasn’t approved it for other purposes doesn’t mean it might not work. That’s a whole other discussion, but take it for what it is….the use of HCG for weight loss does not have FDA approval as of this date.

What do scientific studies reveal about the HCG diet?

This is where I did quite a bit of research but unfortunately I don’t have much to share with you. I came up pretty much empty as I was unable to find any credible research studies that demonstrated HCG’s ability to either increase fat loss or preserve lean muscle during severe low calorie diets.

From a scientific standpoint, there’s not much to support the diet’s claim with factual evidence. If somebody has research that does, please share it as it would certainly be helpful to everyone.

Does this mean the diet doesn’t work? Absolutely not, but what it does means is we simply don’t have much scientific evidence to support the claims that HCG is doing something to increase fat loss and preserve muscle compared to what would happen without it on a 500 calorie diet.

My point is this….if the drug is really doing something to mobilize certain fat stores (while leaving other fat stores alone –which is the claim) while also preserving muscle tissue, I’ve yet to see this factual evidence.

Knowing what I do about how the body maintains muscle tissue, let’s just say I’m just a little bit suspicious on that issue. The HCG Diet may very well create a significant amount of weight loss in some individuals, but it’s also almost certain to come with a significant amount of lean muscle loss as well.

To what degree the individual can sacrifice lean muscle really becomes one of the major issues with this diet. But like most issues involving weight loss, it simply depends on the individual. Once again we’re at a grey area here, but I’ll give you my full thoughts in a minute.

The issue of muscle preservation…

I want to make sure I really address the issue of lean muscle loss though because it’s pretty important. One of the main claims the proponents of this diet make is how the use of HCG helps to preserve lean muscle tissue loss. This would truly be a “breakthrough” as rapid fat loss is always accompanied with some degree of muscle loss.

The rationale given behind the claim is that since HCG stimulates the release of stored body fat for energy, your body is really not fueling itself solely from the 500 calories you consumed in your diet. And since you have the energy from body fat stores being burned, your body won’t see the need to break down lean muscle.

Sounds good on the surface, but I’ve got real problem with this theory. Your body can’t use fat (any fat, dietary or stored adipose) to maintain muscle tissue. Without sufficient protein intake (on any diet) your body will begin to break down lean muscle. There’s really not a way around this from a fat loss standpoint as your muscles simply need protein.

Without getting into too much detail on this, let’s look at the “muscle preservation” aspect of this diet from a simplistic viewpoint. If the claim is true that you’ll lose JUST fat and not muscle, then we should expect to see that in measurements of body fat composition.

Here’s a quick example so you can see what I’m talking about.

Pre-Diet Body Weight: 200 lbs
Pre-Diet Body Fat Composition: 30%

Post-Diet Body Weight: 170 lbs
Post-Diet Body Fat Composition: 25%

In this example the person lost 30 lbs on the diet and 5% body fat. This is on the high side of body fat % loss you would expect to see with 30 lbs of weight loss by the way. Never-the-less, this looks pretty good, right? But did all the weight loss come from fat?

Let’s do some simple math to find out. When the person started out he/she had 60 lbs of body fat (200 lbs x .30). When they finished the diet they had approximately 43 lbs of body fat (170 lbs x .25). This results in a net loss of 17 lbs of body fat.

Now, I’m not scoffing at this number, most of us would be happy to lose 17 lbs of body fat. The point is what constituted the other 13 lbs of weight loss? The only thing it could be from is water and lean muscle tissue. What else is left?

If the HCG diet or any other diet for that matter was able to promote fat loss without lean muscle loss, we would expect to see numbers from the pre and post diet body fat composition tests reflect that, right?

No matter how promising the “muscle preservation” theory looks on paper, I would simply want to see the evidence supported in some way. Let’s just say I haven’t seen it yet.

Once again, I’m NOT saying the diet doesn’t work to lose “weight” and that you absolutely shouldn’t use it. I just want to walk you down the road of “questioning everything” and considering all the facts we know about this subject.

The role of HCG in controlling hunger

While I have no real factual evidence to support the idea of HCG “improving” fat loss or preserving muscle while on a severe low calorie diet, I do believe there’s certainly something going on with how the drug affects hunger levels.

In fact, I believe this to be the REAL key behind the success many people have with this diet. There’s no question that when you research this diet, the one thing that stands out is how people overwhelmingly talk about “not being hungry.”

Of course, if your were ready to eat your arm off, like you normally would from only eating 500 calories a day, you wouldn’t be able to stay on any diet very long, right?

But if you took a drug that somehow masked or helped to alter the natural hormonal and chemical signals that trigger hunger, you could stay on a diet that provided only 500 calories much longer.

Let’s be real, it doesn’t matter who you are, if you can get by with eating only 500 calories a day, you’ll lose a significant amount of body mass. Under normal circumstances most people simply couldn’t take such a severe restriction in calories due to the incredibly powerful hormonal triggers that signal hunger in order to prevent starvation.

That’s why the majority of diets fail. Many people think it’s a will-power issue, when in reality you simply can’t beat the biology of your body. The chemical signals for hunger are far too strong – that is unless you mask them somehow (hence enter HCG).

Remember, HCG works by signaling the hypothalamus gland (which has a role in regulating metabolism and the control of hunger). I can’t tell you exactly what the HCG is doing to your hypothalamus, but it’s easy to see how it could certainly be controlling hunger in some way.

Is the use of HCG safe?

Safety is obviously an important factor to consider when deciding whether or not to use this or any other diet strategy. From what I’ve found in the research there’s no real long-term negative effects shown in the medical journals with using HCG.

However, having said that, there’s also not a lot of research on this subject to begin with. I think it would be more appropriate to say that even the experts don’t really have a definitive answer at this point. But never-the-less, it appears that the short-term use doesn’t pose much of a known health risk for what it’s worth.

Where I stand on the HCG diet

Having read this far, you might assume that I’d be dead-set against the whole idea of a 500 calorie-a-day diet. And for the most part, the whole idea behind this diet goes against the principals of supportive nutrition, resistance training, and cardiovascular exercise for fat loss that I promote.

I can tell you with absolutely certainty these principals MUST be introduced at some point for the long-term maintenance of weight loss, and I’ll debate that issue to the grave.

You need to not only preserve but build lean muscle with supportive nutrition and resistance training in order to maintain a leaner body weight. Muscle is everything, it’s the key to your metabolic rate and the catalyst for fat loss.

But there’s something to be said with the benefits of seeing a significant amount of weight loss for some individuals in the beginning of a program. People are simply more likely to stick with a weight loss program when they see strong positive results in the beginning. This is a whole issue in and of itself but I can’t overlook this point with a blind eye.

So does the HCG diet really work?

Well to be honest I’ve not seen enough evidence to support the actual “claims” but I won’t question its ability to produce a significant amount of weight loss in some individuals.

There are a whole lot of people who can attest to that fact. I’d be ignorant to try and argue with their results. The bigger question is the back-end (chances of rebounding) and long-term results.

The real question then becomes is this the right strategy for you?

Here’s where I’ll give you my two cents for what it’s worth. In terms of fat loss and muscle loss, here’s something to consider. When someone has a significant amount of weight to lose they won’t lose “as much” muscle on a low calorie diet compared to someone who has say 10-15 lbs to lose.

The leaner you are the more rapidly you’ll lose muscle tissue in a state of caloric deprivation.

Therefore if you have a lot of weight to lose, this diet will be less likely to produce long term negative effects (physiologically) from muscle loss compared to someone who is “moderately” overweight.

In short, the obese or significantly overweight individual has more leeway on losing some muscle in return for the trade-off of significant fat loss.

If you have 10-20 lbs to lose I’m going to tell you to steer clear of this diet, as it’s just not worth the muscle loss. If you have a lot of weight to lose and you’re dealing with health issues related to obesity, I can’t tell you that I’d completely pull this option off the table.

It’s something you’re really going to want to talk to your doctor about and research the subject for the pros and cons beyond the scope of this article to make a decision.

Here’s what I will say about all this though…If you do decide to use this diet strategy, it will be extremely important to make sure you seek the counsel and support of a health or fitness professional to help you with establishing healthy eating and exercise habits on the back end.

If there’s one thing this diet sorely lacks its exercise and supportive nutrition. At some point you need to learn how to incorporate both into your life for long-term results. In the end, this is what really works to keep excess weight off and helps you to be strong and healthy.

My advice is to seek the help of a qualified personal trainer or weight loss coach who can support you with making these lifestyle changes and take the (supportive nutrition, resistance training, cardio) approach first. We’ve all seen individuals lose a significant amount of weight using these principals without the use of drugs and questionable diets (perfect example- Biggest Loser contestants).

I can assure you if you look at this diet as a “magic bullet” you’re bound to be disappointed. You MUST have a concern for muscle, which includes supportive nutrition and resistance training, if you expect to keep any amount of weight loss off long-term.

I guess I’m just concerned with the ways in which this diet produces weight loss. The principals include literally starving yourself and not including exercise. It uses practices that can’t be sustained long-term and unless the “back end” is carefully structured with education, support, and structure with nutrition and exercise, you’re likely to see a rebound.

There are a host of psychological and physiological concerns that come with any diet that has the ability to produce a “yo-yo” effect where the person cycles between rapid weight loss and rapid weight gain. After years of consulting people on weight loss I’ve found the real “freedom” comes when they make ”lifestyle changes” instead of relying on quick fixes.

At the same time, I try to also keep an open mind on the value in strategies that help people who have a lot of weight to lose to get a kick start. I try to put myself in the invidual’s shoes who has struggled with obesity and weight issues all their life. I know they’ll need help with exercise and supportive nutrition at some point, and I simply want to be there to help when they’re ready.

I hope you found this article to be informative if nothing else and it helped you to have a better understanding of the diet. In the end, that’s my real objective. I simply want to layout the information in way that allows you to question everything and ultimately make your own conclusions.

There’s a lot of opposing opinions you can find about this diet on-line, and trust me you’ll find mostly opinions because the real “experts” are few and far between. However, I do think it’s a good idea to review the experiences of people who’ve been on the diet to see what they’ve found.

I found one particular diet review from a woman who went through it and saw results but had mixed feelings. It’s worth checking out, not to sway your opinion, but rather to help you make your own decisions.

While I can’t show you much along the lines of factual evidence supporting the HCG diet claims, I can certainly back up claims regarding the weight loss principals I teach at my Shaping Concepts Personal Training Studios.

You can check out my success stories page and see the results of my Charleston personal training clients who have transformed their bodies using supportive nutrition, resistance training, cardio, and good old fashioned hard work. If you’d like to learn more about my programs and the principals I teach, check out the numerous artices and resources on my site.

You can also schedule a consultation with me personally to discuss your weight loss goals. I’d be happy to help assess your personal situation and give you my input on the best way to proceed.

Once again, please leave any comments you’d like to share on this post as I’d love to hear your thoughts, personal experiences, and opinion on this subject.

Have a blessed day…Shane

Shane Doll is a certified Charleston persoanl trainer, fat loss expert, speaker, and founder of Shaping Concepts Personal Training Studios. You can receive a FREE no-obligations trial of his Charleston personal training programs and experience the Shaping Concepts difference for yourself.

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Category: Fat Loss.