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The hCG Diet Debate

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Years ago it was Atkins. Then it was South Beach. Today, some think it might be the hCG Diet—but there are just as many people opposing it as there are supporting it.

Lose weight. Fast. These are words to intrigue any man or woman, because, let’s face it, we humans don’t really believe that slow and steady wins the race. It’s hard to stay motivated when we lose just one or two pounds a week on a traditional regimen. Instinct pushes each of us to say, “I want results now.”

This is why diets move in and out of popularity almost as often as Lady Gaga changes outfits. One of the most recent fad diets is the hCG Diet, a regimen that combines hormones (oral drops or prescription-grade injections) with extreme dietary discipline. Millions have lost weight on the diet, and millions have expressed skepticism about its effectiveness (and its safety). So what do both sides of the coin really look like?

The Diet
The hCG Diet, as it is commonly called, has actually been around since the 1950s. Dr. A. T. W. Simeons, a British endocrinologist, claimed that low doses of hCG (human chorionic gonadotropin, a pregnancy hormone) would help individuals on a very low-calorie diet (VLCD, 500 calories, in this case) to burn fat rather than lean tissue. See, on a low-calorie diet, the body tends to lose muscle and bone before it loses fat—Simeons claimed hCG could “mobilize” fat stores so that a person would not lose lean muscle and would burn thousands of calories a day. In addition, those who followed the diet would not feel hungry and would feel a sense of euphoria.

The diet fell out of favor in the U.S. in the 1970s after researchers and physicians asserted that hCG contributed nothing to weight loss. It has remained common in parts of Europe, and has recently experienced a resurgence in the U.S.

The Controversy
People lose weight on the hCG diet. That’s not disputed. Where it gets sticky is in how people feel about its methods—particularly whether it works long-term, whether it’s safe, and whether hCG does what it purports to do.

Keeping the Weight Off
One of the biggest arguments against the diet is the tendency for people who use it to gain the weight back. But, as with most diets, this appears to have more to do with maintenance issues than it has to do with the diet.

Susan from Idaho, who lost 60 pounds after three rounds of the diet, used the diet understanding that it would help get to her goal weight—but it was her responsibility to keep it off by changing her habits.

“If people ask, ‘Does hCG work?’ then I say, ‘Well, it depends on what you mean by that,’” she says. “Will it help you lose weight? Yes. Is it a cure for being overweight? No—because if you want to go back to eating hamburgers and candy bars, you will get fat. [Obesity] is a mental game.”

Kristie Rosser, a nurse practitioner and women’s health clinician in Utah, adheres to this philosophy when recommending the diet. She uses the diet as one tool in a larger wellness plan. “We approach it as a way for people to lose weight, prevent disease, reverse disease processes, get energy back, get positive self esteem back. As they’re on the diet, we introduce different concepts to them,” she says, explaining that she teaches patients how to change their pantries and patterns. “[We] approach hCG as a way that this patient is going to lose this weight for the last time.”

Unfortunately, the quick results of the diet may attract people not devoted to long-term health—people who want to lose the weight for a wedding or event—and this may be why so many gain it back.

Susan has seen this approach with women she knows. “Some people regain a bunch of the weight and just think, ‘Well, I can just go on hCG again.’” She also notes that some people abuse it—women who don’t have weight to lose and who stay on it for months at a time and who are now “rail thin, who are sick, who have lost all their muscle.”

The diet is tricky in any case, since you’re combining hormones with a VLCD—and used without care, it can easily mess up normal body processes.

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