If you have heard of the HCG diet, you’ve likely only heard of its dangers and downsides – but with fairly good reason. Credible authorities like Mayo Clinic have slammed the HCG diet for promoting unhealthy medical, diet and weight loss habits. The FDA has warned the public to avoid HCG like the plague.
But all this negative “press” is geared toward a diet originally developed by a doctor more than 50 years ago. What you might not know is that even HCG diet officials say “No!” to a diet that expects people to purchase illegal drugs and engage in disordered eating behavior. That’s because there’s a newer version of HCG – and while it still has its shortcomings, it’s still a much better option than the original.
But acronyms and outdated dieting procedures are confusing – so let’s break it al down. What is HCG? Is this diet safe? What will you learn on this diet? Let’s start with the basics – the hormone this diet is based around.
What is HCG?
Human chorionic gonadotropin (HCG) is a hormone that the female body produces during pregnancy. It is used primarily to treat issues related to fertility, as a drug prescribed by a licensed health professional when the body does not produce it naturally.
This hormone is the basis of the HCG diet. Along with calorie restriction, those who follow this diet introduce small amounts of synthetic (laboratory produced) HCG into their bodies either through injection, drops or pills.
Don’t judge HCG before you get to know it
The HCG diet has been updated over time from its original founding in the 1960s to include exercise as an encouraged component. The premise of this diet is that you can lose large amounts of weight quickly by eating a small amount of daily calories and introducing a pregnancy hormone into your system claimed to stimulate the hypothalamus.
While the FDA disapproves of extreme calorie restriction and homeopathic, over-the-counter human chorionic hormone (which is illegal), the newest version of the diet does allow followers to consume more calories, and the HCG is used as a part of weight loss hormone therapy, which makes it safer and, technically, legal.
HCG Diet Plan Basics and Rules
First, let’s be clear that there are two versions of the HCG diet – one which is NOT approved by the FDA and is deemed unsafe, and one that is more acceptable and realistic. To clear up any misconceptions about this diet, let’s go over the Original HCG diet – the one most heavily criticized, even though it is no longer encouraged.
Out with the old …
The original HCG diet was created on the basis of something called a very low calorie diet (VLCD). These restrictive diets allow people to consume a MAXIMUM of between 500 and 1200 calories per day (the average calorie consumption on a normal diet is about 2,000) – obviously, not at all a healthy amount of calories to sustain life. It also used actual HCG hormone, which you can now only obtain legally with a doctor’s prescription.
When evaluating the original diet, doctors couldn’t even figure out why HCG caused weight loss, marking it up to the placebo effect – when someone benefits from taking a drug even though it’s not actually causing the benefit physically; it’s all psychological. A diet that’s not credible is virtually useless, so they updated it, modernizing it and making it safer for people, avoiding side effects of larger dosages of HCG and radical calorie restriction.
As mentioned above, the New HCG Diet plan uses small amounts of synthetic HCG hormone as part of weight loss. Also included in the New HCG diet plan – which we will focus on for the remainder of the article – is an exercise component. Protocols for hormone intake, diet and exercise are based on your age and gender. The maximum amount of daily calories for meal plans is now bumped up to 1500. In general, experts recommend that you subtract 500 calories from your needs in order to lose weight. So if you typically need about 2,000 calories daily, 1500 is completely safe and acceptable for weight loss.
Why hormones (probably) help people lose weight
But wait. IS there any science behind taking HCG hormones to lose weight?
Sort of. According to the official HCG website, people have self-reported that introducing the hormone into their bloodstream reduces feelings of hunger, possibly because it suppresses appetite.
It also turns out that hormone imbalances are a major cause for overweight and weight gain. Some people can exercise, eat all the right foods and mind their calories, and still struggle to keep the weight off. Maybe, maybe, introducing a hormone into your body that stimulates the production of more hormones can work to balance all this out. It’s not guaranteed to work the same for everyone – no aspect of any diet is – but it’s still a valid possibility.
Working with a doctor
To help people utilize the concepts of the HCG diet effectively and appropriately, the official website and guide books encourage people to meet with their local physician or communicate with a doctor online to help them create an HCG diet plan personalized for them. In the case of this diet, customizable plans are essential to make sure hormone dosages, calorie requirements and exercise recommendations are all catered to each individual following the diet.
The four HCG diet phases
HCG dieters progress through four different “phases” in order to produce weight loss results. Below is a brief summary of each phase.
- The “pre” phase – In which you read up on HCG diet info, join support forums, choose an HCG hormone provider, gather sample menus and recipes, establish an exercise routine and figure out what you are going to do, in the instance that the diet becomes challenging for you.
- Phase 1 – The first two days of the HCG diet, which involve eating as many high calorie, fatty foods as possible as an attempt to “store up energy” before you begin the more restrictive diet.
- Phase 2 – This is the weight loss phase, in which rapid weight loss is said to occur as a result of the calorie restrictions, HCG hormone and exercise. This is the strictest phase, which includes the NEW HCG diet foods list items.
- Phase 3 – The maintenance phase, in which you spend three weeks slowly increasing your calorie intake and reintroducing once forbidden foods back into your diet.
Dieters progress through each phase in order to adequately prepare for, and recover from, the phase of the diet that involves a more restrictive than normal eating protocol. The official HCG website offers support forums and official FAQs to help people through Phase 2 of the diet, which is said to be the most difficult.
Now that you know a little more about the foundation of this diet – both its exercise and hormone components – let’s focus on the food. Believe it or not, you can still eat a lot of food every day worth only 1,500 calories in total.
Menu and Meal Planning
The HCG diet allows a variety of vegetables, fruits, proteins and drinks to fill daily calorie requirements while satisfying hunger during the third phase (Phase 2) of the diet. Feelings of hunger are actually discouraged on the HCG diet – it is possible to eat less without feeling hungry. Therefore, a diet rich in quality carbs and protein is essential.
Here is one day’s sample menu for someone on the HCG diet, following a plan that includes between 1,200 and 1,500 daily calories. All suggested foods included in the following sample menu, snack suggestions and grocery shopping suggestions list come directly from the official NEW HCG Diet Food List.
- 2 pieces of Melba toast (HCG diet-approved)
- 1 cup of assorted fruits, e.g., fruit salad with berries and banana
- Spinach salad incl. Spinach, tomato, onion and diced chicken breast
- 2 chicken breasts (seasoned)
- With zucchini noodles
- 1 cup asparagus
- Apple slices
- Protein shake
- Fruit or vegetable smoothie
Grocery Shopping List
Sometimes, diets that provide detailed ‘approved’ food lists can be helpful, especially when writing out your weekly grocery list. This can help you narrow down the foods you are going to buy, the snacks you are going to have and the meals you are going to prepare.
These are only just a portion of the HCG diet approved foods, but we’ve broken them down into categories for you to help you select a variety of healthy options the next time you take a trip to the farmers market or grocery store.
Protein foods, including:
- Lean beef or steak
- Any kind of white fish (such as tilapia)
Plus herbal tea and bottled water as approved drinks during Phase 2 of the diet.
Does the HCG Diet Work?
As protocol suggests, do your research before starting this diet. Make an appointment with your doctor. Get support, and decide if this weight loss option is the right one for you.