I was recently listening to a local Denver radio station where one of the talk show hosts was talking about the success she’s had on her most recent fad diet – the HCG diet. I instantaneously felt my skin burning, my blood pressure rising and acted before I could even think. I was so enraged that my community was hearing this ridiculous diet being promoted. As a registered dietitian, I fight these idiotic fad diets all day long and could help myself but to speak up. I found her on twitter and commented that I was upset that she was promoting this diet, and that it was the worst diet I’ve ever heard of. She replied, letting me know that the chiropractor that put her on the diet was going to be on the air and wanted me on as well. I declined, but offered an opinion via email. The chiropractor came on the air and honestly didn’t provide any evidence to convince me any differently, so I continued with my response. Well, here it is:
“I continue to stand by my initial statement that the HCG diet is one of the worst diets I’ve ever seen. Part of my role as a registered dietitian is to evaluate available research and the authenticity of data on various topics, including fad diets such as this.
The original HCG diet restricts total calories to 500 per day, equally divided into 2 meals. Each meal can contain roughly 3.5 ounces (100 gm) of lean meat, one serving each of a specified fruit and vegetable and one breadstick or Melba toast. It’s relatively easy to see that this diet is deficient not only in calories, but vital nutrients including protein and fat, entire food groups, vitamins, and minerals! The minimum diet of around 20 days is more than enough time to develop nutrient deficiencies. Even taking a multivitamin doesn’t guarantee health assurance; studies have shown that the whole food is more important than the sum of its parts.
This is a semi-starvation diet and doesn’t provide adequate calories to support normal brain function or muscle store of glucose. Such calorie restrictions can trigger the body to significantly slow the metabolism in an effort to conserve calories to survive. The body will very quickly begin breaking down muscle as a source of energy. Keep in mind that your heart is a muscle. Semi-starvation also affects hormone and electrolytes in the body. An Imbalance of electrolytes can have serious side effects including heart arrhythmias, come and sudden death.
A number of randomized controlled trials have been conducted on HCG and weight loss. The double-blinded, placebo controlled trials are strong designs because neither the researcher nor the participant knows which drug is given. Randomization mimics “chance”. Both of these factors limit bias. These studies demonstrate no significant difference in weight loss between the participants who received the 500 calorie diet and the HCG injections or the 500 calorie diet and the placebo injection. Placebos are look-alikes used to protect studies against bias. Researchers concluded that the significant weight loss seen in BOTH the participants who received the HCG AND the placebo injection was attributed to the drastically low calorie diet. Essentially, this has been shown to be a very expensive placebo.
HCG has been approved by the FDA for use as a fertility drug; it has NOT been approved as a weight loss agent. In fact the Federal Trade Commission, an independent government agency that investigates and protects against deceptive and fraudulent claims, ordered the clinics that offer this program to post the following statement: 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.
In summary, even medically managed, inpatient weight loss programs do not restrict calories to this extent nor do they use hormones whose long term effects are unknown. They do, however, have an MD or DO monitoring vital signs and blood values daily and a dietitian ensuring a balanced diet.
I feel very strongly that our community should be informed with educated opinions to enable them to make decisions. I realize that this is a short-term diet, although the above risks may easily occur even within the 20 to 40 day timeframe. This diet is appalling and, in my professional opinion, the potential risks greatly outweigh any temporary benefit.”
I hope that I can at least enlighten the public to consider the obvious way to a healthy weight – small lifestyle changes that make a big difference – and to quit looking for quick fixes to “get skinny.” There is NO quick fix diet or pill that will result in lasting health. So why on Earth would you waste your time with these fad diets? In half the amount of time you could have changed your life and gotten on the road to being healthy at a normal weight for the rest of your life.