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The HCG diet program is one of the latest pop culture trends that has gained mainstream popularity today due to the “positive” results in weight loss and slimming that it supposedly can bring about. The diet consists of an initial 2 day gorging period to increase an individual’s fat and vitamin stores after which it is followed by a 23 to 40 day period wherein an individual’s total calorie consumption drops to 500 calories per day. During these two phases, a person is subject to regular injections (depending on instructions or doctor consultation) of HCG (human chorionic gonadotrophin) which is a hormone naturally released by pregnant women for fat stores in the body to release their stored energy during pregnancy to aid in fetal development.
It is assumed that through a combined regimen of HCG injections and a low-calorie diet an individual will be able to lose one to two pounds a day resulting in a far more slender figure. By the end of the 40 days, an individual slowly increases their calorie intake while stopping further HCG treatments. The positive effects of such a diet program are usually a dramatic loss of weight within a short period and a more shapely appearance. This paper though will examine other aspects of the HCG diet beyond its supposed “positive” results to show both its good and bad effects.
The 500 calorie a day Consumption Phase
One of the initial steps of the HCG diet program is to reduce an individual’s calorie intake from a recommended 2,500 calories per day to a drastic 500 calorie per day diet program. As the program stipulates, regular injections of the HCG hormone during this particular stage convinces the body to release the stored energy in your fat thus reducing the necessity of external consumption since the body is essentially fueling itself off its stored energy. What the HCG diet program neglects to inform its participants though is the fact that at the same time an individual lowers their calorie intake the body initiates a starvation response which is a naturally self-occurring adaptive mechanism in the body that only occurs during periods of low food consumption. In the past humanity has had to endure all forms of calamities and natural disasters during the early years of its evolution and during these particular times, a widespread famine occurred.
The result of such instances was the development of an adaptive biochemical and physiological mechanism that ensures an individual’s self-preservation by burning through the free fatty acids stored within a person’s fat cells. This is the primary process by which the HCG diet is based and is supposedly enhanced through the injection of human chorionic gonadotrophin which further enhances the release of fat. Unfortunately, as seen in the studies of Gatward (2007) while a person can lose weight after undergoing this particular period of calorie restriction they quickly gain back the weight within a short period due to the body still being in its “famine mode” (Gatward, 2007). As an individual’s calorie intake increases the body begins to store as much of it can as fat due to the possibility of another future “famine” arising. As such, while the HCG diet program could result in short-term successes its long-term effects leave much to be desired since the weight comes right back anyway and with a vengeance!
Lack of Adaptability with an Average Working Lifestyle
The inherent problem with a 500 calorie a day restrictive diet is that it is maladaptive to an average individual’s active/semi-active lifestyle. Adequate carbohydrate and protein consumption is a necessity to be able to function normally. As seen in the studies of Stubbs, Whybrow, & Lavin (2010) which examined caloric restrictive diets and their effects on an individual’s energy levels, people tend to become more lethargic, are unable to become fully active, think slower, have a distinct “lag time” in their responses and are barely able to do their jobs at the same level as they normally are capable of doing (Stubbs, Whybrow, & Lavin, 2010). While it may be true that an individual could live off their fat stores for an extended period the fact remains that the demands of their job combined with the normal level of physical activity that a person does daily cannot be supported by just 500 calories.
A person needs at the very least 500 calories per meal with meals separated at appropriate times throughout the entire day to be at optimum energy levels to perform any task. Not only that, it was noted by Hession, Rolland, Kulkarni, Wise, & Broom (2009) that individuals with low-calorie diets tend to be more susceptible to irritability, drowsiness, and even become more accident prone (Hession, Rolland, Kulkarni, Wise, & Broom 2009). People with low-calorie diets should not even be allowed to drive since according to Hession, Rolland, Kulkarni, Wise, & Broom (2009) their response time to incoming cars, pedestrians and normal traffic would be far slower than normal resulting in potentially fatal accidents. Taking all these factors into consideration it can be seen that the HCG diet process is incompatible with individuals that have to work for a living or travel daily since they require a more constant source of energy since stored energy from fat is not metabolized quickly enough to be a sufficient source of energy.
Insufficient Results to Justify Use
Dieticians who advocate against the use of the HCG diet program point to the fact that there are insufficient results by conclusive studies to promote this particular diet program to the general public. Studies such as those by the University of California at Berkley point to the fact that while human chorionic gonadotrophin does aid fetal development and the release of energy from fat during pregnancy this doesn’t mean that the same hormone will work on a person that isn’t pregnant or isn’t even female (HCG diet claims: a shot of reality, 2011). Specific hormonal triggers and how they work are still not fully understood even up to this day and taking untested and unverifiable external hormone sources could even result in health risks for particular individuals. Double-blind studies which examined the effectiveness of HCG versus ordinary placebos in the weight loss programs of test subjects showed no apparent difference between those who were given HCG or ordinary placebos.
Many scientists conclude that the apparent weight loss attributed to the use of the HCG hormone can be attributed to the reduced calorie intake rather than the hormone itself. Furthermore, other studies show no apparent use for HCG in weight loss, and in fact, the Food and Drug Administration of the U.S. even states that its use is ineffective for weight loss and is thus fraudulent (Nanci, n.d.). Despite this, many supporters of the HCG diet program continue to point out its positive effects yet such advocates seemingly neglect to inform the general public of the long-term effects of his particular diet program especially when taking into consideration the fact that weight loss is gained back almost immediately afterward.
As it can be seen in the literature review the overall “positive” effects of the HCG diet are eclipsed by the numerous negative effects that come about as a direct result of its use. From a certain perspective, it can be assumed that the reason why HCG has gained mainstream popularity is that people want instant rather than cumulative results. Individuals don’t want to put in the necessary hard work to lose weight and instead opt for a quick and easy method of weight loss. Unfortunately for them, as it can be seen in the literature review, the HCG diet cannot be considered effective at all, and in fact, the weight loss that they attribute to being under the diet is nothing more than the result of their low-calorie intake which won’t be effective in the long term since as soon as they go back to eating normally their weight will come back immediately.
Based on the presented data it can be seen that despite the supposedly “positive” effects of the HCG diet program the fact remains that it is unsustainable in the short term due to an individual’s work and life requirements, is ineffective in the long run since the fat comes back right away after the diet is over and based on scientific research the use of the hormone at the present shows no verifiable use in terms of actual weight loss. While it may be true that people who have used this particular diet have lost weight the fact remains that is more attributable to the 500 calorie restrictive diet that they undergo rather than the hormone injections themselves. It must also be noted that such a restrictive diet is not recommended at all for active individuals due to the problems it presents in terms of fatigue, drowsiness, a distinct lack of energy, and carelessness which when combined could result in accidents that could be potentially fatal. A more reasonable way to lose weight would be to cut down on fast food and fad diets and merely stick to eating healthy home-cooked meals, implementing a responsible reduction in one’s consumption of carbohydrates and including some form of daily physical fitness to help boost metabolisms. The HCG diet can be considered nothing more than a quick fix for people too lazy to put in the actual work required to lose weight and as such should not be considered by anybody as a safe and responsible way to lose weight due to the numerous problems it presents.
Gatward, N. (2007). Anorexia nervosa: an evolutionary puzzle. European Eating Disorders Review, 15(1), 1-12.
HCG diet claims: a shot of reality. (2011). University of California at Berkeley Wellness Letter, 27(12), 2.
Hession, M. M., Rolland, C. C., Kulkarni, U. U., Wise, A. A., & Broom, J. J. (2009).
Systematic review of randomized controlled trials of low-carbohydrate vs. low-fat/low-calorie diets in the management of obesity and its comorbidities. Obesity Reviews, 10(1), 36-50.
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Nanci, H. (n.d). HCG weight-loss products are fraudulent, FDA says. USA Today.
Stubbs, J. J., Whybrow, S. S., & Lavin, J. J. (2010). Dietary and lifestyle measures to enhance satiety and weight control. Nutrition Bulletin, 35(2), 113-125.