The HCG diet, which combines an extremely low calorie diet with hormone injections, promises rapid weight loss for vegans and meat eaters. HCG stands for human chorionic gonadotropin, a hormone produced by women in early stages of pregnancy. Proponents say you can lose a pound a day on the plan, but critics say the weight loss claims are excessive and the diet poses health risks.
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Restricted Diet for Meat Eaters
The original HCG diet was designed by British physician A. T. W. Simeons with meat eaters in mind. The protocol, first reported by Dr. Simeons in 1954, includes 3.5 oz. of meat at lunch and dinner. Permitted meat choices include boiled or grilled veal, beef, chicken breast, fresh white fish, lobster, crab and shrimp. Meat is to be weighed raw, all visible fat is to be removed, and chicken breast must be removed from the bone. Pickled fish, herring, ell, salmon and tuna are not permitted.
Daily Hormone Injections
Until the third day—the third injection of HCG—dieters are instructed to eat excessively. On the third day and for the next three weeks, the protocol includes daily injections, unlimited amounts of plain tea or coffee, but no starches or sugars, including those in sweet fruits. A minimal amount of starch is permitted after the first three weeks and up to a tablespoon of milk daily is permitted throughout. After the first three weeks, dieters are limited to eating lunch and dinner that includes a meat choice, a choice of Melba toast or a breadstick, a piece of fruit and one of the following vegetables: asparagus, beet greens, cabbage, celery, chard, chicory, cabbage, fennel, onions, radishes, salad greens, spinach and tomatoes.
Diet Amended for Vegans
Followers of Dr. Simeons have amended the protocol for vegans. Vegans are to drink 1 to 2 quarts of water before consuming any food throughout the day. For the first three weeks of the HCG diet, vegans can choose any raw vegan foods they want. Lunch includes another quart of water and more raw food. Dinner is a repeat of lunch. One website devoted to the HCG diet recommends that vegans make green smoothies as a convenient food choice. The recipe for two servings includes one banana, one orange, one apple or a handful or goli berries, 1/8 cup flaxseed, two or three leaves of romaine lettuce and the same amount of kale, one leaf of chard and a handful of both wheat grass and spinach. Vegans in the second phase of the protocol are permitted extra fruit at breakfast and for snacks.
Restricted Use of Cosmetics
For both meat eaters and vegans, the protocol includes abstention from medicines and most cosmetics, which proponents say interfere with weight loss. Dietitians and nutritionists say that any low calorie diet will produce weight loss, but that there is no evidence that the HCG hormone or the restrictions on the use of cosmetics helps dieters shed pounds. The average woman needs 2,000 calories to sustain her weight. With a daily calorie deficit of 1,500, you could expect to lose 3 lbs. a week, since it takes 3,500 calories to support a pound of fat. Your weekly caloric intake on a 2,000-calorie-a-day diet would be 14,000, and on 500 calories, 3,500. Proponents of the diet suggest you can lose a pound a day and attribute the additional weight loss effects to the HCG injections—the hormone also is available as drops—and the diet’s strict guidelines.
Clinical Support Lacking
The HCG diet has been studied for more than 50 years, but reliable clinical studies have not proven the hormone to be effective in weight loss, says Jennifer K. Nelson, a registered dietitian. She says side effects of the HCG diet include fatigue, irritability, headaches and, in men, breast enlargement. Low calorie diets of all kinds make it difficult for people on them to meet their nutritional needs and might lead to gallstones, Nelson says. Weight lost rapidly also is more likely to be regained than weight that is lost gradually. Anyone interested in the HCG diet should seek medical advice.