A Critical Analysis of the HCG Diet

Does HCG Really Aid in Weight Loss?

When it comes to weight loss protocols, not many are as misunderstood and controversial as the hCG diet. Used for decades now to quickly lose substantial amounts of body fat in a short period of time, clients buy hcg injections to use in conjunction with the HCG diet, which involves a combination of extreme caloric restriction, and use of a hormone known formally as human chorionic gonadotropin (HCG) . From a mechanistic perspective it makes sense to use HCG as an aid for weight loss as it has the ability to promote the production of beneficial hormones in women, as well as men – theoretically resulting in less lean body mass being lost while on a calorically restricted diet for weight loss. This muscle-sparing capability is impossible to overemphasize because the ultimate goal for creating sustained weight loss success is to maintain, or even better, increase muscle mass while losing weight from body fat. 

Thus, the question of whether or not HCG is effective at enhancing weight loss when compared to placebo or any other strategy is potentially a misplaced one. Ultimately, the total weight loss is of far less importance when viewed through the lense of where that weight has been lost from (lean mass vs. fat mass). One source of weight loss (from reducing mostly fat mass) is far more preferable and will likely lead to much more lasting, albeit somewhat slower, results. The skillful application of HCG and the diet that accompanies it has no doubt been successful, but it is no less rife with controversy. Anecdotal reports of boosted weight loss while using the HCG diet protocol are often struck down by those demanding rigorous and randomized trials to determine whether or not a method is effective. We want to give you enough information for you to decide whether or not you think HCG will be a viable tool for you to use when seeking weight loss. 

What is HCG?

HCG is a 237 amino acid, proteoglycan that is very similar to other hormones like luteinizing hormone (LH), follicle stimulating hormone (FSH), and thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH). HCG is primarily produced by specialized cells in the placenta during pregnancy, and its similarity to other hormones is part of why it can help the fat loss process – LH signals the gonads to produce testosterone. Once a female is pregnant, HCG is also responsible for promoting the production of certain hormones needed during the gestation process, kickstarting blood vessel formation where needed, and shielding the growing life from the mother’s immune system. These pregnancy-specific effects are not particularly relevant to the use of HCG as a weight loss aid however. Where HCG shines in this regard is by creating the hormonal conditions to lose fat, spare muscle, and have substantial energy available during a period of relatively extreme caloric restriction. Indeed, the ability for HCG to create at least a degree of anabolism (building) during an inherently degrading (catabolic) environment that is created while dieting for weight loss is precisely why it has gained favorability among bodybuilders, athletes, and other populations who are likely to utilize anabolic steroids. Chronic use of anabolic steroids will almost inevitably result in a dysfunctional relationship between the hypothalamus, the pituitary gland, and the gonads – an intricate relationship known as the HPG axis. In fact, this complex relationship was the focus of the initial campaign to use HCG as a weight loss aid by an infamous doctor experimenting on what he called “fat boys” way back in the 1950’s.

What is the HCG Diet?

Perhaps some of the negative perception regarding the use of HCG to enhance weight loss comes from the rather rudimentary dietary guidelines and loose science on which it is based in the first place. Research leading to the discovery of the fascinating hormone now commonly known as HCG dates all the way back to 1912, although the name was not coined until around 1927. As we alluded to already, the now infamous Dr. Simeons, whose name has become synonymous with the HCG diet, got the ball rolling to use the hormone as a means to enhance the weight loss process back in the 1950s – developing his protocol over the course of a few decades. Though his results are often sensationalized, misunderstood, misapplied, and haven’t been consistently replicated, the use of HCG as a weight loss aid has been popular ever since. Over the counter HCG products have been declared illegal by the FDA, but when it is prescribed by a medical professional, in combination with an intelligent plan for restricting energy (calorie) intake, HCG may be incredibly effective at preventing muscle loss while dieting for weight loss. Making any claims about losing stored fat from specific areas may be somewhat unfounded and would likely only detract from what should be the ultimate goal when using HCG as a weight loss aid which is losing fat, without losing muscle. 

More advanced variations of the HCG diet have been developed over time – although they all require some form of caloric restriction and usually involve specific macronutrient distributions. Macronutrients (protein, fat, and carbohydrates) are not all created equal. 

Protein: the building block for tissues and arguably the most important macronutrient for weight loss, should always be eaten in adequate amounts if the goal is to lose fat and not muscle. Dietary fat: used for creating cell membranes, some hormones, as a source of energy, and a whole lot more, is also incredibly important for overall health and weight loss. 

Carbohydrates: almost exclusively utilized as a source of energy, are far less important to include in a weight loss diet – although they can be incredibly helpful when seeking to avoid specific metabolic adaptations that can occur energy restriction. 

It should be no surprise then, that even the original, outdated form of the HCG diet created by Dr. Simeons focused on protein and kept the intake of dietary fat and carbohydrates rather low. Another key component of the HCG diet protocol is the utilization of specific phases which each emphasize unique facets of an approach seeking to create lasting changes in body fat levels. 

Phase 1: Likely everyone’s favorite phase is known as the Loading Phase and it involves eating a surplus (or at least maintenance) of calories. This phase is meant to send a signal to the body and brain that energy is not scarce and that it is fine to metabolize stored body fat as fuel. 

Phase 2: This is where the real work begins. Known as the Low Calorie Diet Phase, phase 2 requires rather extreme caloric restriction. This restrictive phase creates a large energy deficit (specific calories vary) and encourages the body to utilize stored body fat as fuel to meet energy demands. Only approved foods are allowed during this phase and it is paramount that you align your intake as closely as possible with the guidelines provided to ensure you are giving yourself every opportunity to be successful.  

Phase 3: Arguably the most important phase, the Diet Break Phase. This phase will prepare you for maintaining your weight loss once the short HCG diet protocol is over. In addition to preparing you for daily life post-diet, the Diet Break Phase will also help to mitigate the metabolic adaptations that can occur from caloric restriction such as reductions in lean body mass, suppressed energy levels, decreased hormonal function, and more. Intelligent practitioners usually reincorporate carbohydrates during this time. 

Phase 4: The inherently restrictive nature of the HCG diet necessitates a short duration. From this starting point you will need to transition into a lifestyle which facilitates weight maintenance. This is where the Transition and Maintenance Phase comes in. Understanding and controlling your food intake is key to creating lasting, sustainable changes in your weight. Calories are increased during this phase to determine how many you should eat, and weight continues to be monitored over time. This information will be invaluable for guiding decisions and helping to develop a fully individualized plan for the future. 

Should You do the HCG Diet?

Although the HCG diet is rife with controversy, and people like to point out that it hasn’t been scientifically proven to increase weight loss when compared to other protocols, it remains a viable option for facilitating faster weight loss. Empirically proven or not, there is no end to the anecdotal reports of successful and sustained weight loss being achieved by HCG users. Keep in mind however, the HCG diet protocol, in any form, is meant to be a short term headstart for weight loss. For many people seeking to lose weight, the initial loss in body fat enabled by an HCG diet plan can be exactly the jumpstart they need to gain the momentum and drive required to sustain what will almost certainly be a long road to weight loss success – however they may define it. Because such extreme cuts in calorie intake are utilized, some individuals may experience adverse events that simply suggest they aren’t suited for this level of calorie restriction. Admittedly there is much room for improvement on the original protocol created by Dr. Simeons and many weight loss experts have put their own spin on it in order to create a plan that is both safer and more effective. Perhaps, there are further alternatives to the HCG diet which utilize other naturally occurring compounds (maybe…peptides?) to prevent muscle loss while enhancing the fat loss process. This kind of protocol is exactly what we are developing at Ikon Health in order to bring a more practical and applicable approach to rapid fat loss utilizing customized calorie restriction plans, specific peptides, precisely applied exercise, and comprehensive coaching to increase our client’s weight loss success. 

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