HCG Diet: You're Still Here?

Caution: Weight loss on this diet comes at a price, expert warns.

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As a registered dietitian, fad diets are one of my pet peeves. But thankfully, most of them come and go so quickly that they are but a distant memory. However, the hCG diet just doesn't seem to disappear. I first found out about the hCG diet in April of 2008, when I was asked to speak about it on the Fox Morning Show with Mike and Juliet. Three years later, I was on the Dr. Oz Show once again speaking about this, in my opinion, crazy diet.

So what is the hCG Diet? HCG stands for human chorionic gonadotropin, a hormone found in the urine of pregnant women that supposedly works as an appetite suppressant. HCG is injected, typically into the thigh, or taken as a drop under the tongue. Along with a daily dose of this hormone, individuals are also placed on a 500-calorie diet, or more recently, 800 calories per day.

The hormone as a weight loss tool has not been substantiated by any conclusive scientific research. In my view, and that of many other health experts, the reason for weight loss is simply because of the diet's restrictiveness. Almost anyone who eats fewer than 1,200 calories per day will lose weight. But at what cost—physically, mentally, and financially?

First let's talk financially. The average cost of a 21-day cycle of hCG is $450. When I think of all the fruits and veggies a person could buy at that price, I wonder why anyone would choose differently. Healthy weight loss should not break the bank.

As for mentally—I don't know about you, but I need food to think clearly. Our brain depends on glucose to operate normally, and 500 to 800 calories per day certainly won't guarantee enough of it. And besides, when I think of my mental health, I also think of exercise, and 500 to 800 calories definitely won't supply energy for the gym. Oh, and do you like being social? So much for dining out with friends: On this diet regimen, it's not going to happen.

Lastly, and probably most importantly, is what this diet can do to you physically. Any healthy weight-loss regimen should promote 1 to 2 pounds of weight loss per week. The hCG diet promises 1 to 3 pounds per day. With this amount of calorie restriction, a person is at risk for bone and muscle loss, electrolyte imbalance, and gallstones. Not to mention daily fatigue and irritability.

Sound like fun? Not to me! I prefer the tried and true way to lose weight: by watching portion sizes, eating plenty of fruits, veggies, whole grains, lean protein, low-fat dairy, and healthy fats; and incorporating daily physical activity. Learning to change our eating behaviors—now that can last a lifetime versus learning simply to restrict and only achieving temporary weight loss.

The simple truth is that there are no silver bullets for weight loss. Fad diets will come and they will go. Unfortunately some will last a little longer than they should.

Hungry for more? Write to eatandrun@usnews.com with your questions, concerns, and feedback.

Keri Gans, MS, RD, CDN, is a registered dietitian, media personality, spokesperson, and author of The Small Change Diet. Gans's expert nutrition advice has been featured in Glamour, Fitness, Health, Self and Shape, and on national television and radio, including The Dr. Oz Show, Good Morning America, ABC News, Primetime, and Sirius/XM Dr. Radio.