The somewhat controversial HCG Protocol looks to the hormones for weight loss success, in particular human chorionic gonadotropin (HCG).
What it is
Developed initially by British endocrinologist Albert Simeons, the diet has been significantly refined – and complicated – to now include a 4 Phase Fat Elimination Protocol.
Dr Simeons was famous for injecting HCG sourced from the urine of pregnant women into obese people in the ’50s and ’60s. Produced naturally by the placenta to help women access fat stores when pregnant, HCG was believed to promote weight loss and reduce appetite when combined with dietary changes. Today, homoeopathic drops are used instead.
Phase one of the protocol is the most popular. Lasting two days, it promises licence to indulge in as much food as you like, especially fats. Phase two to three lasts for the next three weeks, in which time you reduce calories to only 500 a day, consisting of fruit, salad, vegetables and lean meat. Halfway through this harrowing three-week period, you stop taking the HCG drops and by the end of it, you’re well and truly ready to return to eating a normal, healthy diet.
HCG weight loss can happen fast, but nobody’s claiming it’s fun.
“The system is set up to draw the fat from the fat cells,” says nutritionist Cyndi O’Meara, from Changing Habits.
“When you’re eating 500 calories a day, your body is supplying 2,500 calories a day in energy, approximately. So it’s actually a 3,000 calorie diet, it’s just that 2,500 calories are saturated fat that you’re getting out of your fat cells.”
O’Meara claims to have seen participants lose five to 10 kilos during the three week period.
“When I first came across the HCG protocol, I thought it was a load of rubbish,” says O’Meara. “But I just saw too many good results. Then I did it myself and was blown away by it.”
The HCG Protocol gets points for sheer originality as well as rapid results.
“What we’re doing in phase two and three, by lowering calories and eating only certain foods, is trying (1) to get the SIRT1 gene activated, which is an anti-ageing gene naturally activated by exercise and restricted calorie intake, and (2) get leptin to be reduced by the amount of fat you’re burning and get you to a point of leptin sensitivity again” says O’Meara.
“Leptin controls how you eat and when you’re five kilos or more over your ideal weight, your fat cells produce so much leptin that you become leptin resistant. This resistance makes you want to eat more.”
Studies criticising the HCG diet have been published in the Journal of the American Medical Association and the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Both concluded that HCG was unsafe and not effective as a weight-loss aid.
“It’s not evidence based – that’s the main concern,” says Gudorf. “I suspect that any weight loss you see is the direct result of the low calorie diet and not as a result of the HCG. If you want to follow the meal plan that’s fine but beware that it’s a very, very low calorie plan. It’s not something you can follow long term.”