Analyzing the hCG Diet

Today’s most popular crash diet is the hCG diet, which consists in eating no more than 500 calories per day, while supplementing (via regular injections prescribed by a doctor or through lozenges, sprays and drops) with the pregnancy hormone hCG (human chorionic gonadotropin). HCG is naturally produced by pregnant women to maintain the corpus luteum, which it does by causing the body to secrete the uterus-enriching hormone progesterone. Its mainstream medical usage is as an infertility treatment for women.  HCG also helps maintain testosterone production that is otherwise lowered by performance-enhancing steroids, which is why it is banned in professional sports.

What does hCG have to with weight loss? Back in the 1950s, British endocrinologist Albert Simeons claimed that when he gave it to his obese patients in India, they lost weight in just the places where they needed to lose it – but only when they coupled it with an extreme low-calorie diet. The theory was that hCG stimulated the body, when faced with near-starvation, to burn unnecessary fat rather than muscle tissue.  Proponents have also claimed that hCG supplementation suppresses hunger, making a 500-calorie diet relatively sustainable.  Since Simeons published his theories in 1954, the hCG weight-loss fad, like many others, has alternately gone in and out of style, and is currently enjoying a resurgence.

Does the diet work? It depends who you ask. Doctors who provide hCG injections and diet consultations costing over $1,000 per monthcertainly claim that it does, as do websites that offer hCG by mail-order. Also online are many anecdotal testimonies of the hCG diet’s effectiveness, of which an unknown number have been written by hCG salespeople. A Dutch study back in 1995 analyzed 14 randomized clinical trials of the hCG diet and found that in only two trials did people accomplish more on hCG – in terms of weight loss, reduced appetite, and improved figure – than on a diet with a placebo used in place of hCG. This is regardless of whether either diet worked very well at all. The FDA has said with regard to hCG:

 

“HCG has not been demonstrated to be effective adjunctive therapy in the treatment of obesity. There is no substantial evidence that it increases weight loss beyond that resulting from caloric restriction, that it causes a more attractive or “normal” distribution of fat, or that it decreases the hunger and discomfort associated with calorie­restricted diets.”

 

The American and Canadian Medical Associations have also condemned the diet. In addition to being no more effective than a placebo, hCG in excess is known to cause headaches, blood clots, leg cramps, and constipation, and may cause other health problems; its side effects in connection with a starvation diet have never been thoroughly studied.

At this point, to be confident that hCG works, you’d need to have acquaintances you know and trust who have tried it, lost weight permanently, and are still visibly healthy and active. But even if hCG has either no effect or a negative effect, what about just doing the low-calorie diet? It’s possible that hCG does function as a placebo, simply giving people the confidence to stick with the low-calorie plan they need.  But super low-calorie diets, due to malnutrition, will cause not just weight loss but also bone and muscle loss, mental deterioration, and exhaustion, so that even without hCG a 500-calorie diet is dangerous to your health. Although you will lose weight – it’s practically impossible not to when you don’t eat – you will simply gain it back when you’ve finished dieting and have gone back to the old diet that caused you to gain weight in the first place, except that this time your body will have deteriorated further due to the added strain of having dieted. Crash dieting, diet drugs, even anti-obesity surgery to some extent, has never worked, though it’s been tried many times.  If any of these strategies worked, we wouldn’t still be searching for solutions to the obesity epidemic that affects 1 in 3 Americans.

The FDA, AMA and other major government and medical organizations are somewhat culpable here, because even as they scramble to announce that the hCG diet is ineffective and dangerous, they are content to continue to put their hope in sanctioned, mainstream “quick fixes” that consistently fail to pan out.  In October of last year, the FDA had to decline three separate weight loss drugs for approval due to health risks.  Two of the drugs were new (Qnexa and lorcaserin); one had been on the market for 13 years (Meridia). Particularly since the debacle of fen-phen, a weight loss drug approved in the early 90s that was years later shown to cause potentially fatal pulmonary hypertension and heart valve problems, the FDA has had to be more strict about the drugs it approves. Nevertheless, as quoted in the article linked to above, Dr. John Jenkins of the agency’s Office of New Drugs has said that the FDA is “”committed to working toward approval” of new obesity drugs, “so long as they are safe and effective for the population for which they are intended.””

The attitude that a drug, or a device like an obesity lap band, can at some point be an effective way to combat weight gain, when validated by the FDA and our medical professionals, simply encourages the average person to think that they can get away with focusing on the symptom of the problem and simply rely on a quick fix (like the hCG diet).  While this is profitable for both the pharmaceutical industry and the supplement industry, it doesn’t really help those who are overweight.  We in fact need to deal with the root cause of the problem by making sound long-term diet and lifestyle changes. But as I discussed in my article on MyPlate, since the government’s approach to diet and lifestyle is severely flawed, people are extra disinclined to deal with the root causes.

If diet and lifestyle changes are made wisely, however – without crash dieting, excessively restricting foods, or even more than the most moderate exercise – those who need to lose weight will lose about 1.5 to 2 pounds a week, or about 40 pounds in six months. This weight loss will continue until a healthy weight is achieved. This is what has been achieved by clients of mine who have followed my recommendations to eat a balanced diet of whole foods. The best part is that they don’t have to change the way they eat once they’ve reached their weight loss goal, because they aren’t eating to lose weight in the first place, just to be healthy. The weight loss simply happens naturally.  One thing we tend to forget easily is that the human body is meant to be a healthy weight. We think that we need to punish and manipulate our bodies to get them to the weight that’s healthy – but in fact it’s the opposite: we’re punishing and manipulating them when we load them up with high fructose corn syrup, toxins, artificial flavors, free radicals, and hydrogenated oils, and when we’re sedentary instead of active. When you have a willing spirit and the knowledge of how to go about it, getting healthy and in shape is actually one of the easiest and most fun things you can do – no supplementary hormones required.

Eat More…Weigh Less

If there is a Holy Grail of dieting, it’s any technique that would make it possible for us to eat as much as we want without gaining weight. Anyone reviewing the most popular diets of the last few decades will see that almost all claim to have found such a technique or strategy, and to be able to deliver miraculous weight–loss results. And while weight loss is all well and good, the real appeal of such strategies is the promise that we won’t have to starve ourselves to obtain the weight loss. You don’t see many diet books out there that focus purely on shedding pounds. “Chapter 1. Eat less.” No, that wouldn’t really fly. The truly crucial section of any diet book is the part where it tells you how you can lose weight without actually dieting.

The reason why just eating less is so hard was addressed in last week’s newsletter on cravings. We eat because the food we crave is either supplying a real need, or it’s making our bodies think that it is supplying one. We already know that just controlling our cravings and eating less is extremely difficult and involves ignoring all of the body’s messages. So diets of all kinds make the promise to us that we can indulge and still lose weight. Without that promise, the diet would not have much appeal.

The irony, however, is that most diets that make this promise are already planning to break it. An Atkins–type diet promises that we can indulge in fat– and protein–rich foods, but limits carbohydrates so much that our bodies may go through ketosis, a type of fat–burning process that isn’t supposed to take place unless you are truly starving—and which can make you binge on carbs like crazy. The old high–carb diets told us that while we couldn’t eat fat, we could happily indulge ourselves on carbohydrates, and without fat to make the diet more filling, people ended up being hungry all the time even after eating way more carbs than they could burn. Other diets rely on artificial sweeteners or other artificial starches, as well as fiber and textured protein, to make foods seem sweet and filling but without providing any real nutrients, ultimately leaving their adherents malnourished. The natural consequence of following one of these deprivation diets—all of which advertise themselves as satisfying—is that while we lose weight (because we are in one way or another eating less) we still have uncontrollable cravings. After a few months, the diet becomes unsustainable, we stop trying, and we gain the weight back.

What many people do not realize is that our “fallback” diet—the Standard American Diet (SAD) in which we eat all we want and continue to gain weight—is in itself a type of deprivation diet. Because the diet does not contain enough nutrition, such as the vitamins, minerals and other nutrients contained in fresh fruits and vegetables, complex carbs, and natural fats, people who are on SAD eat constantly but are never satisfied. The human body doesn’t know how to ask for B vitamins, retinol, or magnesium, for example—but it expects to find those nutrients in sweet foods, fatty foods, or salty foods. So that’s what we end up craving, and if we go for processed foods with those flavors, we don’t actually get the nutrients, just the calories. Consequently, even though we have more calories than we could use, the cravings come right back.

hen it comes to losing weight, is “eat less” the answer? Absolutely not. It’s true that if we starve ourselves, we lose weight. But starving oneself is very unhealthy, not to mention ineffective in the long term (to put it mildly). The good news is that there’s a way for the very act of indulgence itself to be a factor in achieving a healthy weight.

If you are eating a balanced diet of whole foods, you will naturally approach your own personal healthy weight (faster or slower depending on whether you can also include physical activity in your schedule). Whole foods have just the right balance of calories and nutrition, so you only crave as much of them as you really need. In fact, once your body is used to properly cooked natural, whole foods, it will recognize their value and prefer them to junk food. The problem is that if your body isn’t familiar with these foods, it won’t naturally crave them. So what’s the solution? Like the title of the article says: eat more…weigh less. If you want a weight loss diet that actually works, it’s pretty simple: add healthy foods.

Let’s say you have chronic sugar cravings, and that you snack on cookies in between meals (like I tend to do when I’m in a state of imbalance), while at the same time, because you’re trying to lose weight, you’ve reduced the size of your meals such that you’re eating small salads for lunch. When you’re following the Live Free Nutrition Weiner Diet Plan, you’ll allow yourself to snack on all the cookies you want, but each time you have a cookie snack break, you’ll first have a glass of water, or a handful of cooked greens, or a piece of fruit, etc. When you get to lunch or dinner, and you’re actually having some homemade and healthy food, eat all you want (don’t forget to include plenty of healthy fat). Then, go for the dessert without guilt. Try this a few times, and suddenly you will find that you’re not quite as much interested in your snacks, or your dessert, even if you still eat them for a little while out of habit. Your body is getting what it actually needs first—and suddenly you are finding your cravings diminish without having had to control them at all. That’s right, you don’t have to restrict your diet one bit!

The biggest challenge in approaching weight loss this way is psychological. Because it’s a bit of a paradigm shift, it requires a change in your thinking. You may have been telling yourself for years that you just have to stop eating so much, while at the same time having such strong cravings that you can’t help yourself. Now you will be telling yourself that you need to try and eat more, while feeling full all the time. But even if thinking differently is a challenge, losing excess weight with this diet is not—and that’s as it should be. We were never meant to constantly starve and deprive ourselves just to be healthy. A healthy, fit person is a person who is satisfied and contented with their diet—who enjoys eating and still feels good 30 minutes (or even three hours) later. It all starts with eating more healthy foods, rather than trying to cut back on the junk food; after that, just relax and trust your body. As they always say, “You’ll be amazed by the results!”

Thanksgiving Weight Loss Tips

1. Eat high–fat. Fat may have calories, but it’s also very filling. There’s a limit to how much of it you can eat before you feel full. In fact, if you eat some foods containing fat, you may end up consuming fewer calories overall, because you won’t be as hungry later. So, if you’re going to have a turkey, go ahead and eat the skin, the dark meat, and the gravy, and if you eat dairy, use whole milk and cream in your cooking. See my article on Understanding Fat for more on this subject.

2. Look for an organic, free–range turkey. If you eat meat and poultry, it’s important that it come from a healthy animal. Most turkeys are raised on “factory” farms where they’re crammed into small cages with hardly room to turn around. These animals, which don’t get their exercise, are fed on corn and soybeans instead of their natural diet. Because they’re sick, weak, stressed out, and overfed, they’re given lots of antibiotics to keep them going. It’s cheaper to raise turkeys this way, but it’s not very humane or healthy. Free–range turkeys are much less prone to sickness and more likely to eat their natural diet (which includes plants and insects), which means that they have a healthier fat profile. You also don’t have to overcook them out of fear of bacteria! See my article on Animal Products for more information.

Organic turkeys can be more expensive because they’re farmed on a small scale, so it may not be feasible for you to get one. However, if you can make room in your budget, it’s definitely worth the extra cost.

3. Include plenty of vegetables. It’s not just what you don’t eat, it’s what you do eat that counts. Vegetables contain fiber and natural compounds that help us to burn and break down fat. Onions, garlic, greens, green beans, celery, daikon radish, leeks, cabbage, etc., are all great vegetables that can serve this purpose. Save some of your vegetables for the end of your meal, because that way they can help break down the heavier food you ate first.

4. Complex carbohydrates over simple ones. Simple carbs include white flour, corn syrup, and sugar, and products with these ingredients. Complex carbs include whole grains like brown rice, whole wheat, cornmeal, quinoa, millet, barley and buckwheat. They also include sweet vegetables like sweet potatoes, winter squash, carrots, beets, parsnips and turnips. Potatoes are complex carbohydrates too, but not quite as nutritious as the sweet vegetables. Complex carbohydrates are more filling, digest more slowly, and give you steady energy. Simple carbs get absorbed into the blood all at once, are stored as fat, and leave you hungry for more. Try using whole grain bread or real whole grains for stuffing (see recipe below), and include a side dish or two with naturally sweet vegetables.

5. Don’t use processed foods that have added sugars; instead, make your own dishes. Most simple carbs and other processed ingredients come in pre–made food like stuffing or pumpkin pie mixes. This is where the real weight gain comes in. Food companies process foods to make them less filling and more addictive, deliberately guiding you towards overeating. Whenever you can, make food from scratch using real, natural ingredients. See my article on What is Processed Food? to learn more.

6. Don’t eat between lunch and dinner. Or breakfast and dinner, depending how soon you’re eating the main meal. Most people gain weight by snacking in between meals. That’s when we’re most likely to eat processed foods, and to eat a lot of calories without realizing it. Wait to eat until you’re sitting down to a balanced dinner that includes something from every food group. Trying to fill up before dinner is the worst thing you could do—the homemade, balanced meal is what you want to save yourself for! You won’t overeat at dinnertime, even if you’re hungry, because you’ll be eating food that’s truly filling.

7. Chew, eat slowly, and enjoy your food. Sometimes it’s hard to tell when we’re full. So eat slowly and enjoy every bite. The more you chew, the less work the rest of your digestive system has to do, and you will get more nutrients out of your food (this means you’ll actually benefit from what you’re eating). By going slow, you’ll give your body a chance to tune in to whether it’s full or not. If you really savor your food, you’ll get the important taste satisfaction—without it, you may keep eating whether you’re hungry or not.

The above is my challenge to those who claim that the one time you sit down to dinner with your family over a home–cooked meal is when you’re going to gain weight. Nonsense! It’s only when processed foods and snacks take predominance over the actual Thanksgiving meal that the weight gain starts. So, instead of trying to cut down on the main dinner, indulge in that and cut down on everything else. You’ll feel fuller and be lighter at the same time!

Weight Loss Diets

Diet advice is everywhere you look: television, books, magazines, and the internet. Almost always, the advice is juxtaposed with advertisements for fast food and restaurant chains, sugary drinks or candy, convenience meals, and trans–fatty snacks, which all feature happy, healthy models. Just the fact that the average supermarket magazine will have countless weight loss tips (ones that really work—not like those other weight loss tips), while at the same time featuring recipes that rely on processed foods like trans fats and refined flour, is significant. Maybe there’s a subliminal message here: these gorgeous models have found a way to eat high–fat, high–sugar foods and still look great. You, obviously, have not figured it out yet; hence, the need for the latest special diet, or a special exercise regimen, or some kind of weight–loss medication. The truth is that weight loss happens most naturally when people find a way to eat more whole foods in place of processed foods. Most mainstream diet advice, on the other hand, is about starvation.

Many of the most well–known diets encourage starvation in two ways: either they insist that you restrict the amount of food you eat (portion control, eating small meals, counting calories and points, etc.) or they make you eliminate whole food groups altogether (fat or carbohydrates). Each of these practices has consequences for how the body metabolizes food. Although most of us have never had the experience of going months with very little food to eat, it did happen occasionally to our ancestors. In a time when we’re deprived of food, the body becomes much more efficient at saving it. The more stressed out you are, and the less food you allow yourself to eat, the more tightly the body holds on to the fat it does have, because it senses that you’re famished. This is the reason why many people can quickly lose some weight on a starvation diet, but then find it very hard to lose as much as they need to and often gain it back again.

Many diets do hold out a sort of Holy Grail to dieters, that “you can eat as much as you want and not get fat” on their diet (as long as it’s certain foods). This message sounds so appealing because so many diets say you can’t eat as much as you want. People who are always struggling with starving themselves are dying to feel full and satisfied.

What’s remarkable is that the Holy Grail is out there—but it’s not in any kind of pill, diet plan, or food that anyone can manufacture and sell to you. Nature already provides all the food that we need to be satisfied and healthy (like milk, in its natural state). Modern–day society is set up so that if we want to be healthier and happier, and lose weight permanently, we have to go against the tide. We have to cook more for ourselves, clean out our kitchen of processed food, and make time to eat three balanced meals a day. In other words, we have to become independent around our food. Once that happens, those pounds just disappear until you’ve reached your natural weight. The only reason why it works so well is because truly healthy eating (not healthy eating in the sense of bland, fat–free, carb–free restricted diets) is addictive. Suddenly, your body starts sending you a flood of messages about how much it likes what you are doing. With a little practice in cooking, you’re making food ten times more delicious than what you get from the restaurant or pizza place, such that you’re wondering if you’re eating this way to lose weight or just for pleasure. My clients who are transitioning to a whole foods diet lose a pound or two a week, but it’s almost an afterthought to all the other health benefits they’re seeing. The extra time it takes you to take care of yourself is returned to you with many more years of life at your natural weight and a chance to think about things other than your health.