Q: I have heard a lot of people talk about the HCG diet recently and there is a lot of material on the internet about it. It sounds like it can make you lose weight very quickly – what are your thoughts?
A: HFG nutritionist Claire Turnbull answers:
The HCG diet is banned in the US due to concerns over its safety and its sale in New Zealand is currently being reviewed. The diet requires you to take special drops three times a day with your meals. The drops contain HCG (human chorionic gonadotropin) which is a hormone that your body naturally produces during pregnancy. The theory is that if you have these and follow an extremely low-kilojoule diet, your body is more likely to burn fat than muscle. There are three stages to the diet, which include loading up on fat, then a semi-starvation phase (dropping to around 2000kJ/day) and then gradually increasing your food intake.
There is no doubt that dropping to 2000kJ/day and restricting your food intake will make you lose weight. It’s the equivalent of eating one normal meal a day. The degree to which the HCG drops play a role in this weight loss is up for debate, along with the safety of this approach.
Weight loss that is very rapid can have a number of negative effects on your body. Firstly, despite the claims, it is likely you will lose some muscle as well as body fat. Secondly, you will fall short on vitamins, minerals and other vital nutrients that are important for good health and keep you looking and feeling good. Thirdly and most importantly, this is not a long-term solution to losing weight. Personally I have met several people who have tried this: they have all regained more weight than they lost and even worse, they now feel like they have ‘failed’ and have an even more dysfunctional relationship with food than they did before.
If you want to lose weight and keep it off, it is about digging into the detail about why you are carrying more weight than you want. Is it your portion sizes? Do you eat emotionally? Do you snack on unhealthy foods? Do you drink alcohol to cope with stress? Are you not sleeping well? These are the things that will need addressing. Don’t fall for the quick fixes. They are highly unlikely to last and may cause damage (even if only emotionally) in the long run.