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Thinking about the hCG diet?

by Mary C. Weaver, CSCS on January 19, 2013

starvation programs like the hCG diet can wreck your metabolism

I’m continually amazed at the number of women I speak with who have done the hCG diet at one point during their weight-loss journey.

I guess I shouldn’t be. I mean, it’s advertised vigorously, Dr. Oz has promoted it (don’t get me started on that guy), and it promises something plenty of people want: fast, easy weight loss.

But although I’m singling out hCG at the moment, everything I say from this point on applies equally to any “very low calorie diet”—in other words, any food plan that provides 800 calories or less per day. If your doctor has put you on a VLC diet and you’re under her supervision, go with my blessing.

For everyone else, my advice is to avoid hCG (and its close kin) like the plague!

Here’s just one way the hCG diet (and others) can hurt you:

Stick to hCG or any VLC diet for long, and you’re very likely to see a significant slowdown in your metabolic rate—that is, the number of calories you need every day.

Now, there’s nothing magical about the 800-calorie number. You could eat more than that and still suffer harmful effects if the percentage of caloric restriction is too great.

Let me explain how this works by telling you about a fascinating study published in 2012 that involved contestants on the U.S. version of the TV show The Biggest Loser.

One of the study’s authors was Robert Huizenga, the physician for the show. If you’ve seen The Biggest Loser, you know it’s a competition to lose massive amounts of weight as quickly as possible. The participants eat only about 1,000 calories a day, and they exercise for six to eight hours a day.

It’s the percentage of caloric restriction that counts

A 250-pound woman who does that much exercise would actually need an estimated 3,600 calories per day or more to maintain her weight. But if she’s only consuming about 1,000 calories a day, she’s taking a caloric reduction of more than 72 percent.

Let’s compare that to the energy needs of a 35-year-old 200-pound sedentary woman who is taking in 800 calories a day on the hCG diet. Her actual calorie need is about 2,000. If she consumes 800 calories every day instead, she’s reducing calories by 60 percent.

It’s an outrageous percentage—and one that’s going to cause all kinds of trouble.

The greater the percentage of calories you cut, the more you endanger your metabolism—and that’s one of the reasons it’s so vitally important to follow a safe, sensible program.

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So how did this play out in Dr. Huizenga’s study? The researchers found that the dieters’ metabolic rate declined—but not just by the amount that should be expected, given that they were becoming smaller people and also losing some muscle mass.

Well, after six weeks, the daily resting metabolism of participants in the study had gone down on average about 244 calories; after 30 weeks, their metabolic rate had decreased by an average of 500 calories a day.

This is resting metabolic rate we’re talking about—so it has nothing to do with the amount of calories burned through exercise. It’s just the amount of calories their bodies need to sustain life.

Would you want to be ‘on a diet’ for the rest of your life?

Will this metabolic reduction eventually correct itself? The researchers don’t have the answer to that question.

If it does not—or until it does—those people will have to eat fewer calories than they “deserve” in order to avoid regaining the weight.

Can you imagine being on a seriously calorie-restricted diet for the rest of your life?

If I could boil my entire fat-loss and fitness system down to a handful of principles, two of the top contenders would be 1. do nothing that will harm your health or metabolism and 2. do everything possible to increase daily calorie burn through specific kinds of exercise activity and by building a faster metabolism.

As I like to say, the “slow” approach is really the faster one because it greatly increases your odds of actually keeping the weight off!

Mary C. Weaver, CSCS
I'm Mary Weaver, your weight-loss and body-transformation coach. My specialty is helping women get in the best shape of their lives with satisfying diet plans, effective fat-burning exercise, and loads of encouragement and motivation. Check me out on Google+, Facebook, Pinterest, and Twitter!
Mary C. Weaver, CSCS
Mary C. Weaver, CSCS
Mary C. Weaver, CSCS
Grab your Hot Body Kit, including your Look Better Naked report and a checklist of 11 essential fat-loss tips. It's FREE!

{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

Mark A. Michael January 19, 2013 at 3:00 pm

I have a friend who did the HGC diet a while back and it sounded like a miserable program. There are definitely better programs (might take longer and entail work) to get the same results. I know personally I want to be able to eat sensibly throughout the day. Heck, maybe even cheat a bit here and there through the week.

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Mary C. Weaver, CSCS, M.S. January 19, 2013 at 3:07 pm

Mark, thanks for commenting! I’m with you—firmly opposed to starvation!

And I’ve never spoken to anyone who had a *good* experience on hCG!

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Alana ( January 19, 2013 at 3:12 pm

I’ve not heard about the hCG diet nor am I interested in it. Slow and steady is what has been working for me. I just have to be patient. .Actually, I don’t pay much attention to Dr. Oz, although someone I know who works in a supermarket tells me that every time Dr. Oz mentions any particular food, sales suddenly spike.

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Mary C. Weaver, CSCS, M.S. January 19, 2013 at 3:24 pm

Thanks for commenting—and I’m highly amused at the idea that everyone buys whatever foods Dr. Oz is flogging at the moment. :-)

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Kathy Widenhouse January 19, 2013 at 3:21 pm

That diet sounds like a nightmare! I altered my diet last spring by reducing the number of simple carbs, raising the amount of lean protein I consumed, and drinking more water. About 10 pounds came off quickly, another 5 over a couple of months. This approach works for me. The weight has stayed off and I feel much more energetic.

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Mary C. Weaver, CSCS, M.S. January 19, 2013 at 3:24 pm

Kathy–thanks for your comment. It is a nightmare–glad you avoided it and found a plan that’s working for you. Congrats on your fat loss!

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Delia Bourne January 19, 2013 at 4:36 pm

Hello from a fellow Blog Challengista. Thought I would drop by and say hello. Really enjoyed your post, full of useful information. Fast is not always best. Thanks.

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Mary C. Weaver, CSCS, M.S. January 19, 2013 at 5:49 pm

Thanks, Delia!

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EmeregeFit January 19, 2013 at 6:31 pm

Always with one hand over my face like a starfish on a sea rock: Amazing that people do this. Amazing.

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Mary C. Weaver, CSCS, M.S. January 19, 2013 at 6:46 pm

I know—total insanity.

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Suzanne January 20, 2013 at 2:38 pm

Good points Mary. When a client tells me they’ve done this diet I know I have my work cut out for me in terms of reprogramming their thinking.

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Mary C. Weaver, CSCS, M.S. January 20, 2013 at 5:02 pm

Good heavens, yes!

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Shira January 22, 2013 at 4:34 pm

This is one of the most ridiculous diets I’ve ever seen and the Biggest Loser statistics you cite show what kind of damage can be caused by substantial calorie restrictions without medical supervision. i could never last on something like that.

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Mary C. Weaver, CSCS, M.S. January 23, 2013 at 1:49 pm

Thanks, Shira—

It’s so ridiculous that I used to be shocked that anyone would fall for it. At this point I’m unshockable because so many intelligent people I know have fallen for it. And not one of them has told me anything good about it afterward.

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