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What is the hCG Diet?

By Erika C.
Updated May 17, 2024
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The human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG) diet is a low calorie diet that relies on the administration of hCG for appetite suppression and quick fat burning. It was originally devised by Dr. A.T.W. Simeons in the 1950s, when he was researching the effects of hCG and noticed that patients taking the hormone tended to lose weight. Simeons began to research the use of hCG for weight loss and noticed that dieters could consume very few calories and, as long as they were taking daily doses of hCG, they didn’t experience headaches, extreme hunger, or physical weakness.

hCG is a hormone that is produced in pregnant women and helps support the body’s production of progesterone. The hormone is believed to cause a pregnant woman’s body to release stored fat to nourish the fetus if the woman doesn’t consume enough calories. Those following the hCG diet are given the hormone because some believe it helps bodies burn fat quicker.

The hCG diet plan allows the intake of only 500 calories per day. Originally, the diet plan allowed unsweetened tea or coffee with up to one tablespoon of milk for breakfast. Artificial sweeteners saccharin and stevia were allowed in place of sugar. Lunch and dinner each consisted of low-fat poultry, fish, or meat — with a pre-cooked weight of 100 grams — that was cooked without oil or butter; a vegetable; a breadstick or piece of Melba toast; and a serving of fruit. There were no snacks, unless the dieter wanted to eat the fruit, breadstick, or Melba toast for a snack instead of consuming it with the meal.

Variations of the original diet aren’t much different. It is still a 500-calorie, low-fat diet made up mostly of protein, with very few carbohydrates. Some variants of the diet also include injections of appetite suppressants.

Participants in an hCG diet receive daily doses of the hormone for up to 40 days. Simeons recommended a six-week break after 40 days, because his studies suggested that the body built immunity to the hormone after that time. He recommended that treatment could be resumed after six weeks, for a total of up to four treatments. hCG is available by prescription only, and it is difficult in some areas to find a doctor who will prescribe the hormone for weight loss.

The hCG diet has been shown to be effective for quick weight loss. Dieters following the plan typically lose 1 to 2 pounds (about .45 to .91 kg) per day. It is not clear, however, whether the administration of hCG promotes the weight loss or if the weight loss is the result of a low caloric intake. In some studies, groups taking a placebo have lost as much weight as those taking hCG.

Critics of the hCG diet say it does not teach healthy eating habits. Dieters lose large amounts of weight over short time periods but do not learn how to eat balanced meals in moderation. Critics say this makes dieters likely to put the weight back on as soon as the diet is over. The critics also point out that the diet places little emphasis on exercise, which is vital to long-term weight maintenance.

WiseGEEK is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.

Discussion Comments

By ilovejapan5 — On Aug 12, 2010

shoeshopper- I agree that you should never purchase hCG diet supplies online. Many sellers are just out to make money and the products they sell contain unsafe ingredients.

Also, participating in the hCG diet should be taken seriously. I have numerous friends who have participated in this diet and some have experienced side effects such as headaches, fainting and irritability. Know what you are getting into before you start this diet.

By shoeshopper — On Aug 12, 2010

The hCG diet should only be undertaken under the direct supervision of a doctor or nurse. Only purchase the hormone injections from a doctor or reliable source. Many online web sites now sell hCG diet supplies. It can be dangerous to purchase these supplies because there is no way to authenticate these products or know what is in them.

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