The HCG Diet: Fact vs. Fiction

By Pieter Cohen, MD, Cambridge Health Alliance, Harvard Medical School

Posted on | By Pieter Cohen, MD
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The HCG Diet Controversy, Pt 1 (4:51)

Update: The FDA is warning consumers that over-the-counter HCG products marketed as "weight-loss aids" are unproven and illegal. Harmful effects from these products should be reported to your health-care professional and to the FDA at:

Which of the below statements is true about the hCG diet?

  • You can lose 30 pounds in one month. 
  • Many dieters swear by it.
  • Doctors say it doesn’t work. 
  • The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) calls hCG supplements illegal and fraudulent. 

What’s remarkable is that all these statements are true. Let’s take a close look at the hCG diet to separate fact from fiction. 

What is the hCG diet?         

The hCG diet combines extreme calorie restriction with daily shots of a hormone produced by pregnant women called human chorionic gonadotrophin (hCG).

How much can you eat on the hCG diet?

Very little. The hCG diet requires that you eat only 500 calories a day. You would hit your daily limit with one turkey sandwich with Swiss cheese and mayo.

Can you lose a lot of weight on the hCG diet?

Yes. If you don’t eat, you’ll lose weight. Skipping meals and extreme restriction of food has been used by dieters for decades to try to lose weight. If you stick to a diet of only 500 calories a day, it’s possible to lose 5 or more pounds a week.

If you lose weight fast, then why don’t doctors recommend it?

You don’t keep the weight off. Decades of research have demonstrated that if you diet by eating only 500 calories a day, you regain a lot of weight after the diet ends. It turns out that these crash diets lead to no more weight loss after one year than if you modestly reduce calories and increase exercise. 

It's also unsafe. Common sense tells us that starving is not very good for our bodies. In fact, scientists have proven this as well. If you only eat 500 calories a day, there are serious health risks. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has already investigated over a dozen deaths linked to these very low calorie diets as far back as the 1970s. Click here to review their findings. Of course, most people won’t die from the hCG diet, but many will develop other health problems like hair loss, constipation and gallstones – a painful condition that often requires surgery.

Article written by Pieter Cohen, MD
Cambridge Health Alliance, Harvard Medical School