Zombie Diet Alert: Why Won’t the HCG Diet Craze Die?

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Is HCG a zombie diet survivor? The hormone-injection, 500-calorie-a-day diet–originally popularized by Snooki, featured on the Dr. Oz Show, and headlined on FoxNews.com as “a healthy stepping stone for weight management”–was pilloried by responsible health experts and got an FDA warning regarding the sale of illegal HGC “homeopathic” pills and other products.

Even the “real” HCG diet, which requires that a physician inject you with pregnancy hormones, doesn’t work, experts say.

“It was discredited 20 or 30 years ago,” says Jennifer Lovejoy, PhD, past president of the respected Obesity Society. Now the Society’s come out with a position paper. You might call it latest attempt to decapitate the HCG diet zombie.

Yet it’s still popular.

Look on Amazon and you’ll find over 100 “HCG diet” books, including Dr. Simeon’s 1954 original, Pounds & Inches: A New Approach to Obesity.

There’s the HCG Diet Gourmet Cookbook: Over 200 “Low Calorie” Recipes for the “HCG Phase,” the HCG Weight Loss Cure Guide, the HCG Diet Book of Secrets, the hCG Diet Quick Start Cookbook: 30 Days to a Thinner You, and, for the on-to-go very-low-calorie dieter, the Pocket Guide to the HCG Protocol.

Last year, there were 450,000 Google computer searches a month for “HCG diet”–and another 200,000 on smart phones and tablets.

Says Dr. Lovejoy, “For anyone who treats obese patients, it’s sad and frustrating to see ineffectual treatments pushed to people who don’t know the research.”

What’s the HCG diet? It’s based on daily injections of human chorionic gonadotropin (HCG), a hormone that women produce during pregnancy, which is supposed to let you consume a mere 500 calories a day, for 30 days or more, and not feel hungry. A.T.W. Simeons, a medical doctor, invented it in the 1950s, experimenting on overweight pubescent boys.

It was popular in the 1970s, and then, in 2007, a new book by Kevin Trudeau, The Weight Loss Cure ‘They’ Don’t Want You To Know About, set the craze on fire again.

Then came Snooki and Dr. Oz. While Dr. Oz had serious cautions about the craze, he presented research that purported to show that the HCG diet “worked”–even though in that study people taking sugar pills lost as much weight!

“Dr. Oz is usually credible and balanced, but he really missed the boat on this one,” says Dr. Lovejoy.

And injections were such a hassle. So several firms started selling “homeopathic” pills, which aren’t FDA approved or backed by any evidence that they work.

Then again, the original HCG-injection diet doesn’t seem to do anything either, according to the Obesity Society, which reviewed 24 studies.

Conclusion? “There is no scientific evidence that HCG was effective in the treatment of obesity, nor did it bring about a feeling of well-being, cause fat redistribution, or reduce hunger.”

Do you lose weight? Of course! Anyone would on 500 calories a day. But even that’s not safe to do by yourself, according to Dr. Lovejoy.

“A very low calorie diet can be done safely, but it needs to be medically monitored,” she says. There’s a risk of gallstones, and protein concerns, and heart issues in some. So a health professional needs to “check your protein status, give you supplements, monitor your medical situation,” says Dr. Lovejoy.

Will the HCG diet go away? Is it time for it to go back to its grave, and sleep for 40,000 years? Don’t count on it. But next time you’re tempted to jump on a diet fad, ask yourself one question, suggests Dr. Lovejoy: ‘Is this something I can do for the rest of my life?’”

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