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How Does the HCG Diet Work & What Can You Eat and What You Can’t Eat in HCG Diet?

Introduced in the 1950s, the HCG diet is one diet plan that is considered to be highly controversial. Yet, this diet has been popular for many years now. This extreme diet claims to bring about some fast weight loss. In fact, it claims to help you lose weight up to 0.5 to 1 kg (or 1 to 2 pounds) every day. What’s more, you are also not supposed to feel hungry during the diet process. However, the important fact to know here is that the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has found the HCG diet to be fraudulent, illegal, and even dangerous.[1]

Let us take a closer look at the HCG diet and whether the HCG diet secret for weight loss really work or not.

What is the HCG Diet?

What is the HCG Diet?

HCG actually stands for the human chorionic gonadotropin, which is the hormone that is found in high levels during the early stages of pregnancy. In fact, the hormone HCG is commonly used as a marker in home pregnancy tests. HCG is also used in the treatment of fertility issues in both women and men.[2]

However, high levels of HCG in the bloodstream can also be an indicator of many types of cancer, including ovarian, testicular, and placental cancer.[3]

The HCG diet was proposed by a British doctor Albert Simeons in 1954 as a tool for weight loss. The diet designed by him was composed of two major parts, which are:

  • The HCG hormone that is administered through injections.
  • An extremely low-calorie diet that consists of consuming just 500 calories in a day.
  • It is possible to get HCG products in the market easily, and they are available in many different forms, including pellets, sprays and oral drops. These products are also available both through online stores and some retail stores also carry them.
  • It is this extremely low-calorie intake combined with HCG hormonal injections that achieves the dramatic weight loss.[4]

What Role Does HCG Play in Your Body?

As mentioned above, HCG is a protein-based hormone that is primarily produced during the early stages of pregnancy that lets a woman know about the pregnancy. Most home pregnancy testing kits also test for the presence of the HCG hormone itself.

HCG is responsible for maintaining the production of critical hormones such as estrogen and progesterone, which are vital for the proper development of the embryo and fetus.[5]

After the first trimester, or the first three months, of the pregnancy, are completed, the blood levels of HCG start to fall.

Can HCG Really Help You Lose Weight?

Proponents of the HCG diet claim that the diet helps boost the body’s metabolism, helping you lose huge amounts of fat, and that too without feeling hungry. There are many theories that try to explain the effectiveness of HCG’s weight-loss claims. However, there are multiple research studies that have successfully concluded that the weight loss achieved by following the HCG diet is only due to the extremely low-calorie intake only, and the weight has absolutely nothing to do with the HCG hormone injections.[6][7]

All these studies compared the impact of HCG and placebo injections given to participants of the studies. The participants also followed a calorie-restricted diet. The studies concluded that the amount of weight loss achieved by the participants was exactly identical or nearly identical between both the HCG injected group and the placebo group. Furthermore, these researchers also determined that the HCG hormone does not even reduce the level of hunger that dramatically, proving that HCG is ineffective in reducing hunger.

Can the HCG Diet Change Your Body Composition?

One of the most commonly observed side effects of drastic weight loss is a decrease in the body’s muscle mass. This is a common observation across diets that severely limit the calorie intake, such as the HCG diet.

Your body is likely to think that it is starving and will thereby reduce the number of calories it burns in an attempt to save energy.[8] This leads to muscle loss.

However, advocates of the HCG diet claim that the diet does not cause muscle loss, and instead only causes you to lose the fat. They also believe that the hormone HCG helps increase other hormones in the body, boost your metabolism, and also promote overall growth, or promotes an anabolic state in the body.

In spite of all these claims, there is no scientific evidence to support any of these claims. Instead, there is a lot of research available that shows that the HCG diet can actually harm your health.[9]

If you want to follow a low-calorie diet, then you should be eating a lot of high protein foods in order to prevent loss of muscle and metabolic slowdown. Taking HCG is not going to have any effect on the body.[2]

How Does the HCG Diet Work?

The primary purpose of the HCG diet is to focus on very low fat and ultra low-calorie diet. The diet is typically divided into three phases:

  1. Phase 1: Loading Phase – In the first phase of the diet, you will start taking the HCG hormone and eat plenty of high calorie and high-fat foods for the first two days.
  2. Phase 2: Weight Loss Phase – The second phase of the diet focuses on continuing taking the HCG injections while eating only 500 calories each day for three to six weeks.
  3. Phase 3: Maintenance Phase – You will stop taking the HCG injections during the third phase of the diet. You will also gradually increase your food intake, but at the same time, you will avoid sugar and starch for three more weeks.

People who are looking to achieve minimal weight loss need to spend at least three weeks on phase two, or the weight loss phase. Those who are looking to achieve a significant amount of weight loss need to follow the entire diet for at least six weeks and will need to repeat all the three phases of the diet cycle several times.[10]

During the second phase of weight loss, you will only be allowed to have two meals in a day, usually lunch and dinner. Some people even opt for having breakfast and dinner.
HCG meal plans are generally designed with the objective that each meal should be containing one portion of lean protein, one vegetable, one fruit, and a piece of bread. You will also be given a list of approved foods to choose from in specific quantities.

Oils, sugar, and butter have to be avoided. You will be also be advised to drink plenty of water or other beverages such as tea, coffee, and mineral/lemon water.[2]

If you are following the HCG diet, then one thing to keep in mind is that most HCG products that are available on the market are usually all scams. Most of the HCG products are just homeopathic and do not actually contain any HCG. Real HCG, which is administered in the form of injects, is only usually prescribed as a fertility drug and is, therefore, available only on a doctor’s prescription. So be careful if you find it too easy to get your hands on some HCG – they are likely to be fake.

Only HCG injections can actually raise the blood levels of this hormone, and not any of the homeopathic products being sold online or through retail claiming to contain HCG.[4]

Are There Any Side Effects Of The HCG Diet?

The HCG diet is not approved as a weight-loss tool by the US FDA. In fact, on the contrary, the FDA classifies this diet as being dangerous and fraudulent.

Many other government agencies have also often questioned the safety of the HCG products, as most of the ingredients that are put into making these HCG products are unregulated and often unknown.

There are many side effects as well that are commonly associated with the HCG diet, including:

These side effects are, to a large extent, due to the starvation level intake of calories the diet promotes, which is bound to make you feel miserable.

For example, a 64-year-old woman who was following the HCG diet ended up developing blood clots in the lungs and the leg. The doctors concluded that the blood clots were most likely caused by the HCG diet.[9]

What Can You Eat and What You Can’t Eat in HCG Diet?

Well, in order to limit your total calorie intake to only 500 calories, you will definitely not be able to eat much. The HCG diet allows you to have just two meals in a day, preferably lunch and dinner. Each of your meals must include one vegetable, one protein, one piece of bread, and one fruit.[11]

You are free to grill or broil beef, veal, chicken breast, lobster, crab, fresh white fish, or even shrimp, as long as you are not eating any visible fat on the protein. You cannot have eel, tuna, herring, salmon, or any type of pickled or dried fish.

When it comes to choosing the vegetables, you are allowed to you the following vegetables:

You cannot have any starchy vegetables such as potatoes.

You are allowed to have one piece of Melba toast or one breadstick.

Coming to fruits that are allowed, you can choose an apple, an orange, a handful of strawberries, or even half of a grapefruit.

The HCG also allows you to have as much water, tea, and coffee as you want, and you can also have 1 tablespoon of milk each day.

You are allowed to use sugar substitutes, but you cannot use sugar to sweeten any beverages. Oils and butter are not allowed.[11]

Why the HCG Diet May Be Risky Or Give Limited Results?

There are many organizations that warn against following the HCG diet because they have all noted that the diet can prove to be harmful to your health due to the following reasons:[1]

  • Little Medical Basis: According to medical experts, the HCG diet is not at all healthy for you, and everyone firmly believes that no accredited doctor or registered dietitian would ever endorse the HCG diet to help you lose weight.
  • Proves to be Expensive: The daily HCG injections or taking HCG in any available form will prove to be quite costly. Most people tend to buy the HCG hormone injections or pills from the internet, or they go to clinics that advertise giving HCG injections. Not only are these products very expensive, but at the same time, you have to worry about whether or not the product is indeed what it is claiming to be. Additionally, how sure are you that these products will not actually prove to be harmful in the long term.
  • Highly Limited Food Choices: Due to the fact that the HCG diet is so restrictive when it comes to calorie intake, there are not many interesting HCG diet recipes you can follow. Your choices will generally just focus on different ways in which you can season foods like chicken, fish, lean beef, or turkey. You will only be able to vary the seasonings to add flavor to the food, but you cannot do anything else as you have to strictly follow the calorie limit. Furthermore, most of the HCG diet recipes are also designed according to single servings.
  • Most Likely To Regain The Weight: You are most likely to simply put the weight back on as soon as you leave the diet. If you are no longer severely limiting your calorie intake and diet, the probability is high that you will just end up gaining the weight back. A review of several research studies published in the ISRN Obesity journal in 2013 found that there are multiple mechanisms in the body such as the hormonal system, a person’s appetite, and changes in metabolism that help in counteracting a decrease in calories. This is the explanation behind why so many people end up regaining the weight lost after a period of restricting their calorie intake.[12]
  • Health Risks In The Long Term: By following the HCG diet for the recommended six to eight weeks, you are putting yourself at a high risk of developing various types of nutritional deficiencies. You are also likely to face the risk of developing electrolyte imbalance, an irregular heartbeat, gallstones, and more, not to mention the additional risk associated with the effects of manipulating the hormones in your body.


Overall the HCG diet will show results because you are cutting down on your calories so drastically. The diet restricts the daily calorie intake to just 500 calories a day for at least 6 to 8 weeks at a stretch, making it one of the most extreme weight loss diet plans. This is why, ultimately, any weight you lose is also because of this dramatic cutback on calories.

However, multiple research studies have shown that the HCG hormone has absolutely no effect on weight loss, and neither does it curb your appetite. If you are serious about losing any weight and keeping it off, then there are many other more effective and far healthier dieting plans that you can follow rather than choosing the HCG diet.


Sheetal DeCaria, M.D.
Sheetal DeCaria, M.D.
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Sheetal DeCaria, M.D. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:January 19, 2022

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