The Search For The Quick Fix

Diet fads, much like other things, come and go. Because of humanity’s relentless pursuit for a quick fix, that magic bullet, that would get rid of unwanted body fat, several weight loss schemes have been put into light through the years.

Some limit you to taking a certain food for the entire day, say, a hard-boiled egg. Others limit the amount of time in the day you can eat. Others still, eliminate a whole food group from your daily consumption.

It’s not hard to understand why people are so engrossed with diet fads. Almost everyone wants a healthier lifestyle. However, with obesity rates skyrocketing all over the world, the search for the quick fix is ever all the more relevant.

In the United States of America alone, more than 93 million adults are living with obesity in 2017. Data from the Center for Disease Control – National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) show that almost 40 percent of adults in the country are considered obese. A body mass index (BMI) greater than or equal to 30 indicates obesity. BMI is calculated by dividing the weight by the square of the height of an individual.

Other Asian countries have an adult obesity prevalence of 10 percent, statistics provided by the Food and Nutrition Research Institute says. While significantly smaller than its US counterpart, the continent’s major countries bear the biggest number of the heaviest people. Data shows an overweight and obesity prevalence of 30 and 10 percent, respectively, in countries like the Philippines, China, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Taiwan.

While experts are unanimous that modest food intake combined with exercise is the only fool-proof method to that beautiful, summer-ready physique, people have always wanted to cut corners and look for shortcuts to a healthy body.

It has been shown that the type of food we eat is much more important than how much we consume, whenever we consider any weight loss program.

Yet, science like this takes time. Diet fads claim they can melt away body fat in as little as a month. With a marketing pitch like that, anyone can be hooked to try it out.

The diet and weight loss program industry in the US alone costs more than 72 billion dollars, this, even the fact that the number of dieters has fallen due to the growing body positivity movement in the country.

Three letters might do the trick

With all this talk of a multi-billion dollar industry and the need for a healthy diet, a lot of fads popped up. But one has persisted because quite a number of people swear by it.

The HCG utilizes two components: a calorie-restricted diet and multiple shots of the hormone human chorionic gonadotropin (HCG). High levels of HCG are commonly found in pregnant women during the early stages of gestation. This hormone is actually one of the markers that pregnancy tests use to determine if a woman is with a child or not. It helps the body maintain levels of estrogen and progesterone, hormones vital during pregnancy. After the first three months, the levels of the hormone decreases.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the use of HCG to treat fertility issues in men and women. This hormone is to be used with a prescription from a healthcare provider.

HCG can also be indicative of certain types of cancers, such as those of the ovary and the testes.

The use of the hormone in weight loss was first advocated by British doctor Albert Simeons back in 1954. The HCG diet, also known as Simeon’s diet, would only allow the consumption of 500 calories everyday, coupled with daily shots of HCG. For reference, a cup of rice is around 200 calories.

Aside from the ultra-low calorie requirement, there are also several dietary restrictions.

Anyone undergoing the HCG diet is expected to have only two meals a day, lunch and dinner, which has to include one protein, one vegetable, one bread, and one fruit.

Dieters are only to eat certain types of meat like chicken breast, veal, white fish, and a variety of shellfish. Only one tablespoon of milk can be consumed, with the only vegetables allowed for consumption are spinach, chard, chicory, beet greens, green salad, tomatoes, celery, fennel, onions, red radishes, cucumbers, asparagus, and cabbage.

Fruit choices range from an orange, an apple, a handful of strawberries, to half a grapefruit.

Sugar substitutes are allowed for sweetening thirst quenchers but real sugar and other sweeteners are not allowed. Tea, coffee, and water are okay to consume. However, butter and oils are big no-nos.
Lastly, the diet has a weird rule telling people to keep off lotions and other hygiene products during the cycle.

All of these rules come with the promise of losing weight in only a number of weeks.

Leptins, assemble!

To understand how the HCG shots are relevant to the weight loss procedure, it is important to look at how our body metabolizes or uses fat.

Your body burns calories, or uses up energy, in one of three ways.

The first one, called basal metabolism or resting metabolism, burns calories to serve as energy for your basic bodily functions. This keeps your brain thinking, your liver working, your heart pumping, and your lungs breathing, among other things. This is the energy you use while sitting or lying down and accounts for 60 to 70 percent of your everyday burn. Even without added activity, your body is actually burning calories.

The second way your body burns fat is through digestive metabolism called the thermal effect of food (TEF). Digestion of food actually costs energy, with some, like protein, needing more energy to be digested. This accounts for 10 to 15 percent of your daily metabolic activity.

The remaining 15 to 30 percent is used up during movement and exercise. Any calorie that is not burned or metabolized is deposited as fat. These energy storage will be tapped once needed by the body.

Fat is actually made up of cells called fat cells stored in adipose tissue. These cells also produce leptin, the hormone that signals to the brain’s hypothalamus that it is time to burn some fat. Leptin is sometimes called the satiety hormone as it helps inhibit hunger and regulate energy balance.

The hypothalamus, sensing leptin in the blood, would then signal that the person is full, and would start burning fat the body has in storage.

Obese people tend to have higher leptin levels in the blood, leading to a condition called leptin resistance. Since they have more fat in their bodies, they have increased leptin in the blood. This may hamper the hypothalamus’ sensitivity to the hormone, rendering its fat-burning capabilities useless. It is a vicious cycle since more fat actually makes the body inefficient in burning it.

Proponents of HCG say that the hormone helps bring back leptin sensitivity to the brain’s hypothalamus. This, in turn, makes the body burn more fat faster. Furthermore, it is claimed that the injections help reduce hunger, making the person feel full faster because of increased activity in the hypothalamus.

This is where the magic happens (or does not)

The diet consists of three phases. Phase 1, or loading phase, would entail the dieter to load on fats and calories. This typically lasts for two days and would start injecting HCG once per day.

The real work begins during Phase 2, or the weight loss phase. This is characterized by the ultra-strict, 500-calorie diet and daily injections of HCG. This may last for three to six weeks.

Phase 3 is called the maintenance phase. The person is expected to gradually increase calorie intake and is advised to avoid sugar and starchy foods for the next three weeks.

The diet has raised the brows of the scientific community. Experts believe that the weight loss brought on by the diet is mostly from the calorie restriction imposed. Yet, proponents believe that HCG is better since it makes dieters feel full and better about themselves.

Furthermore, eating that small amount of calories would surely shed off the fat, but also takes muscle mass with it. This is where HCG diet, well at least according to those who swear by it, shine. It keeps the weight off yet preserves muscle mass.

Dr. Sheri Emma shares that HCG is the superior weight loss program since it spares muscles from losing mass during the diet. In her experiment, she tested HCG patients against a placebo group on the same diet. The results show that both groups lost weight, 13 and 15 pounds each. The striking difference is that the HCG group lost two pounds of muscle, but the placebo lost five. This was a significant difference, according to Dr. Emma.

“Anytime muscle is lost from the body frame, it hurts metabolism and puts someone at risk for regaining weight; this is what happens with Placebo or diet alone,” Dr. Emma adds.

With the popularity of the diet, there are a lot of companies and individuals claiming to sell legitimate HCG hormones. However, as stated before, HCG is approved by the FDA for the treatment of fertility-related conditions in both men and women. Therefore, the only sure way to get a legitimate dose is through a healthcare provider.

The past few years have seen the rise of many homeopathic versions of the hormone, like oral drops. It is important to note that taking the hormone orally would not allow your body to utilize it. In the studies conducted by Dr. Emma in 2010-2011, she had this to say, “In the process of studying the blood levels of the hormone, I found that patients using an oral form of HCG (drops or pellets) had no detectable HCG in the bloodstream. I concluded that HCG is unable to be absorbed by mouth.”

Hence, proponents of the diet caution would-be HCG dieters to steer clear of drops and stick with the injections.

The verdict

owsing online, a lot of people claim that the diet helped them shed off weight. Others claimed they cannot go through with the diet of the rigidity of the routine.

But the science is clear: cutting calories helps dieters shed off the weight. The effect of the hormone HCG itself in weight loss is not yet proven. The US FDA has yet to approve HCG for this purpose.

Katherine Zeratsky of Mayo Clinic warns that the diet has its downsides owing to its calorie restrictions. Side effects, such as gallstone formation, irregular heartbeat, limited intake of vitamins and minerals, and an imbalance of electrolytes, may happen. There may also be fatigue, irritability, restlessness, depression, fluid buildup (edema), and swelling of the breasts in boys and men (gynecomastia). Dieters also run the risk of blood clots forming and blocking blood vessels (thromboembolism). There is also an increased risk for certain cancers as well.

Well, the HCG diet may just be too good to be true. With that said, the quick fix humanity has been searching for remains elusive.