The ridiculous ‘magic pill’ diet is back

People keep asking me about the latest diet, where they can get some of the hormones required, and whether or not it’s safe.  This ‘latest’ diet craze (which is over 50 years old) involves pregnancy hormone injections or drops with hCG (Human Chorionic Gonadotropin: the pregnancy hormone), followed by a 30 day starvation diet of 500 calories a day.  The magical theory is that the pregnancy hormone will have your body (male or female) burn (this is my favourite part) “only the bad fat in the trouble areas”, plus you won’t lose muscle and you won’t feel hungry for a month.

Riiiiight.  In the over 15 clinical studies I’ve seen, there has been NO difference between the fat lost, areas it was lost from, or muscle wasting resulting from the 500 calorie diet when a placebo was compared to the actual hCG injections.  In response to inquiries stirred up by the diet’s popularity, the FDA warned in January 2011 that: “homeopathic” forms of hCG, like lozenges and sprays, sold over the Internet and in some health food stores, are fraudulent and illegal if they claim weight-loss powers. Which won’t stop anyone unfortunately, and people will make a fortune preying on people’s hopes and dreams.

I have spoken to several people who have done this diet and, yes, they did drop weight, were very excited and happy.  So how are they doing a month or so later?  The weight has started to gain back, so they are gearing up for another ’round’ of starving.  Seems like a yo-yo to me…….and yo-yo’s are great play toys, but not great diets.

This diet in particular really puts me in a tough place, and I’ll tell you why:  If someone could go on an extreme diet and drop 30 pounds in 30 days to get a ‘head start’, and then begin eating properly, exercising properly and making actual real, long term lifestyle changes – wouldn’t that be a good thing?  Yes, that could be good (BUT, read on)  Further, people are paying thousands of dollars for injections and potions, and like any business owner in this economy, I could use the income.  It’s honestly tempting to say yes.  But here’s the thing: most people won’t start eating well afterwards, the muscle loss is very unhealthy, the hormones and low cal diet have potential side effects (water retention, breast swelling and tenderness among other things, plus fatigue, constipation, muscle cramps, hunger and low blood sugars)  and I’m not ok with swallowing my integrity for a quick buck and a fake result.  Just like the Atkin’s diet – this one is doomed to fail, and I will tell you why.

When you starve your body on a 500 calorie a day diet, that is like trying to drive your car 1300 plus kms (800 miles) to Vancouver and only put in $30 worth of gas.  If your body and your car were the same, then your car would get rid of your powerful motor and put in a small, low energy, low power, electric engine because it doesn’t have enough gas to power the big motor.  Your body does exactly this when you go on a starvation diet: it gets RID OF MUSCLE, because muscles are motors, and those motors require fuel (food) to run.  Let’s look at a 250lb person that goes on the hCG diet and drops 30 pounds.  Before starting, the person had a body composition analysis showing that they had 160lbs of muscle/bone etc and 90lbs of fat.  Forgiving water issues, we’ll see that the person dropped 18 pounds of fat and 12 pounds of healthy muscle.  Then (and this is the critical piece), the person goes back to eating the way they did before the diet, and will likely celebrate the 30lb loss by having some ‘fun’ food – like cookies, cake, ice cream, wings, pizza, beer etc.  They immediately gain back 5 pounds of fat within a day or so.  Then, with their slower metabolism and lower energy (from the lost muscle and changes the body had to make to live on only 500 calories a day) they continue to eat normally, and gain back another 10 pounds, then another 10.  Now that person has gained back 25 pounds.  Still ahead right?  They lost 30lbs!  Wrong.  The 25 pounds gained back is all fat.  That precious muscle is gone, because the only way to build back muscle is to work your body through exercise and eat well.  Diet alone cannot do this.  What do they do now that they have gained weight again?  The only thing they know how to do: They do another cycle of the diet, drop another 30 pounds of fat and muscle.  Another 20 pounds of fat and another 10 pounds of muscle gone.  After 2 cycles, this person has changed their body to weigh 240 lbs from the original 250 lbs, BUT, the lean mass has dropped to 138lbs, and the fat mass has changed to 102lbs.  The scale shows they have dropped 10lbs, but they have GAINED 12 lbs of FAT and dropped 22 lbs of healthy muscle.  Energy is lower, strength is lower and no habits have changed.

The other way to play this fitness and weight loss game, is to eat well and exercise.

Not earth shattering, but I know without a doubt that life long, side effect free health is worth the effort!

Happy Training!