By: Leanne Richardson
CrossFit Nutrition Coach
CLUB 14 FITNESS
We, in the fitness industry, have seen our fair share of fad diets and “miracle” weight loss pills and potions. Heck, we’ve even tried a few! Our general reaction is to provide you with sensible information that we feel is helpful and safe, while quietly nodding our heads, waiting for the fad to pass.
But not this time. As many of you have become our friends, even like family over the years, we will not stand quietly by as licensed medical professionals put not only their integrity but, more importantly, YOUR HEALTH on the line.
The latest fad in the race to “get-thin-fast” has gone too far. Harvard Medical School assistant professor of medicine Pieter Cohen, as quoted in a recent report by U.S. News, describes the HCG diet as “(It’s) Reckless, irresponsible, and completely irrational.”
HCG is a hormone that is produced naturally by pregnant women; in fact, it’s actually the hormone that pregnancy tests check for when confirming a pregnancy. The controversy escalates as the hormone gains popularity as a means of weight loss in obese individuals, when combined with a very low calorie diet. In theory, the HCG allows you to eat very little without experiencing the pangs of hunger. The catch? You might want to sit down, there’s more than one.
The most obvious is the sheer stringency of the protocol. The original prescription HCG is a daily injection. Anyone nervous about needles? There are now non-prescription HCG drops that are taken several times a day. Every time you take the drops, you must wait 15 minutes before eating or drinking. Every time I hear of someone having lost weight with HCG, there is always a BUT. Usually the BUT is that the HCG drops only work when accompanied by a very strict 500 calorie per day diet. There has been much discussion about whether the HCG is responsible for the weight loss, or simply the starvation diet. Placebo studies are lending evidence that, as you might expect, a 500 calorie starvation diet equals weight loss, any way you slice it!
What this 500 calorie diet does not lend itself to, however, is strong workouts. In fact, patients are urged not to exercise while on the diet. When we heard this, we were appalled! It makes perfect sense that a person would not be able to exercise on so few calories, but that doesn’t make it excusable. Any experienced athlete will tell you that it does not take long at all before you start losing your hard earned muscle if you aren’t exercising regularly. Although, technically, exercise is not required to lose weight, it is required to build and maintain muscle. Most importantly, muscle is what supports metabolism, so losing that sacred muscle tone means also watching your metabolism slow to a crawl. This dreaded loss of muscle mass and metabolism is often to blame for many dieters regaining lost bodyfat.
Manufacturers of HCG drops are proud to tell about how the HCG hormone is naturally produced in the body, in order to convey the message that it is safe to use. I must remind those who might confuse the word natural with safe that although we are still unaware of the potential effects of supplemental HCG on the non-pregnant body, there are many other hormones and other substances that while produced naturally in the body, can be severely detrimental to our health when used inappropriately. For instance, estrogen is a hormone produced naturally by men and women but when used inappropriately can dramatically increase one’s likelihood of developing cancers. Another example is the neurotransmitter serotonin, also known as the “happiness hormone”, it is made naturally in the body and is crucial to many systems including the central nervous system. However, an overabundance of serotonin from an outside source can cause receptors to become less sensitive and our body’s own serotonin production is no longer enough to elicit the proper neurological response. NATURAL DOES NOT MEAN SAFE.
Another fact that the manufacturers of HCG are eager to tell you about is that it is approved by the FDA. That would be a particularly pertinent piece of information IF it were related to its use as a weight loss aid. This is not the case. The FDA has been very clear that its approval of HCG as a treatment for infertility and other related disorders does not include weight loss. Elizabeth Miller, FDA’s leader for the internet and health fraud team calls the marketing and sale of HCG products as a weight loss aid an “economic fraud” and calls them “unapproved drugs” and even “illegal”.
Adding to the list of claims made by manufacturers of HCG drops is that they are homeopathic. Upon my most recent visit to a local retailer which sells HCG drops, I picked up a copy of a booklet put out by AnuMed International, a manufacturer of HCG drops. On the first page, under the title “Mission Statement” is the section “What is Homeopathy?” After a brief description of the history of homeopathy, the section goes on to say “At AnuMed-International, we are committed to the science behind homeopathy. From our research, for example, has come our “e” technology and the use of Active Water.” Neither Elizabeth Miller nor I am impressed. Miller says, “We are aware of HCG products that claim to be homeopathic, but it is not recognized in the Homeopathic Pharmacopoeia.” Therefore, these products “are not recognized by the FDA as homeopathic drugs, so they are unapproved drugs and are illegal,” she says.
Upon further examination of the booklet I found that the diet promotes not just one, but several, unhealthy and potentially dangerous habits. The one that first jumped out to me is found on pages 10 and 11 with a description of the three phases of the diet. Within one two-page spread I find this same disturbing recommendation three times. In Phase II, they recommend that you “Continue to weigh daily during this phase” indicating to me that you are expected to weigh daily in the first phase, as well. Just 4 lines below, in the description of Phase III you are instructed again to “Weigh Daily.” And again on the opposite page, in case you missed it the first two times, you are instructed to “Start weighing yourself every morning.” I have personally heard from several of our members that have thrown out their bathroom scales, and I applaud you. Although weight is one of the many tools that we use to measure fat loss, we encourage those that are interested in a slimmer waistline to look for JUST THAT, a slimmer waistline!
As many of you already know, muscle weighs more than fat, and multiple factors can affect the number on the scale, so the best way to judge success is by the way that your clothes fit. If you would agree that this daily bowing to the holy bathroom scale is an unhealthy religion to adopt then I think you’ll find the next practice of the HCG diet equally sinful. If something is to go awry on your HCG diet and you get a less–than-pleasing report from your daily weigh-in, AnuMed-Intl has this to say, “If you go over your established weight by 2 pounds or more, you MUST switch ONLY to water, coffee, tea, minerals and vitamins during the day and in the evening, Dr. Simeons says to have a steak day – no food until dinner. Have a large steak with either a tomato or an apple. You should be back on track the next day.” This kind of fasting is only appropriate for a person who is conditioned for such an event. There are times when intermittent fasting is appropriate and can actually be beneficial; however, in the circumtance of a person who evidently has some problems managing what they put in their mouth, a fast like this is completely inappropriate and could very likely lead them even further off-course. The booklet also mentions later that if you should experience a plateau that you are to take one day to have “an apple day where you only eat up to 6 apples plus drink water, tea or coffee ad libitum.” This is merely an act of flushing out excess waste and water weight which will return as soon as you return to normal eating. This is all very confusing to the average reader. If you have a plateau, you are to have an apple day, but if you gain over 2 pounds according to the holy bathroom scale you are to have a steak day??? Wouldn’t you agree that there’s a very fine line between a plateau and a gain which you would remedy with two completely different solutions? A day of fasting with a large portion of protein at the end is very different than an entire day of fruit. So, which is it? It’s all a bit vague and sounds like xto me.
The final bone that I have to pick is the apparent relationship between AnuMed International and Stevia International. Stevia is the brand name of a popular sweetener. On the HCG diet, sugar and other sweeteners are strictly forbidden, exept Stevia. HCG dieters are encouraged to use Stevia to sweeten their coffee. It is even featured as an ingredient in EVERY SINGLE recipe in the “Treats” section. Also in the “Treats” section is an entire page exclusively featuring Stevia and touting its benefits. In fact, Stevia is mentioned at least two other times in the booklet, one instance includes the website for Stevia International on the bottom of a page that does not even contain any text about the use of Stevia. The other mention of Stevia, including an image of the product, is on one of the very first pages titled, The Original HCG Diet which outlines the foods that are allowed on the strict 500 calorie diet. I find that this repeated promotion of Stevia calls into question the motives of AnuMed Internatationnal.
Is AnuMed International trying to make you thinner or are they trying to make a dollar?
If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. We care too much about the overall health of our members to watch you be manipulated by marketing, manufacturing, and medical and health professionals that you trust. If you have any concerns about healthy diet and exercise choices feel free to call or stop by CLUB 14 FITNESS for more information.