dinner plate and hcg needle

If you thought the Paleo diet was restricting, the Dukan diet too complicated, Jenny Craig too expensive, and the Get Shredded Diet was insane, well, prepare to have your mind blown.

We’re talking about the HCG diet, where you eat a scant 500 calories per day, only certain foods are allowed at certain times, it’s extremely expensive, and the whole thing hinges on daily hormone injections under doctor supervision. It’s a whole new kind of extreme!

Continue on to see how (and if) it works…

It’s All About Human Chorionic Gonadotropin (hCG)

If you have ever researched muscle building or performance enhancement, you’ve undoubtedly heard of human growth hormone, or HGH. Everyone has it. It’s made in your pituitary gland. As the name implies, it helps you grow big and strong.

This diet revolves around something called Human Chorionic Gonadotropin, or hCG, which sounds similar but it’s actually totally different. This hormone is produced in the placenta, and it helps the developing fetus.

If you really want to understand the hormone and the role it played in your life, this journal article will explain it all.

In lay man’s terms, unless you’re a pregnant female, this is not a normal hormone to have in your body.

Yet, someone thought it would be a good idea for a diet…

The Origins of The HCG Diet

Did you know this diet was developed in the 1950’s?

That’s correct, it’s not new. At all. It all started with Dr. Albert Theodore William Simeons. Dr. Simeons was conducting research on pregnant women who, despite a calorie deficit, were mobilizing and burning fat (rather than muscle) for energy.

“It must be the hCG!”

Naturally, he wrote a book about it, and set out to get rich. Unfortunately for him, it never caught on. Kevin Trudeau had a go at it, and didn’t get anywhere, either. Possibly because further research in the 1970’s contradicted all the previous weight loss claims!

Personally, I get a kick out of the 1976 study aptly named: Ineffectiveness of human chorionic gonadotropin in weight reduction: a double-blind study.

Yet, the TV doctor we all know and love, who is possibly the only person alive who could challenge Kevin Trudeau’s reputation of making claims without evidence, has brought much more attention to this diet since a mention aired on his show in 2012.

And hearing it from a doctor who stands to make money by people going on this diet, it doesn’t sound so bad!

This is Your Life on The HCG Diet

Huge calorie deficit? Check. Hormone injections? Check.

Anything else? You bet!

Let’s start with the easy part – the injections. You’re going to be going to the doctor for one injection per day for 3-6 weeks. They will administer the shot, you just have to take the time to get there. Depending on the program and who offers it, you may be able to do your own injections at home. That saves time, but you have to learn how to give yourself a shot in the stomach or thigh.

Do you really have to get injections?

Yes. HCG can only enter the bloodstream through injections. Even if you could buy hCG in pill or liquid form, it would never make it through your digestive system and into the bloodstream intact.

Note: hCG pills and drops are not only ineffective, they are illegal, according to the FDA.

What can I eat on the diet?

Even though you can’t eat much, it’s not so simple. You eat two meals per day, which consist mainly of protein and veggies. You’ll get sick of this real quick if you don’t get creative.

At least the good news is, you can have unlimited plain water, coffee, and tea.

What can’t I eat?


You’re not supposed to consume fat, because that would just mean that you burn less body fat during the process. (Paleo diet practitioners must really hate this!)

I’ve heard no oil-containing skin cream or makeup either. From what I can understand, the hCG will actually act on this if it’s available. Which would mean it doesn’t burn as much of your fat stores. Kinda crazy, but hey, so is the rest of the diet.

Starchy carbs are to be avoided, too.

What about exercise?

Exercise. It’s banned. Or, at least strongly cautioned against.

Possibly because it could make you more likely to burn glycogen, possibly because you might faint from low energy. I don’t know.

If you’re burning so much fat, you should have tons of energy for walking and easy hiking. Do that and save the intense exercise for later.

Won’t you get hungry?

As much as I don’t like weird hormone injections, my #1 concern is that I would be uncontrollably hungry on such a diet.

But hCG solves that problem – Dr. Emma’s patients actually report reduced feelings of hunger. It’s believed that the presence of hCG in the bloodstream takes the appetite away.

In pregnant women, HCG often causes feelings of nausea in the early stages of pregnancy.

A-ha! There’s the secret! Now that I think about it, when I’m nauseated, I don’t feel like eating! How revolutionary!

Won’t you lose muscle?

When you face a caloric deficit, it’s common to lose muscle and end up with a slowed metabolism. But again, somehow these injections also create an anabolic state so that you don’t lose your muscle!

An HCG Diet Plan

Curious what it would be like to eat this way? Here’s an idea of what you can eat, and when you’re allowed.

The Three Phases

There are three phases that make up the diet.

  • The Loading Phase
  • The Maintenance Phase
  • The Stabilization Phase

And they go a little something like this:

The Loading Phase
Two days where you get to eat whatever you want! Make it count, because things are about to change considerably!

The Maintenance Phase
This second phase, which typically lasts three weeks, is where the dieting really takes place. You eat 500 calories and get injections each day.

The Stabilization Phase
This final phase typically takes another three weeks. What you do here is gradually increase calories back to a normal amount.

Approved Foods List

Here are some of the foods that aren’t totally off-limits:


  • Chicken breast
  • Beef (96% lean)
  • Veal
  • White fish
  • Shrimp
  • Lobster
  • Crab


  • Apples
  • Oranges
  • Strawberries
  • Grapefruit


  • Lettuce
  • Spinach
  • Asparagus
  • Tomatoes
  • Cucumbers
  • Onions
  • Radishes

Need condiments? Stick with salt and pepper, Apple Cider Vinegar, and Bragg Liquid Aminos (which is sort of like soy sauce).

Thirsty? Drink all the water, coffee, and tea you want!

Meal Plans

The day is arranged with no calories for breakfast, then two small, similar meals at lunch and dinner. Lunch and dinner both include a 3.5oz serving of lean meat, 3.5oz single vegetable, and fruit.

Here’s what a day might look like:


  • 1 cup black coffee


  • Grilled chicken breast
  • 1 cup spinach
  • 1 orange
  • 2 cups green tea


  • shrimp jambalaya
  • 1 cup asparagus
  • 1/2 cup strawberries
  • 2 cups water

HCG Diet Recipes

ultimate hcg diet recipe ebook

There are countless websites out there touting their HCG diet recipes. And some look alright, but the vast majority of the recipes don’t actually match what the diet calls for!

The only resource I found with a modicum of credibility is this ebook titled “The Ultimate HCG Diet Recipe Book: Over 170 Easy Recipes for the Critical Phases of the HCG Diet.” It contains 178 recipes strictly compliant with Dr. Simeons’ protocol.

It’s $3.99 to download the Kindle version.

Here are some examples of the recipes in the book that I thought might actually taste good and provide some satiety:

Dry Harissa Spiced Chicken and Cucumber-Mint Salsa
It sounds like a complex dish that would never be allowed. But with creative planning and making full use of allowed spices, I’d eat this chicken and salsa for dinner myself!

Salt-Baked Chicken with Slow-Roasted Tomatoes
Here’s a way to use approved spices to create something similar to a breaded chicken breast. Add tomatoes and it’s as close to chicken parm as you’ll get!

Cinnamon Chicken
I like chicken, and I like cinnamon, but I never considered putting the two together. (I guess when your options are limited, you come up with crazy ideas that just might be amazing!)

You can see all these chicken recipes totally free in the book’s “look inside” preview. But you’ll have to buy it to access all the beef, fish, fruit, and vegetable recipes.

Is It Really The HCG?

You’re on a super low calorie diet. If you can manage to eat only 500 calories of healthy food per day, for a few weeks, you’re going to lose weight. Do you even need the hCG?

Remember, HCG does not make you lose weight – the diet makes you lose weight! However, the HCG injections change how you lose weight!

Dr. Emma even admits that on her HCG Protocol, you lose weight solely by restricting calories. The hCG essentially changes it from “weight loss” to “fat loss.” And spares your muscle. And decreases cravings.

I’m just not sure if there is evidence of this, other than reports from Dr. Emma’s clients.

I know from a scientific research perspective, studies showed similar weight loss from severe calorie restriction whether paired with hCG injections or saline injections (the placebo).

And you have to consider the paper from 1995 titled: The effect of human chorionic gonadotropin (HCG) in the treatment of obesity by means of the Simeons therapy: a criteria-based meta-analysis.

It includes this gem:

“We conclude that there is no scientific evidence that HCG is effective in the treatment of obesity; it does not bring about weight-loss of fat-redistribution, nor does it reduce hunger or induce a feeling of well-being.”

And from the FDA’s perspective, “HCG is approved as a prescription drug for the treatment of female infertility, and other medical conditions. It is not approved for weight loss.”

The hCG doesn’t sound all that appealing.

So, is there a way to accomplish all that without injections?

The answer may shock you. Yes!

Even if you want to do something as crazy as eat 500 calories per day (or even something like 1500 which is still uber-low for an athlete,) you can find cheaper, yet still effective appetite suppressants. Lean Out is a perfect example of an appetite suppressant that works. And it only costs about $25 per month.

Want to preserve muscle, too? No problem. I know something that will preserve your existing muscle as well as improve your fitness. Drum roll please… It’s exercise!! Rather than skipping exercise, just keep exercising!


hcg diet almost killed me

Success Stories

Riddle: If a diet has been around for 50+ years and doesn’t have widely known success stories, does it really work?

I’ve only found one published success story. The rest of them are just doctors saying “yes, this worked for all my clients, you should give me money too!”

The one I’m talking about is on Slate.com. The author, Rachael Larimore, spent $450 on the program and lost 18 pounds in 6 weeks… which would be 3 pounds per week… which isn’t that impressive when you consider the effort you put into it.

On the flip side, Katey’s body transformation (during which she lost over 100 pounds) is a success story of someone who decided against the diet and instead joined the Lean Eating program from Precision Nutrition. A sensible diet, stupendous results!

If you look long enough, you’ll find plenty of arguments in online forums saying the hCG diet works, it doesn’t work, HCG drops almost killed me, your mama’s so fat she had to go on the hCG diet, etc. etc..

To me, that’s not a ringing endorsement for the diet.

Side Effects and Dangers

Nearly everyone agrees that living on 500 calories per day is dangerous. (Which is why it’s a good thing you have to go to the doc every day for the injection, so they can see if you’re starving to death.)

What could go wrong?

  • You are going to spend all your money.
  • Your metabolism will probably slow down.
  • You’ll lose most of your fitness.
  • You could lose bone density.
  • You’ll feel (and look) like crap.

Since it’s only for a short time, you probably won’t risk any permanent damage. Our bodies are pretty adaptable and should be able to handle up to 6 weeks on something like this and still bounce back.

Definitely talk to a doctor (who is not affiliated with the diet) before you attempt it!

hcg activator supplement

Also be warned that, per FDA mandate, any over-the-counter HCG diet products are illegal.

They find ways around this, of course.

It looks like the stuff at GNC is labeled “HCG Activator” rather than “contains HCG.”

Funny thing though – if you don’t have any hCG in your body, how does this supplement “activate” it?



Does It Make Sense For an Endurance Athlete?

First let me say, “LOL.”

Extremely low-calorie diets are terrible for endurance athletes.

Avoiding exercise is terrible for endurance athletes.

Spending big money on gimmicks is terrible (though popular) for endurance athletes.

Should I continue?

Needless to say, I’m not a huge fan of this diet.

Of course, I can’t say there is no benefit to HCG. It’s a banned substance after all. (It’s banned by WADA in and out of competition.) MLB, NFL, and UFC athletes have been fined and suspended for it. Surely some pro cyclists are/were using it successfully alongside EPO and anabolic steroids.

I guess at the very least, with all these hormones and injections, you’ll feel like you’re a 7-time Tour de France champion.

My Final Verdict Is…

Considering people will ingest deer antler velvet in hopes that what makes a deer’s antlers grow big and strong will also make their muscles grow big and strong, it should be no surprise that people will inject hCG into their bodies or purchase the unproven “drops.” I mean, if it helped you develop as a fetus, it must have the same positive effects on your full-grown adult body.

It’s so dumb.

Just do the Get Shredded Diet instead if you need something this extreme. It uses the same principles (calorie deficits, appetite suppressants, and muscle sparing supplements), but it’s much cheaper, involves exercise, and does not involve trips to the doctor’s office.

You’ll be fine without the hCG, and if you’re a competitive athlete, you have to make do without it.

Would you still consider enrolling in an HCG diet program? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments section!

Show References

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Related: Surviving the Dr. Oz Diet

Photo credit: Jeremy Brooks

This article was originally published on May 20, 2015. It was updated and republished on July 16, 2018.

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  1. Ha, “the HCG diet almost killed me!” However you feel about low carb diets or Nutrisystem tv dinners, that’s a new level of extreme!

    • I lost 80 pounds on it. I feel lighter and healthier now. I suggest you to visit some facebook groups to get motivation.

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