Struggling for years to lose weight after having three children, Medford resident Jennifer Parker was willing to try anything short of surgery — even a fad diet that has received a lot of bad press.
When Parker signed on last fall for three weeks of drastically reducing calories while ingesting hormone-altering drops, friends and family were concerned she'd gone too far. But Parker dropped 22 pounds on her first round of the much-publicized "HCG diet," and a second round burned another 17 pounds.
Critics of the diet raise concerns about drastic calorie reduction and hormone-altering drops or injections, but Parker says the short-term diet gave her noticeable results that have persisted these past six months.
"I had kind of given up on losing any weight and kind of figured it was just from getting older and that I couldn't lose it," says Parker. "I did the usual battery of diets, the ones where you eat certain things, the ones where you group certain foods. Nothing else has worked."
Having heard pros and cons about the HCG diet, Parker admits she was skeptical. But results, she says, trumped her concerns.
The focus of the diet is HCG, human chorionic gonadotropin, taken by injection or in drops under the tongue and coupled with a restrictive, 500-calorie diet. The combination is said to speed metabolism, which forces the body to burn 2,500 or more calories per day. HCG was first used for weight loss in the 1950s and became popular in the 1970s.
The brainchild of German doctor A.T.W. Simeons, the HCG diet consists mostly of meats and vegetables. The injections or drops are taken three times per day. HCG is a pregnancy hormone that reportedly spurs the body to convert fat into energy.
Medford nutritional-therapy practitioner Rhonda Nolan put the HCG diet through a stringent battery of "tests," even trying the diet herself a year ago, before she suggested it to about 75 clients. She acknowledges concerns but says the results are tough to ignore for clients who struggle with weight loss.
"Because I'm a nutritional therapist, when a friend told me she was about to go on a 500-calorie diet ... I thought, 'This is not good.' So I went home and did some research," says Nolan.
"People who are for it are really for it. And people who are against it are really against it. There's no middle of the road with HCG."
While the caloric reduction is extreme, says Nolan, the reduction and use of HCG drops doesn't last long enough to cause problems for healthy individuals. The trick to keeping the weight off, she says, is relearning healthful eating habits.
Medford nutrition consultant Kathleen Lee is far from "on the fence" about HCG. Lee says the diet reduces muscle mass and can alter hormone levels to the point of being unhealthy or worse.
"When I tried it — and I did try it — I got very sick on it and immediately stopped because it didn't take a rocket scientist to figure out it was not a good idea," says Lee.
"The basis of the whole thing is cutting calories, and it cuts you down so low your body has to nourish itself with its muscle. Everybody is looking for the magic pill or magic bullet that's going to make everything better; unfortunately, it takes hard work and commitment."
Nolan admits Lee's concerns are not unfounded. For clients who are desperate to lose weight, however, the diet offers tempting results that, with some guidance, can be achieved with minimal risk.
Reduced activity, she notes, will minimize harm from excessive calorie burning and muscle loss. And her clients receive supplements to protect the gallbladder from "filtering so much junk" during the course of the HCG diet. Nolan's clients receive diet counseling on what to eat and nutritional supplements to ease cravings and nourish organs involved with blood-sugar handling.
Parker says she does not regret her choice to try the diet.
"Was it drastic? Yes. But I lost the weight, so it was worth it," she says.
"I don't get winded walking to the store with my kids. I feel like it's way less healthy to stay overweight than to try something that helps you to lose it. I'm sure it's not for everybody, but it helped me achieve what I was trying to do."