What Is the HCG Diet?

hcg diet

Verywell / Debbie Burkhoff

At Verywell, we believe there is no one-size-fits-all approach to a healthy lifestyle. Successful eating plans need to be individualized and take the whole person into consideration. Prior to starting a new diet plan, consult with your healthcare provider or a registered dietitian, especially if you have an underlying health condition.

HCG, which stands for human chorionic gonadotropin, is known as the pregnancy hormone since it is produced during pregnancy by the placenta. The HCG diet, however, has very little to do with pregnancy. It is a controversial weight loss plan that combines illegal HCG supplements or hormone injections with an extremely low-calorie diet.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has only approved prescriptions for HCG drugs for the treatment of female infertility. No HCG supplements may be legally sold in the United States for weight loss and the FDA has issued a warning about their safety and fraudulent weight-loss claims.

The HCG diet combines manufactured HCG supplements or injections of the HCG hormone with an extreme reduction in calories. Divided into three phases, the diet is a short-term eating plan intended to help people lose dramatic amounts of weight in three to six weeks. Many HCG proponents claim the diet can cause weight loss of up to two pounds per day.

While you may shed pounds quickly on the HCG diet, it is not recognized as safe by health experts. According to the FDA, there is “no substantial evidence” that it’s even effective. Most experts agree that weight loss achieved on the HCG diet is due to extreme calorie restriction, not the HCG hormone itself.

The HCG diet is highly unsafe, unhealthy, and illegal. This article should be used solely for informational purposes since health experts discourage anyone from trying it. There are many other weight loss options to consider that are much safer.

What Experts Say

“The HCG diet claims human chorionic gonadotropin (HCG) products and severely restricting calories will lead to rapid weight loss. Experts warn that you should steer clear of this diet. Not only is it extreme and unsustainable, but over-the-counter HCG products are illegal.”

Chrissy Carroll, RD, MPH

The Diet Plan

Some supplement-based diets claim to boost metabolism, but the HCG diet is based on the idea of altering the body’s hormones to turn fat into fuel. A typical HCG diet plan is divided into three phases, which include the loading phase, the weight loss phase, and the maintenance phase.

Loading Phase

The loading phase claims to prepare the body for the caloric restriction it will enter during the weight loss phase. During this brief two-day “primer,” people preparing to begin the HCG diet eat extremely high fat, high-calorie foods—up to 250 grams of fat per day—and are encouraged to eat as much fat and as many calories as possible. (For reference, this is 2,250 calories a day just from fat.)

Daily HCG hormone supplements or injections also begin at this time. Theoretically, this phase “stocks” the normal fat cells you want to keep and prepares the body to burn “abnormal” fat.

Weight Loss Phase

Next, adherents continue their HCG supplements while consuming either 500 or 800 calories per day, spread over two meals. The weight loss phase may last from three to six weeks, depending on an individual's weight loss goals. 

Maintenance Phase

Once someone on this diet has shed their desired number of pounds, they gradually discontinue supplementation of the HCG hormone while slowly increasing calories. Though HCG diet resources do not specify the number of calories you’ll eventually reach to maintain weight loss, some state that 1,200 to 1,500 is an appropriate target.

During the brief "loading phase" of the HCG diet, there are no limitations on what or how much to eat. But once the weight loss phase begins, however, there are a number of foods the diet discourages—and only a few that are considered acceptable.

How Many Calories to Consume

The HCG diet plan recommends eating either 500 or 800 calories spread over two meals per day. The timing of these meals isn’t critical, but in general, calories are divided fairly equally between lunch and dinner.

An intake of 800 calories per day (or lower) is considered a very low calorie diet (VLCD). It is not recommended to restrict one's calories to this level without being monitored by a healthcare professional.

For breakfast, the diet recommends coffee or tea, which can be sweetened with stevia or saccharine. Since HCG also allows for one tablespoon of milk per day, some people elect to put it in their coffee at breakfast time.

The HCG diet requires no specific recipes, but many online resources offer suggestions for meal plans that stay within the 500-calorie-per-day target. With calories divided between two meals a day, people on the HCG diet can expect to take in about 250 calories at lunch and at dinner.

While the 500-calorie version of the HCG diet is the most well-known, there is an alternate 800-calorie plan, Proponents of the HCG diet have found the 800-calorie version more satisfying but have experienced less dramatic weight loss. 

Research indicates that the HCG hormone does not work the way originally theorized. No studies have confirmed that it fuels weight loss. In fact, studies conducted on the diet reveal that HCG injections make no difference in weight reduction when compared with a placebo.

What You Can Eat

The lost of acceptable foods on the HCG Diet include lean proteins, only certain approved vegetables and fruits, seasonings, and coffee, tea or water to drink.

Lean Protein

The two daily meals on the HCG diet are based around a 3.5-ounce serving of lean protein. Approved choices include chicken, egg whites, white fish, crab, lobster, scallops, extra-lean beef, and bison.

Approved Vegetables

Only certain vegetables are allowed on the plan. To accompany lean protein at lunch and dinner, one serving of spinach, chard, beet greens, cabbage, lettuce, celery, cauliflower, broccoli, asparagus, tomatoes, onion, shallots, or radishes is allowed.

Approved Fruits

As with vegetables, a limited number of fruits are approved for HCG-compliant meals. These include berries, citrus fruits, and apples, which can be consumed once at lunch and once at dinner. 

Herbs and Spices

Because herbs and spices are largely low- or no-calorie, they’re the primary means of flavoring food on the HCG diet. HCG-compliant recipes often use garlic, lemon juice, salt, pepper, rosemary, or thyme to season meats and vegetables.

Coffee, Tea, and Water

People on the diet can drink as much coffee, tea, and water as they like. Coffee and tea may only be sweetened with stevia or saccharine, however, and the diet only allows for one tablespoon of milk per day to add richness to hot drinks.

What You Cannot Eat

The list of foods that cannot be consumed on the HCG diet is extensive. Some are common across many diet plans, such as sugary foods, sweets, and desserts. But some are more surprising, such as oils, which often contain monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, which can be quite healthy.


Aside from one tablespoon of milk per day, the HCG diet’s weight loss phase does not permit dairy products such as cheese, yogurt, ice cream, or any additional milk. 

High-Carb Foods

The HCG diet limits not only calories but also carbohydrates. While a single piece of Melba toast or one breadstick may be permissible at dinner (depending on the level of calorie intake), grains, muffins, bread, pasta, and other high-carb foods are otherwise prohibited.

Fats and Oils

Fats and oils don’t make an appearance on the HCG diet. Because of the diet’s dramatic limitation of caloric intake, there’s no room for the nine calories per gram fats contain. (This goes for salad dressings as well.)

Sugary Beverages and Alcohol

The HCG diet steers clear of the empty calories that beverages like soda, beer, and wine might contribute. Coffee, tea, and water are the only acceptable beverages on this eating plan.

Sweets and Desserts

Sweets and desserts are not included in the HCG diet. High-calorie items like cookies, candies, or cakes could easily contain as many calories as a single HCG meal, so they’re omitted entirely.

Pros of the HCG Diet

Rapid Weight Loss

Going on the HCG diet will probably lead to rapid weight loss, at least initially. But as the evidence shows, HCG hormone injections do not influence the amount of weight that people lose. Any weight loss is due solely to reducing in consumption of calories.

Easy to Follow

The HCG diet is not hard to follow in terms of structure. Its three phases and calorie targets are quite specific, and the number of calories or units of hormonal injections does not vary from person to person.

Cons of the HCG Diet

HCG Supplements Are Illegal

In the U.S., HCG injections and supplements may only be legally prescribed to treat female infertility. The FDA has banned all over-the-counter HCG products and, therefore, any HCG product sold as a weight loss aid is illegal. 

Program is Expensive

While reducing your calories on the HCG diet may save you money on groceries, the required hormonal injections certainly aren’t cheap. It is difficult to obtain exact figures for the cost of injections since their use in weight loss is illegal.

May Cause Extreme Hunger

Abstaining from food for short periods leads to serious hunger. But when calorie deprivation is extended and while undergoing severe calorie restriction (such as a VLCD), it may result in not just hunger, but also unpleasant side effects like headaches, brain fog, fatigue, and dizziness.

Supplements May Not Contain HCG

There is no oversight of over-the-counter supplements, including supplements of HCG. As mentioned, HCG is only legally prescribed to treat female infertility. Some supplement makers might call HCG "homeopathic," but that does not change that fact that there is no oversight about what the supplements contain.

May Lead to Disordered Eating

Not getting enough daily calories for an extended period of time can lead to an intense state of hunger. This may cause some people to binge eat or get caught in a loop of disordered eating, cycling through periods of restriction followed by overindulgence.

Going without entire categories of healthy food groups for weeks at a time is likely to result in nutrient deficiencies.

Is the HCG Diet a Healthy Choice for You?

The U.S. Department of Agriculture's 2020–2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends consuming a variety of nutrient-dense foods including fruits and vegetables, legumes, whole grains, lean protein, low-fat dairy products, and healthy fats for a well-balanced diet. The HCG diet’s restrictive nature can easily create some major gaps in categories like dairy and whole grains. 

The USDA also advises that adult women need between 1,600 and 2,400 calories per day to maintain a healthy weight, while adult men need between 2,200 to 3,200 calories per day. While these recommendations may vary by age and activity level, the HCG diet’s offering of just 500 or 800 calories falls short of a healthy number of calories for adults. Use this calculator to find out the right number of calories to meet your goals in a healthy, sustainable way. Keep in mind that the calorie goal provided is just an estimate. Each person has their own nutritional needs.

Federal nutrition guidelines state that the average adult needs around 2,000 calories per day for weight management and 1,500 a day for weight loss, but the HCG diet meets only a fraction of these requirements. Following a very low-calorie diet without medical supervision is dangerous and may cause nutrient deficiencies.

A Word From Verywell

Many people have found the HCG diet’s promises of rapid, dramatic weight loss appealing. But the lack of evidence supporting its effectiveness and the dangers of its extreme calorie restriction and illegal supplements is not worth the risk. For most people, a realistic and balanced weight loss plan is a healthier, sustainable choice.

Remember, following a long-term or short-term diet may not be necessary for you and many diets out there simply don’t work, especially long-term. While we do not endorse fad diet trends or unsustainable weight loss methods, we present the facts so you can make an informed decision that works best for your nutritional needs, genetic blueprint, budget, and goals.

If your goal is weight loss, remember that losing weight isn’t necessarily the same as being your healthiest self, and there are many other ways to pursue health. Exercise, sleep, and other lifestyle factors also play a major role in your overall health. The best diet is always the one that is balanced and fits your lifestyle.

6 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. U.S. Food & Drug Administration. Questions and Answers on HCG Products for Weight Loss.

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  5. Goodbar NH, Foushee JA, Eagerton DH, Haynes KB, Johnson AA. Effect of the human chorionic gonadotropin diet on patient outcomes. Ann Pharmacother. 2013;47(5):e23. doi:10.1345/aph.1R755

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By Sarah Garone, NDTR
Sarah Garone, NDTR, is a freelance health and wellness writer who runs a food blog.