This week at a networking event I talked to a gal who had just gotten off the hCG diet. I was feeling particularly bold, so I told her that I am completely opposed to extreme diets like the one she had been following.
Why? The hCG diet is a 500-calorie-per-day starvation plan with the added twist that people on the plan take drops or injections of the pregnancy hormone hCG. Of course you can lose weight on it–just as you could with any starvation diet–but you’re also putting your health and your lean muscle mass at risk.
My new friend–let’s call her Sally–told me she’d lost 20 pounds, and I responded that probably a good proportion of that loss was muscle. I further explained that every pound of muscle lost means a slower metabolism.
Sally said that the people administering the plan had told her she wouldn’t lose any muscle. When I asked whether they’d measured her body fat and lean mass before and after the diet–which would have indicated exactly how much muscle and how much fat she’d lost–she said no.
Yet despite her apparent success, Sally wasn’t recommending the diet. She said she felt terrible. That she had no energy at all and felt completely flat. I asked her whether she’d been exercising, and she said no–that she was just too exhausted.
She also admitted that she’s lost the same 20 pounds several times before.
Sally seemed like a nice gal, and I didn’t want to go after her with guns blazing. I said, “Look–I’m glad you’ve lost the 20 pounds. But did this plan teach you anything about how to eat correctly so that you won’t regain the weight?”
Of course, the answer was no.
I’m not trying to judge Sally harshly. I’m a survivor of the diet wars, and I’ve had the frustrating experience of losing the same 15 to 20 pounds multiple times. But now that I know better, I hate to hear about people being suckered by plans that are almost guaranteed to fail in the long run.
Here’s what I want to tell the Sallys of this world: The fastest way to achieve your fat-loss and health goals is to take the slow way.
Not to follow a “20 [or 30] pounds in 30 days” plan that screws up your appetite-regulating hormones, leaves you exhausted, slows your metabolism, and dramatically increases the odds that you’ll have to diet again in six months or a year.
The fastest way is to shoot for the one- to two-pound weekly fat loss you can get by exercising moderately and eating normal foods in somewhat reduced quantities.
Think about it this way. In six months Sally is very likely to have regained her 20 pounds–with perhaps a few more besides.
But if instead of doing the hCG diet she had decided to take the slow path, in six months she could have 1. learned new, healthy eating behaviors that can last a lifetime, 2. established a regular exercise habit, and 3. shed that 20 pounds.
The fat-loss research confirms that people who lose weight more slowly are significantly more likely to keep it off.
It’s human to want results fast. But if something sounds too good to be true, it usually is.
So which do you think makes more sense? The fast way that fails or the slow way that yields lasting results? Please comment and let me know your opinion!