What is a time of joy for many women was my darkest hour.
Since hitting puberty like a brick wall at the age of thirteen, I have struggled with body image. I have never been terribly overweight; my insecurity came from developing so quickly. I went from an A-cup to D-cup in under a month, and the sudden flood of comments from girls in the locker room and boys in class made me wish I could crawl under my desk and hide. Even as I got older, I never got fully used to my full-figured body. It didn't help that, according to every sizing chart on the internet, I was supposed to weigh 150 pounds but — due to my larger frame — I never seemed to weigh less than 170 pounds. I tried eating clean eating and exercising, but my body never seemed to get smaller (at least, not at the pace I wanted it to). I wanted immediate results, and losing one or two pounds every few weeks was not doing it for me.
Things changed when I overheard a man talking about the HCG diet. His wife was on it and was somehow losing multiple pounds every day. I immediately texted my mother, who was always my partner in food-related ventures, and told her all about it. It wasn't the cheapest diet out there, but by the end of the week, my mom and I had ordered all the supplies we would need to get started.
According to the little research we did ahead of time, the diet was easy. All you had to do was take these special HCG drops a few times a day and eat a specific diet, and you'd drop 1-5 pounds a day. It seemed easy enough at the time.
According to the handbook that came with our HCG drops, the diet comes in phases, and Phase One is a series of "binging" or "loading" days. On these first two days, we were supposed to eat as much as we could to store up fats that would get us through the rest of the diet. My mom and I had no problem with this. We ate pizza and burgers and ice cream and everything else we knew we couldn't have for the next few weeks while we dieted. It was pretty fun, but we were both eating way more than we usually would. We had healthy eating habits before starting the diet, so after two days of eating excessive amounts of food, we felt awful. Along with feeling disgusting from overeating, we had both gained even more weight. We decided not to worry. We knew this was all a part of the plan, and those three or four pounds we had just gained would be gone in a day or two.
After those first two days, we began the actual diet, which consisted of only 500 calories a day. To put that into perspective, there are 500 calories in a venti Frappuccino or a bagel with cream cheese. The recommended amount of calories per day is 2,000. We were eating a fourth of that. And we weren't allowed to choose exactly how we wanted to eat our 500 calories; there was a very strict diet we had to follow. A typical day's food on the HCG diet looked like:
- 1 apple
- 100 grams of deli turkey (about 13 pieces)
- 2 pieces of Melba toast (essentially two crackers)
- 100 grams of ground beef
- Two cups of celery
- 1 cooked onion
- 10 strawberries
My mom and I got creative, stretching the minuscule amount of food out as far as we could and even transforming the strawberries into sorbet in a food processor. We both felt alright after Day One. The HCG drops took the edge off of our hunger, and we were feeling skinnier already. The next morning, we had both lost four pounds and were excited to continue.
The next week was not nearly as successful.
Each day seemed to be getting harder. We kept dropping weight and sticking to the diet, but we both began to feel sluggish all the time. I was working a full-time job at a coffee shop, and the long days around lattes and breakfast pastries were torture. I wanted to eat everything I saw. By the end of each day, I felt like my brain wasn't working properly. It was like I was wandering around in a haze. There were a few times when I even pulled into the wrong driveway on my way home. It was clear that the diet was messing with my head, but I couldn't deny the results. By the end of the first week, I had lost fifteen pounds. My sweaters were becoming big on me, and my once tight jeans were beginning to sag in weird places. I took this as a sign that I needed to buy new clothes, and after eating my tiny dinner of "chili" (ground beef and sauteed onion), I got online and ordered five new dresses from Anthropologie with my saved up tip money from the coffee shop.
The next week of the diet dragged on, and things only got worse. I kept losing weight, but in addition to feeling out of my mind, I started to become angry all the time. There was one day I was weighing out a portion of turkey on a digital scale, and when I couldn't get the number to land on exactly 100, I became so angry, I threw the scale off the counter, sending turkey all across the kitchen floor. I was acting completely out of my character, and my friends started to worry. I would be in the middle of a conversation with a friend over coffee (Thank God, I was allowed to have black coffee), and I would completely space out and not hear a word she said. Then later, I would snap at her for absolutely nothing.
Apart from my attitude, I was too thin. In two weeks, I had dropped thirty pounds, which put me under the weight I should be for a woman of my height. My mom, who had lost a notable amount of weight as well, started using the word "emaciated" to describe my appearance. She started to encourage me to stop the diet, but I insisted I was fine. I had come this far, and even though my initial goal was to reach 150 pounds, I started to wonder what I would look like just ten pounds thinner. I had a thigh gap for the first time in my entire adult life, and I was addicted to this transformation. I loved waking up knowing I was going to step on the scale and be even lighter, though I was having trouble sleeping due to my new, protruding hip bones.
Two weeks in, I become so weak I had to hold onto the counter to walk across the kitchen. Everything took so much effort. But I put forth the energy necessary when I noticed that my new Anthropologie dresses had come in the mail. I was so excited to have new beautiful dresses that fit my new body. However, I was only excited for a moment, because as I tried each of the new dresses on, I realized that they were all too big. They would have fit me the week before when I ordered them, but I had lost so much more weight since then, that they were now far too big. Regretfully, I packed them all back up and sent them back. It wasn't long after that I finally decided to stop the diet. My work performance was slipping and many of my friends were concerned about my quick weight loss. A few even brought up the phrase "eating disorder," which made me worry about my current mental state. I had gone from living a happy, healthy life to being obsessed with food and weight loss, angry all the time, and unable to climb a flight of stairs without feeling like I was going to pass out due to overexertion.
There are many versions of the HCG diet that all recommend different methods for the third phase of the diet, but our particular version set Phase 3 as a "maintenance" phase, in which you were supposed to integrate your body back into eating regular food. The moment I was allowed to eat 1200 calories a day again, I felt like I was in heaven. I stuck to the same foods I had been eating on the diet, just in larger portions. However, even though was I eating the same foods, I felt bloated all the time. My stomach did not seem to be happy about all the food I was putting into it, but my brain was pleased to be able to function again.
Over the first week of phasing out of the diet, I constantly felt sick, and when I would step on the scale, I was always disappointed to see I was gaining the weight back. It didn't make sense. I was only eating 1200 calories, which is the recommended amount of caloric intake for someone who is trying to lose weight. As it turned out, my metabolism was shot. Not eating enough food for so long had caused my body to shift in "survival mode," and now that I was giving it food, it was clinging onto it for all it was worth. I was so disappointed.
I had worked so hard to lose that weight, and now it was coming back. On top of everything, the HCG diet does not allow you to work out, which makes sense considering walking across the house seemed like running a marathon after a few days of little food, but after it was all over, I was in even worse shape than when I started. My leisurely bike rides now seemed like extreme spinning classes.
It did not take me long to realize this diet was a terrible mistake. Not only did it fail provide me with lasting results, but it also left me in a worse state than when I started. And the entire time I was on the diet, I was unhappy. Coming out on the other side of HCG, I was out of shape and had an unhealthy relationship with food that made me prone to binge-eat instead of controlling my portions and only eating when I was hungry like I used to. It took me quite some time to recover completely from the diet and develop healthy food habits and a positive body image again. On top of being dangerous and unhealthy, it does not yield results that last. Wanting to have a beautiful body is not a bad thing, but — as I learned — no diet is worth your sanity or your self-esteem.