Sunday, January 22, 2012

Critically thinking about The HCG diet

"I took the HCG diet plan and lost 1-2 Pounds Daily to get to my ideal weight, and kept it off -- permanently!" -- satisfied user.

What to make of this claim?  The HCG diet is suddenly part of popular culture.  To no one's surprise, a typical round of celebrities have endorsed it, and YouTube videos abound.  Essentially, one limits caloric intake and takes a certain prescribed number of drops per day.  I'm highly skeptical of the claims made, and of the assertions by satisfied users of the HCG product.  I believe anyone who values evidence-based thinking on their own health should also be cautious.  Take just a quick look again at the statement above -- how does the user establish that the weight loss is permanent?  Unless they had a sudden demise soon after making the claim, they are still alive and subject to the rebound effect[1] of dieting.

Even apart from the typical problem of people being unable to account for causes of events in their own lives, one can apply a bit more nuanced critical thinking to the HCG diet:
Variables: Let H = one eats 500 calories a day.  Let C= one takes HCG drops.
Claim: H+C is correlated with weight loss. 
Analysis: From what I've found, no scientific studies have disentangled whether it's H alone, or C alone, or H+C which causes the weight loss.  One should also add-in to the entanglement another variable, G, (i.e. a placebo effect of taking a drug) and whether this psychologically empowers one to stick with H, and which actually yields the weight loss.  
Hypothesis:  I suspect H + G is the real mechanism of the weight loss. 
Experiment:  Get a hold of six HCG bottles.  Let a third-party label them 1-6, and put HCG-hued, colored-water in three of them, leave real HCG in the other three.   Go on the diet with six friends for two weeks.
What kinds of predictions can be made for such an application of "personal science"?  Only three: if the percent of weight loss is approximately equal among the six dieters, it's more likely that the H+G hypothesis is correct than the H+C one.  If the percent of weight loss is more in the HCG users, then H+C now has some objective evidence in its favor (i.e., it survived a counter-evidencing test), and becomes more likely that the HCG drug is doing something.[2] (Of course, if the loss is less for HCG drug, then all the worse for it as a diet aid. ) Naturally, using more dieters and carefully monitoring who is (a) doing what eating and (b) doing what physical activity would make the experiment results more persuasive.[3]



[image] "HCG Diet divides Doctors and Dieters: HCG Drops a Scam?" (Accessed 1/22/12)

[1] Many studies have shown that after five years out, the vast majority of people gain back all of their original weight, and some in addition. The main problem is that people cannot reset their metabolism unless they have a regularly scheduled, muscle-working exercise regimen.  But you already knew that, didn't you?

[2] Note, too, G might still play some part the HCG dieting success, and the new question becomes how much.

[3] Yes, I am well aware that this is not a  rigorously-designed, controlled study.  But if you're informed enough to realize what one of those are, then you'll have to admit this little personal science study of mine beats the h@!! out of what passes for evidence in popular culture for the effectiveness of diet aids

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