As I prepare to celebrate my daughter’s fourth month of life, it only takes a quick glance at my stomach to wish I could burn through the baby weight. My complaint isn’t unusual; after all, losing weight has become America’s pastime. According to the Aug. 12, 2010 edition of PR Newswire, most Americans would rather give up sex than gain weight, and even more would sacrifice their iPhones and laptops for a toner tummy. Interestingly enough, as my hormones work to stabilize themselves out postpartum, pregnancy may actually be the secret weapon to winning the battle of the bulge once and for all.
Advocates are now raving that the key to weight loss success is “hCG.” Short for human chorionic gonadotropin, they insist that the concentrated form of the hormone helps kick-start the metabolism, encouraging pounds to fall off. During pregnancy, hCG commands the hypothalamus to mobilize fat stores, bringing nutrients to the placenta to help facilitate the growth of the fetus. Practitioners of hCG tell dieters that the hormone is essential in burning through fat cells in order to achieve substantial weight loss, and encourage the purchase of the hormone in bulk. Folks are even given a choice between injecting themselves or spraying a mist under their tongue. And there certainly isn’t an absence of people willing to share their amazing stories of losing large quantities of weight by using the hormone as directed, and closely subscribing to the food plan.
That’s right—food plan. In order for hCG to be effective, dieters have to follow a strict, well, diet. Flipping through the books published in tandem with the promotional materials of hCG, dieters are treated to the outlining of recipes with mouthwatering names for entrees such as “Orange Asian Chicken,” “Tasty Cajun Chicken,” and even desserts like “Chocolate Strawberry Shake.”
Bolstered by testimonials claiming an average weight loss of between 25 and 50 pounds in as many days, at first blush, hCG seems to be the answer to weight loss for the busy American. Two adages of common sense meet here: beauty is only skin deep, and if it’s too good to be true, it probably is. That certainly appears to be the case with hCG.
Consider the claim of hCG as a homeopathic alternative to modern methods of weight loss. As identified above, hCG is a hormone. It’s present in both men and women, but the increased presence of hCG is generally what tips off pregnancy tests that a woman has conceived. The hormones are being billed as authentic on just about every online hCG retailer. Rest assured, most probably are, because the hormone is ridiculously easy to harvest. All you need is a few dozen pregnant women willing to give you their urine.
Think about that for a minute. The way to lose weight apparently rests inside the bladders of pregnant women.
This isn’t a part of the diet that is particularly publicized, obviously. Most retailers sell hCG in powder form, requiring dieters to mix it with other solutions to create the appropriate administration of hCG. Attempting to get any seller to acknowledge the role of urine in their product is nearly impossible, or will invite some hat trick to avoid actually addressing the topic. In an entry dated July 19, 2010, the author of the HCGDiet 411 blog writes, “It’s not pee! Well not entirely anyways. Yes, it’s true, the hCG Hormone is extracted from the urine of pregnant women.” That’s a roundabout way of acknowledging users are consuming urine, regardless of how diluted.
In addition to some dishonest branding, hCG presents a far more troubling, if ironic, possibility in the ever-changing landscape of thinspiration. Pregnant women are reminded daily that their figure is beautiful for the brief time they’re carrying their children to term. Yet there is an incredible disconnect immediately following the birthing process, when magazines, TV shows, and even fashion designers focus on burning the baby weight and fast. For pregnant women to now present the solution to weight loss success will not signal a cultural shift for society to be any less offended by their post-birth bulging bellies, ballooning backsides, or blossoming breasts. Postpartum women will once again have their bodies stripped of relevancy.
The most problematic aspect of the hCG craze, however, is that hCG may be unfairly receiving credit for work that, frankly, it isn’t doing. The diet plan discussed above? As yummy as those recipes sound, they’re incredibly low in calories. In fact, participants of the hCG diet can only eat 500 calories a day, which is just a shade above starvation. Many critics of the hCG diet assert that the hCG itself is irrelevant to the diet, and the starvation element of hCG may be responsible for the weight loss. Oh, and all of the fun side effects that go with it, including hair loss, inability to concentrate, and irritability. Since 1975, the Food and Drug Administration has required hCG supplies to be labeled with a disclaimer informing citizens that hCG hasn’t been conclusively linked to weight loss.
Although it goes without saying that diet fads have taken Americans to some pretty low places, it’s hard to imagine what could top injecting urine in the endless quest for an unrealistic body. The idea that we could love women for who they are rather than for what they produce, particularly when it comes to pregnancy and body size, is a radical proposition under the current cultural attitude of beauty. And the hCG diet is a neat way to package up our ambivalent relationship with pregnant and postpartum women, regardless of how ineffective.
Coming of age in a society where people would rather starve themselves than carry curves, I’m all too familiar with the pressures to achieve a body I’m simply not meant to have. Those pressures didn’t let up just because I was pregnant; they were just couched with new terms designed to deliver the same anti-woman, body-hating rhetoric that hCG likewise capitalizes on to goad folks into losing weight. It’s interesting how we can encourage people to lose weight through methods like ingesting diluted urine from pregnant women but not embrace their post-pregnancy shape.
My challenge to society is simple: if you’re taking urine in your quest for weight loss, you should respect the bodies that urine is coming from. I can’t say that I’ve ever donated mine to any facility looking to harvest hCG but my postpartum body is still worthy of respect and acceptance.