It sounds strange - a hormone the body creates during pregnancy is being used to help women and men lose weight. And the promise is to do it without feeling hungry or having to exercise.
For years, Judy Carey has hidden behind the camera. But Judy isn't the same woman anymore.
"I've lost 43 pounds total and feel great," she said.
She did it by rubbing a little cream on her wrists daily.
"HCG is human chorionic gonadotropin. It's the pregnancy hormone," said Carey.
Gynecologist Dr. Robert True say the hormone, which helps ensure that a developing baby gets enough calories, can also works wonders for women who are not pregnant. Men too. Here's how it works.
Dieters are restricted to 500 calories a day. They also take HCG by injection or in compounded cream form.
"Your body says, 'Wow, they're not feeding me. I need to feed this baby,' because (your body) thinks you're pregnant because you've got that HCG going into your body," said True. "If it thinks you're pregnant, it's going to force your body to pull the nutrients from the stored areas of fat in your body. It's going to force that to happen."
True says fat calories coursing through the bloodstream make people feel like they've just eaten. He maintains that HCG and calorie restriction together set the body up for extreme weight loss, but not everyone is a believer.
"500 calories a day is a starvation diet by any definition, no matter how small you might be. So if you adhere to that with enough willpower, of course you're going to lose weight," said Dr. David Cummings, University of Washington Diabetes and Obesity Center.
Cummings points to several reputable studies that call the diet worthless and ineffective.
"Taking something that's unnecessary and involves injection when there's not only ambiguity in the field but actual clear cut disproof -- tested, failed. That's not ethical, and so to promote it would be considered unethical behavior," said Cummings.
So few calories can also put dieters at risk for dangerous vitamin deficiencies or electrolyte imbalances. That's why True insists that his patients come in twice monthly for blood tests and follow-up examinations, which can add hundreds of dollars in additional costs over the course of the diet.
Judy went from a size 14 to a size six, but it wasn't easy.
"Some of the other friends I had were never hungry, but I was a little bit hungry. So, it was a little hard staying on track," said Carey.
But now she no longer dreads getting in front of the camera.
HCG is not FDA approved for weight loss. Doctors must prescribe it off label for that use. Beware of do-it-yourself products sold over the Internet.