Home / General / NY Times: Dangerous, expensive diet fraud has fans and skeptics

NY Times: Dangerous, expensive diet fraud has fans and skeptics


“Some” (researchers who have tested the proposition) have found that injecting yourself with a hormone derived from the urine of pregnant women while eating a starvation diet of 500 calories a day doesn’t actually cause any weight loss that wouldn’t be caused by a starvation diet alone. “Others” (crooked doctors charging their desperate patients $1000+ a month) claim otherwise:

But unlike other popular diet supplements, hCG, which is derived from the urine of pregnant women, has acquired an aura of respectability because the injections are available only by prescription.

Ms. Brown’s physician, Lionel Bissoon, a well-known society doctor with an office off Central Park West, charges $1,150 for his hCG program, which covers an examination, injection training, a month’s supply of the hormone and syringes, and blood work to monitor for possible trouble.

“From an anecdotal point of view,” Dr. Bissoon said, “physicians all around the country have seen people losing a tremendous amount of weight with this stuff, and you cannot afford to ignore that.”

Indeed! Who is to say what the truth of the matter is? And what is “truth” anyway, in this crazy mixed up postmodern world of ours?

Not to mention the whole “eating 500 calories a day is exactly what anorexics do” thing.

Then there are the nutritional concerns about a diet that some say mimics anorexia. “The average person is going to eat 1,800 to 3,000 calories,” said Kristen Smith, a bariatric surgery dietitian at Montefiore Medical Center.

“I don’t think it promotes healthy long-term eating habits,” she added.

Limiting yourself to 500 calories a day “mimics” anorexia in the same way that injecting heroin every day “mimics” heroin addiction.

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  • Halloween Jack

    Somewhere in hell, the goat-gland guy is laughing.

  • Malaclypse

    In a free market, people can test drug safety on themselves, or by simply hiring the less well-off. If Biblical kings could have food-tasters, then we can be sure that God will approve of this plan.

  • SeanH

    In a free market, some people will die and some people will profit from that.

  • Man, from what Reality Check sez, this “Free market” thing sounds awful. What kind of sociopath would be in favor of it?

    • Malaclypse

      What kind of sociopath would be in favor of it?


  • RC, you mean like the example of you when you bought yours brains. It’s an anecdote so it must be true. Beside I said it, so that makes it doubly true.

    • chris

      In a free market, anyone will have the right to sell their brain if they’re not using it anymore.

      …no wonder libertarians all think they’d be rich.

    • DrDick

      The label said they were from Abby. Abby Normal, that is.

  • JMS

    I love things like this that blow the top off the “It’s all about health!” illusion of the weight-loss industry.

    Not content with instructing patients to starve themselves, they’re also fucking with their hormones. AWESOME! Because there’s nothing like putting someone’s heart at risk doubly in order to get them to lose weight “for the sake of their hearts.”

  • davenoon

    I see there are homeopathic versions of this same useless hormone. The mind boggles twice.

    • Far, far safer than the real thing.

      • JMS


        • witless chum

          An underrated Buffy episode, IMO. Mostly for Cordelia’s speech to what she believes is Xander as fish demon.

      • NonyNony

        Yeah, if I had a choice between someone injecting me with urine and someone injecting me with urine diluted to 30C I’ll take the 30C.

        Of course the only place I’d expect to make a choice like that would be some kind of torture chamber because injecting yourself with urine willingly? WTF?

        • Left_Wing_Fox

          Death, or Snoo-Snoo?

  • elm

    I know that even gold-standard medical research can sometimes be fuzzy on the causal mechanisms, but what’s the logic for why the urine of a pregnant woman (and, apparently, only a pregnant woman) will lead to weight loss?

    Could you get any closer to the stereotypical witch’s potion than this unless you also mixed in some eye of newt?

    • davenoon

      The theory is of course completely insane. Basically, an Italian doctor working in India during the 1950s surmised that hCG could be used to promote sexual maturation in hypogonadic young boys. Initially, he administered the urine of pregnant women to these kids by way of a retention enema. He also put them on this 500-calorie diet and — surprise, surprise — the kids lost weight. He developed a theory that hCG basically “freed up” adipose tissue and caused it to migrate within the body, during which time it could be burnt off since (by his theory) the recipient’s body believed it was pregnant and needed the energy to build up a placenta, etc.

      It’s batshit. Given what Paul notes (i.e., the diet is basically anorexia + placebo), it’s remarkable that the doctor who devised the treatment always claimed that “we undertake to cure a disorder, not to create a new one.” Right, right….

      • davenoon

        I should have written, “hypogonadic, young boys who also happened to be obese.”

      • wsn

        That sounds an awful lot like “frog with no legs goes deaf” …

  • jon

    You know what was another great diet program? The Bataan Death March. But it’s not for everyone.

    • Rob

      Yes but only under strict doctor supervision at $2000 a hour.

    • Warren Terra

      Well, the key is supposed to be less food and more exercise …

    • DrDick

      I understand that the Khmer Rouge had a killer weight loss program.

  • joe from Lowell

    Limiting yourself to 500 calories a day “mimics” anorexia in the same way that injecting heroin every day “mimics” heroin addiction.

    I imagine it’s a bit easier to stop.

    • Lea

      Not necessarily.

    • JMS

      Anorexia has a higher mortality rate than heroin addiction, so I would suggest “No.”

      The thing is that starving yourself actively messes up your neurochemistry, which keeps many people from being able to get themselves out of the anorexic spiral.

      • Lea

        Yup. And after a while in that spiral (a very short while most of the time) the insurance companies basically say “Oh shut up and eat a sandwich, you silly little girl” and refuse to put out another penny for treatment. Which does not exactly lead to someone getting OUT of the spiral.

  • Janet

    Hey, they lost me with the first sentence: “Every morning, Kay Brown engages in a ritual similar to a heroin addict’s, or a diabetic’s: she sticks herself with a syringe.”

    First, an insulin injection is subcutaneous; a heroin injection is intravenous — the technique is actually very different.

    Second, implying that insulin is an addictive and/or recreational substance is truly ignorant. And stupid. And offensive.

    Third, you do not stick yourself with a syringe; you stick yourself with a needle. The syringe is the part that holds the fluid you’re going to inject, not the pointy part. A turkey baster is a syringe.


    • SeanH

      That is really terrible thinking on behalf of the NY Times.

      “Every morning, Steve Jones engages in a ritual similar to a chronic overeater’s, or an athlete’s: he eats breakfast.”

      “Every weekend, Katie Dennis engages in a ritual similar to a functioning alcoholic’s, or a ritual celebrant of the god Dionysus’s: she drinks wine.”

      • dave

        Crap Journalistic Formulae 101.

      • Every few seconds I engage in a ritual similar to a murderer’s, rapist’s or Mick Hucknall’s: I inhale.

  • PhoenixRising

    Dr “Bissoon”? Are you certain? I thought it was spelled “buffoon”.

  • ajay

    What amazes me is that they’re reporting anything less than a 100% success rate. There are people on a 500-calorie-a-day diet who aren’t losing weight? I wouldn’t even have thought that was possible for anyone except the already severely emaciated.

  • It’s scary how doctors will apply anything to patients for money.

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