Big in the 80s along with shoulder pads and some extremely dodgy fashion sense, the Cabbage Soup Diet is still doing the rounds and seems just as popular 30 years on.
So does this granddaddy of extreme dieting actually work?
Can you really lose weight the cabbage soup way?
And is this radical weight loss diet safe?
What Is The Cabbage Soup Diet?
The Cabbage Soup Diet is a short-term intensive weight loss plan that according to popular belief may help you lose up to 15lbs within a week. It is easy to follow and if you like cabbage – and you will really need to like cabbage – it should be fairly straightforward.
You make cabbage soup and eat as much of it as you like over the course of the day however, your protein and carbohydrate intake is extremely restricted and you are limited to drinking only water throughout the duration of the diet. You eat only cabbage soup at each meal except for the times when you are allowed to eat fruit as well.
There is no single cabbage soup diet. There are many different versions and recipes for the soup. Although there are some books and diet plans around that are based on it, there is no exact version or anything that can be claimed as the original.
Typical Cabbage Soup Diet Plan
- First day. Cabbage soup plus as much fruit as you like excluding bananas
- Second day. Cabbage soup with as many vegetables as you like plus a jacket potato
- Third day. Cabbage soup and fruit and vegetables although not potatoes and bananas
- Fourth day. Cabbage soup, up to eight bananas and skimmed milk to drink
- Fifth day. Cabbage soup with the addition of a up to 280g lean beef and six tomatoes
- Sixth day. Cabbage soup plus beef and as many vegetables (not potatoes or yams) as you like
- Seventh day. Cabbage soup plus brown rice, vegetables and unsweetened fruit juice
Although this is a typical version of the Cabbage Soup Diet, this diet cannot be claimed by anyone. Most extreme diets come based on an idea created by a celebrity or nutritionist and are then marketed, such as the Dukan diet, Adkins, South Beach and Intermittent Fasting such as 5:2 or the Two Day Diet.
By contrast, the Cabbage Soup Diet seems to have just appeared from out of the blue, and nobody knows where it came from. There is no explanation why cabbage is the basis of this diet and there is no medical or weight loss reason why this diet should be the way that it is. For example, why should you eat eight bananas on one day? It does not make sense.
How Does the Cabbage Soup Diet Work?
There is nothing mystical or even well thought out about the Cabbage Soup Diet. It is essentially a starvation diet because it drastically restricts calorie intake to around 800 per day and the weight loss is achieved by this reason alone.
Most nutritionists agree that a calorie-controlled diet of less than 1200 calories per day is unsafe and does not provide sufficient nutrients necessary for maintaining a healthy lifestyle. However, the appeal of this diet is that you can each as much cabbage soup as you like!
You may be feeling hungry and lacking in energy but the cabbage soup will fill you up and at least provide some comfort. The high fibre content of the cabbage appeals because it is essentially a healthy ingredient and many cabbage soup dieters feel that it is partly a detox as well as a quick way to lose weight. This is not true. The only reason you will lose weight by following the Cabbage Soup Diet is that the daily calorie intake is well below safe levels.
The History Of The Cabbage Soup Diet
Nobody knows who first came up with the Cabbage Soup Diet and the first references to it date back to the 1950s. Back then food choices were extremely limited by comparison with today. Cabbage with its easy year round availability and low price would have made this diet accessible to everyone and the idea of a crash weight loss diet an almost revolutionary concept in this era.
The diet was then resurrected in the 1980s and became popular with female office workers. This decade was the heyday of the Cabbage Soup Diet and it seemed that back then everyone was talking about it and trying it.
Prior to the age of the internet , people would use the office fax machine to pass information and jokes around and the Cabbage Soup Diet became a kind of viral phenomenon years before “going viral” was even thought about. Cartoons, jokes and urban legends circulated via the fax machine and in this way the cabbage soup diet became engrained in office culture and “faxlore”.
Most people who first tried the Cabbage Soup Diet, found it via this method and quite often the diet plan was given a semi official name such as the “Russian Peasant Diet” “Military Cabbage Soup” or similar. Doing the diet for just a week tied in with office culture and the idea of slimming down for a special event such as a date, wedding or to fit into a special dress.
So How Much Weight Can You Expect To Lose?
Although the cabbage soup is supposed to make you lose between 10 – 15lbs in a week you are more likely to lose water weight than burn off fat. The loss of weight comes from loss of water and muscle tissue rather than your fat reserves. The expected weight loss is therefore extremely questionable.
Like all crash diets, it may show some short-lived instant results on the scales but it does not help with long-term health and weight loss. Consuming this extremely reduced calorie intake will affect your metabolism and slow it down to conserve fat reserves in the face of perceived food shortages. Not helpful for long-term weight loss!
Once the diet is over most people find that the weight goes straight back on. Losing weight like this is a classic cause of yo yo weight gain and the boomerang dieting phenomenon (see our earlier article).
How About Any Side Effects?
The Cabbage Soup Diet is notorious for its side effects. The most troublesome is the extreme flatulence that it causes. The high fibre diet will not always agree with your stomach and it can cause diarrhoea as well as noxious gas. These inescapable side effects will impact on the people around you too!
Keeping to this diet is not easy. It may make you feel faint and light headed with hunger and many people report that even the smell of the soup will induce feelings of nausea after a few days.
The low calorie count will also affect your mood and energy levels. Many people report that they suffer from headaches, irritability and low concentration and this will impair your performance at work, driving and similar. This short period of near starvation should not cause any long-term health issues but it will impact on your life during the seven days you follow the diet.
There is a very high salt content in the diet, which is not good for you – but you do have to make this soup palatable somehow! It is not a healthy way to lose weight.
The Cabbage Soup Diet Today
There have been some updated versions of the cabbage soup diet. This fad weight loss plan gets resurrected every now and again and a modern twist often added. Today’s cabbage soup often includes more exotic vegetables such as green peppers and mushrooms, which makes it less boring. One point is certain. You will certainly be raiding the spice rack and stock cubes in order to make the soup “do able”.
Despite everything, the cabbage soup diet remains popular because it is such a short-term weight loss plan that anyone can do. Some people really swear by it and take the diet periodically as a quick fit slimming programme. Others try it and struggle before giving up a few days in.
The feedback seen on slimming sites is mixed. Comments include:
Day 3 and I’m struggling I’m sooo hungry I’ve only been having 1 bowl a day. I cannot face anymore
Did this diet for a week. Not for the faint hearted!!!! You really need to have willpower
1st 3 days are ok but when faced with soup for breakfast, lunch and tea it’s hard….the flatulence a big problem
Cabbage is Good for Health
Cabbage is an excellent vegetable for weight loss and is a very good ingredient to incorporate into a healthy diet. Cabbage is high in vitamin C and fibre. Some types of cabbage such as Savoy and Pak Choi are high in beta-carotene, an antioxidant that can help prevent against heart disease and cancer. Cabbage also is high in phyto chemicals called indoles that are being tested for their role in the prevention of breast cancer.
Cheap, plentiful and easily available, cabbage is an excellent ingredient that can be prepared in many ways and is a lot more versatile than many people think.
Soup is great for weight loss too!
Soup is an excellent way to reduce your calorie intake and will help you avoid hunger pangs when losing weight. Making your own soup is easy and makes an extremely healthy and filling meal that boosts your vegetable intake and is a great way to reach your five a day. Home-made soup is a great addition to a healthy lifestyle and it will help you lose weight when added as a regular part of your normal diet.
Cabbage is good, home-made soup is good and the two should help you lose weight and boost your health and antioxidant levels. However, the Cabbage Soup Diet is not recommended for health and in most cases, the weight loss it causes will be temporary and short lasting.
All dietary advice is to make lifestyle changes and to lose weight gradually. That way you have a greater chance of losing weight successfully and permanently. Many people try the Cabbage Soup Diet and fail because starving yourself takes a type of misplaced will power and it can result in slowing your metabolism, making weight loss hard in the future.
According to the NHS, losing 2lbs a week is a safe rate of weight loss that you can live with and function perfectly normally without too much effort. There are many ways of achieving this safe rate of weight loss and whatever method works best for you is fine. Taking some high antioxidant slimming pills may provide the extra support you need to succeed.
The Cabbage Soup Diet may work fast but after a month, you will have probably put on the weight back on that you lost. On the other hand, losing weight at a safe rate of 2lbs a week is easier and after a month, you will have already lost 8lbs!
The truth is that when it comes to losing weight, slow and steady wins the race each time and is the only way to maintain results.