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This article was written on 21 May 2008, and is filled under Popular diets.

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The Cabbage Soup Diet

By Kathleen M. Zelman, MPH, RD, LD
WebMD Weight Loss Clinic-Feature

What It Is

If eating a bottomless bowl of cabbage soup, along with a few other low-calorie foods, for a solid week appeals to you, the Cabbage Soup Diet is sure to lead to quick weight loss. However, since the food choices are so limited and the calories so low, boredom and inadequate nutrition — are inevitable.

Versions of this very restrictive diet have been buzzing through fax machines and circulating around water coolers for years. A few books have documented different variations of this simple, anonymously written diet plan, which surprisingly has survived the test of time

The Cabbage Soup Diet plan is not in any way individualized. There are no recommendations about exercise, no behavioral tips, no advice on changing bad habits – just a strict list of what to eat each day of the week. And meals need to be eaten at home, because these foods won’t be found on most restaurant menus.

The Cabbage Soup Diet plan promises a 10-pound weight loss in one week, and dieters are restricted to one week at a time on the plan. If they want to lose more, they are advised to wait awhile before commencing another week on this super-low-calorie diet.

What You Can Eat

The 7-day Cabbage Soup Diet plan promises all you can eat — as long as you stick to the small list of allowed foods on alternate days, along with two daily bowls of fat-free cabbage soup. Other specific foods that must be eaten including fruit, vegetables, skim milk, and meat. Dieters are also advised to drink plenty of water and avoid alcohol.

Here’s a sample Cabbage Soup Diet plan:

Day 1: Cabbage soup and all the fruit you want except bananas. Drink unsweetened tea, black coffee, cranberry juice, or water.

Day 2: Cabbage soup, all the low-calorie vegetables you want (except beans, peas, or corn), and a baked potato with butter.

Day 3: Cabbage soup and a mixture of the above fruit and vegetables.

Day 4: Cabbage soup, up to eight bananas, and two glasses of skim milk.

Day 5: Cabbage soup, up to 20 ounces of beef, chicken or fish, up to six fresh tomatoes, and at least 6-8 glasses of water.

Day 6: Cabbage soup, up to 3 beef steaks, and unlimited vegetables.

Day 7: Cabbage soup, up to 2 cups of brown rice, unsweetened fruit juices, and unlimited vegetables.

The recipe for the cabbage soup varies slightly among different versions of the diet. But it basically includes cabbage and assorted low-calorie vegetables such as onions and tomatoes, and is flavored with onion soup mix, bouillon, and tomato juice.

Here’s a typical recipe:

1 package dry onion soup mix

2 bouillon cubes, either chicken or beef

1 celery stick (not the whole stalk), diced

1/2 head green cabbage, diced

3 carrots, sliced

2 bell peppers, sliced

6 large green onions, or 1 large yellow, white or purple onion, diced

2 cans of tomatoes, diced or whole

Cooking spray

Salt, pepper, parsley, garlic powder, soy sauce to taste (or any other seasoning you like)

Spray a large pot with cooking spray and saute all vegetables except cabbage and tomatoes until tender. Add cabbage and about 12 cups of water. Toss in bouillon cubes, soup mix, and seasonings. Cook until soup reaches desired tenderness; add tomatoes.

Dieters beware; you may encounter some gastrointestinal discomfort from the highly sulfurous cabbage and other gassy vegetables.

How It Works

The Cabbage Soup Diet is essentially a modified fast, containing so few calories that dieters will lose weight rapidly during the weeklong regimen. There is nothing magical about cabbage or cabbage soup that fosters weight loss. It’s the low-calorie nature of the diet plan that does the trick.

The diet makes no scientific claims on how it works. While several versions exist, common to all is the premise that if you eat lots of cabbage soup when you’re hungry, it will keep you satisfied enough to sustain this very low-calorie diet for a week.

Dieters may very well lose the promised 10-15 pounds, but the problem is that most of the weight lost will be primarily from fluids, not fat, and will return once the dieter resumes eating normally.

Factor in the monotony of eating virtually the same foods every day for a week, and dieters may tend to eat even fewer than the already dangerously low (approximately 800-1,050) calories per day.

Experts agree that any diet under 1,200 calories per day is unsafe unless you’re under a doctor’s care. It’s almost impossible to get all the nutrients you need and satisfy hunger in so few calories. A bottomless bowl of cabbage soup, along with a restricted list of allowed foods, provides a mere skeleton of the nourishment your body needs each day.

What the Experts Say

There is little debate as to whether this is a sound diet plan. Indeed, it has all the components of a diet disaster.

“It is a monotonous, short-term fix, severely lacking in nutrients, which will result in a weight loss that is primarily water and not the essential fat loss that is so important to improving health,” says Connie Diekman, MEd, RD,president-elect of the American Dietetic Association.

Diekman worries that diets like the Cabbage Soup Diet perpetuate feelings of failure for most dieters.

“People who go on and off diets get so discouraged when they lose weight only to gain it back, and these feelings make so many people think that diets don’t work,” she says.

As a registered dietitian, she urges dieters to find another plan that is balanced, varied, and includes regular physical activity. The only positive aspect of the Cabbage Soup Diet plan is that it may get people to eat more vegetables, Diekman says.

Food for Thought

If you want to give this modified fast a try, check with your doctor first. Some people have reported feeling lightheaded while on the plan.

If you get the go-ahead, head to the grocery store, buy all the ingredients for the soup, stock up on fruit, vegetables, skim milk, fish, chicken, or meat (depending on which plan you follow) — and plan on staying home. Consuming mass quantities of cabbage soup may cause you to be too gassy to go out in public.

You will lose weight on the Cabbage Soup Diet, but you can plan on seeing those pounds return. This diet plan that is nothing more than a quick fix that does nothing to help change the behaviors that lead to weight gain.

The bottom line? Keep looking for a program that contains all the components of a healthy lifestyle, including regular physical activity, and is suitable for long-term weight loss.

Published January 2007.

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