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I Tried the Cabbage Soup Diet And Here’s What I Learned

Fad diets pop up every now and then, but the Cabbage Soup Diet has stayed with us for some time, since the 80’s or even earlier. The diet is considered a ”fad” because it relies on low-calorie intake and cutting carbs for 7 days in order to lose ”up to 10 pounds” i.e. 4.5 kg. What makes it popular is the promise that you’ll never go hungry, because you are allowed to eat as much cabbage soup you want! This is what piqued my interest. A diet lasting only one week and the aspect of eating as much as you want of vegetables and soup. Thus, the cabbage soup diet should be a breeze, right?

Still, I started the diet as a sceptic. I like vegetarian food, but the diet would rob me from most dairy products as well as all the bread and pasta that I usually eat, even the wholemeal ones. But being something of a daredevil, I decided to try the thing and see for myself what the fuss is about. And on the other hand, the diet is recommended as a detox and ”liver cleanse”, so it should be healthy even if I didn’t lose weight, right? But rather than focusing on how much weight I’d lose with this diet, I wanted to know how I’d feel after going through it.

For reference, there are many versions of the cabbage soup out there with slight variations. I chose this cabbage soup meal plan to follow strictly. During the week I did not change my exercise habits, sleeping patterns or other aspects of lifestyle. Results from the diet will understandably vary depending on your weight before the diet. My BMI before starting the diet was 21.5.

 

Day 1

Today’s meals can only consist of soup and fruits (not bananas). I’ve made soup that will hopefully last the whole week. Soup for lunch and dinner. For some reason I did not feel particularly hungry the whole day, but I think it was because of the fruit I have stocked up with. Fruit is good.

Day 2

Today’s meals can only consist of soup and vegetables, no fruit today. Avocados and legumes do not qualify for this diet; neither do potatoes except on day two: thus today I am allowed one baked potato. While leftovers are convenient, I made the mistake of eating my soup cold, which was suggested as alternative to add variation. I did not feel like having a second helping. Is it a sign of a good diet to make you not want any more of the food being served? That being said, the potato – along with other oven baked vegetables – for dinner really hit the spot. For a sweet ”dessert” I had carrots, bell pepper and fennel.

Day 3

Today I am allowed soup and both fruits and vegetables! The two previous days were fine, but on the third I was sorely tempted. Perhaps it was my busy schedule requiring a lot of energy that made me feel so hungry. Fruits and vegetables eaten raw are great snacks, but as breakfast or lunch they do not give the sense of fullness you expect from a hearty meal. My dinner wasn’t quite enough stop the hunger, so some snacking with fruits and berries was required. Too bad you can’t even have yogurt or nuts to go with your berry/fruit-mix.

Day 4

Bananas and milk day. Soup, milk, and a whole lot of bananas. Feeling like a baby monkey. According to the diet, the potassium found in bananas will soothe my cravings for something sweet: so far I have not been allowed bananas nor been recommended to eat other sweet fruits such as grapes or pineapple. After a banana-blueberry milkshake for an evening snack I go to bed feeling full.

Day 5

Today I am allowed to eat soup, beef and lots of tomatoes. Instead of beef, poultry or fish are also accepted. The diet suggests up to 566g beef (!), but I never eat that much beef in one go. I feel like even after so much cutting back of protein (besides the milk yesterday), the amount sounds a bit excessive, but I dutifully eat 300g of meat.

 

Day 6

Soup, beef and vegetables again. I am getting tired of the same food. I find out about a wonderful invention called caulioats. It’s basically mashed and cooked cauliflower with cinnamon. It’s surprisingly blissful – it feels like eating a bowl of warm porridge. I miss the real thing, though. Is this what my life has come to?

Day 7

Soup, vegetables and brown rice. Cherish the grain. Today’s menu is starting to sound more like back to normal, which is not very surprising, considering this is the last day before going back to normal. However, the cravings of something sweet and unhealthy kick in. Why am I not allowed even a piece of dark chocolate? However, this is the last day. I have survived.

And the result? I lost approximately 1.5kg (3.3lbs) and 1cm (0.4in) of my waist. Impressive? Well, to be honest, it’s in the range of mass you might lose in two days by being sick in bed and having no appetite.

Checkup: A Week Later

A week have passed since I finished the diet. Has the weight I lost stayed off? Again, I have stuck to the exercise and eating habits I had before the cabbage soup diet week. In a way, yes. My weight has gone up 0.5kg from what I had achieved at the end of Day Seven, i.e. 1kg off from my original weight (BMI now being 20.9). My waist has stayed the same. But to be honest, I would not analyze these numbers too closely. It’s not uncommon for your weight to fluctuate a couple hundred grams here and there.

 

Lessons from the diet

So, was the diet worth it? Having gone through with it, am I now a changed person? Would I recommend it to everyone? Well, the diet has its good sides but also its bad sides.

The Pros

Reasons why you might want to consider trying out this diet.

  • It’s cheap. A big plus, the ingredients needed to follow the diet are cheap and easy to find in a normal supermarket. While the soup takes a while to cook, a big pot will yield leftovers to last a while. Compared to diets that require all kinds of fancy ingredients, this one will not empty your wallet.
  • It’s straightforward. The diet is straightforward in a sense: no calorie counting, good online resources and guidelines of what you can and can’t eat on specific days. You’ll be making your food yourself, so you’ll know exactly what you put in your mouth – no weird preservatives or processed food.
  • It’s flexible. If you don’t eat beef, you can eat fish or tofu; if you don’t like brown rice, you can skip it.
  • It’s practice in finding alternatives for carbohydrates. After a week of figuring out what to eat for breakfast instead of ryebread, it should now be easier for me to substitute carbs in the future, too. Having said that, despite the current health-food trends, carbs should not be cut out completely – everything is healthy in moderation.
  • It can be a jumpstart towards healthier eating habits. If you’ve been meaning to start incorporating more veggies and less salt into your diet, this could be a good start. After completing this diet, it could easier to hold back on sugary cravings (assuming you can hold off the temptation of diving for the unhealthy stuff as soon as your diet ends).

 

The Cons

The diet is not necessarily easy on you.

  • Radical change for your body. If your usual diet consists of mostly meat and little vegetables, this diet is going to be hard on you. Same thing goes for those who are not used to food high in fiber (e.g. cabbage). A radical change will come with side-effects and lead to an upset digestive tract, enough to discourage anyone from continuing the diet.
  • Cooking skills required. If you’re not at least a bit used to cooking from scratch, it won’t necessarily be easy to come up with recipes for every day. No frozen pizzas allowed, but also no lunches at campus cantines!

Well, maybe the ones mentioned above are not that bad, but consider the following:

  • Potential yo-yo effect! If you go back to eating normally after finishing the diet, you may go back to your old weight. Worst case scenario, your weight ends up in the yo-yo effect. If you hoped for more permanent results, this is not for you.
  • Why do you want to diet? This is the kind of diet that could help you lose weight if you have a lot of weight to lose. Losing mass is more difficult for those who are closer to their optimal weight (”optimal weight” as in your recommended healthy weight, not your ”dream body weight”). They would most likely have to include more exercise to see results, which brings us to…
  • The dilemma of minimal exercise. Because of the inevitably low calorie and protein intake, even moderate exercise is discouraged during the standard version of the Cabbage Soup Diet (variations of the diet include protein shakes). Some people report feeling very weak during the diet. If you’ve been eating nothing but soup it might be better to skip your aerobics class…

So ask yourself: While the diet is only for a week, are you prepared to keep up healthy eating habits after it? Are one or two kilograms worth restricting your exercising? I would not use the term “recommend”, but this diet could be used by people who do not exercise a lot. For a jumpstart, a quick-fix or a detox the diet is fine.

However, in the big picture the cons of Cabbage Soup Diet outweigh the pros. First, the diet will not allow you to exercise during your diet week: if you wanted to work out, you’d be running dangerously low on fuel. Not too great for people who would also want to build some muscle. Second, the diet isn’t nutritious enough (which is exactly why it should only last a week). Even if you’re looking for that jumpstart to eating healthier, there must be more balanced and supportive diets out there.

It all comes down to the fact that this diet is not a long term solution. Your metabolism will not magically change and you can’t trust the weight to stay off just because you ate four pots of soup.

It seems this diet will remain a “fad”, at least in my book.

Disclaimer

If you decide to try this diet, please remember it is meant to last for only seven (7) days! You are absolutely not encouraged to stick with it for any longer, as it just doesn’t provide you with enough nutrients. If you are intent on losing weight, discuss with a nutritionist to find a more sustainable and diverse meal-and-exercise plan.

Most importantly, take care of yourself. Love yourself. You are much more than your weight, and the digits on your scale aren’t everything.

Ylva Biri

Helsinki '18

Ylva is a PhD student at the University of Helsinki researching the linguistics of social media discourse. When not studying, procrastinating and overthinking, she enjoys shonen anime and trying out new foods.
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