Does the success of the cabbage soup diet depend on precise recipes?
January 20, 2005 4:49 AM   Subscribe

Cabbage soup diet? I've been on it for a two days, and I've lost two and a half pounds. What I'm wondering is how important is the soup recipe (precise ingredients) to the success of the diet — I've seen different variations on the net: some call for mushrooms, some don't; some specify green onions, others just say large onions; some include carrots, others don't. Have any of you tried variations on the soup and still had success? Or is the soup not really the point at all, but just cutting out carbohydrates, fats, etc.? I'd be interested in hearing about your experiences with this.
posted by taz to Health & Fitness (21 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
The point of the cabbage soup diet is basically that every time you drastically alter your eating habits, your body tends to shed water like it is going out of style. You lose a lot of weight in the first week or two, then get bored of the diet and stop and don't blame it for the fact that you gain it all back.

But if you can keep it up long term, the cabbage soup is very low calorie, regardless of whether you include onions, or even carrots, and would likely help you lose weight. It's also extremely low on protein, so it can not be considered a properly balanced diet.

I have no personal experience with it, but I've seen my mother and her friends do it a few times, which is where I get my initial impressions. I noticed the unbalanced thing while considering it once myself.
posted by jacquilynne at 5:15 AM on January 20, 2005

You can lose a significant amount of weight on a diet of any sort of (non-dairy) vegetable soup. I once lost 10 pounds in two weeks from a diet consisting mostly of pea soup (water, peas, onions, celery, carrots and marjoram, salt and pepper.) There isn't a magic ingredient combination-- vegetable soup is simply mostly water and fiber so it's filling while having very few calories. This is why prisoners in war time were fed soup in times of rationing-- you can alot few calories per prisoner and still have them feel kind of satiated.

The specific ingredients are a matter of taste. Cabbage figures heavily in the specific diets because it's high in protein for a vegetable and therefore makes the diet a bit less unhealthy. If you're trying to squeeze every advantage out of the soup, omit the carrots because carrots are a sweet vegetable and therefore more caloric than most. Mushrooms are a good idea because they expand the flavor of just about anything they're added to (unless you specifically don't care for them.)

CAVEATS: Take a break on the weekends and just eat reasonable portions of your normal diet. Nearly nothing but cabbage soup will take weight off too fast to be healthy and your body will try hard to gain the weight back when you go off the diet. Take a multivitamin every other day, at least. Plus, you'll get tired of it and cheat if you don't change it up a bit.

And lastly, you haven't really lost 2 1/2 pounds of fat yet. The bulk of this is water lost through consumption of fiber. Assuming you have a base caloric need of 1,800 calories/day and you're taking in 700, you've shorted 2,200 calories which is just over 2/3 of a pound. Which is still excellent for two days.
posted by Mayor Curley at 5:16 AM on January 20, 2005

The cabbage soup diet depends on cabbage being relatively bulky (ie, filling) while having almost no calories. You'll lose weight very quickly the first week or two as your body rids itself of the sugar its stored for energy (glycogen -- and the water that gets bonded to the stored sugars) in response to the lack of carbohydrate calories. Then you'll lose both fat (because of the lack of calories) and muscle (because of the lack of protein in cabbage soup) at the same speed as any diet.

In short -- you're starving yourself. There's a difference between cutting calories very low to lose fat and starvation -- you need a certain amount of protein in your diet to maintain lean body mass, and then a small amount of both carbs and fat. The cabbage soup only gives you a tiny amount of carbs, and that's it. Fat loss is a good thing. Losing lean body mass, on the other hand, is called "wasting," and will both make you look flabby and unhealthy. Losing water and stored sugars is called dehydration. If you actually manage to stick to this diet, the effects of the wasting and dehydration will be far more of a problem than a benefit of any weight loss. Of course, very few stick to the diet, because all you can eat is cabbage soup -- which you'll get sick of very soon.

If you want to lose weight fast, you have to eat a high-protein, high-leafy vegetable diet with fairly low calories in order to both lose fat and maintain your lean body mass and get the essential nutrients. If you want to lose weight slowly, there are thousands of healthy ways to do it assuming a relative balance of protein, fat and carbs by structuring a diet where you keep the number of calories you eat lower than normal; the trick to losing weight slowly is sticking with it, not any magical blend of nutrients.
posted by eschatfische at 5:19 AM on January 20, 2005

The secret ingredient is roughage. That's why cabbage and corn are often used in diet recipes.
posted by Smart Dalek at 5:23 AM on January 20, 2005

You'll lose weight very quickly the first week or two

Well, the diet is for seven days. I was thinking of the possibility of doing it maybe a once a month or perhaps every six weeks or so to sort of keep things in balance. I don't really overeat normally, but I don't like to count calories and I have a lot of pasta and rice in my normal diet, as well as olive oil and alcohol (wine), and cheese (but, mostly, fairly low calorie cheese, like feta) and yogurt. (also, of course, vegetables, etc., but just talking about the higher calorie stuff here).

This diet doesn't really seem very onerous to me, but I'm not that wild about the first soup recipe I tried. I'm adding mushrooms today, and substituting one red pepper for a green pepper, and putting a lot less celelry and tinned tomato (ugh). I'm thinking of cutting out the bouillon cubes (double ugh) and using maybe a little soy sauce... Also, there's no Lipton Soup mix here, so that's just out.
posted by taz at 5:35 AM on January 20, 2005

Weightwatchers have lots of recipes for what they call "no point soup" (my lodger used to take the piss about these: no cheese, no oil, no meat, no point). I'm guessing you could use any of those recipes and have the same effect - I keep a freezerfull. My favorites are carrot and coriander, and tomato and basil. In WW you're allowed to use that cooking spray fat stuff, which gives you a few more flavours to play with (lightly fried onions and garlic, in my cooking).

Research suggests that if you eat a bowl of soup before a meal you eat less, so if you like soup, you could continue the low fat veggie soup for a while when you go back on solids and see if the weightloss continues.
posted by handee at 5:50 AM on January 20, 2005

I know a few women who have done this in anticipation of a specific event, usually a wedding. They all gained it right back. That's all this diet is good for- losing some weight quickly. It's not a long-term diet.

Aside from what everyone else says, I think the soup is cabbage-based because cabbage is cheap and durable, so you can get it anywhere, year-round.

If you're looking for a long-term change in body weight, you need to re-align your expectations of eating, not jump on to a quick fix. Carbohydrates are the big thing for a lot of people- cut down on bread, rice, pasta, potatoes, and other high-carb foods. Culturally in the U.S., we expect a protein, a vegetable, and a starch for dinner. Skip the starch. It's just filler.
posted by mkultra at 6:53 AM on January 20, 2005

I agree with everyone else that there is not enough protein in the cabbage soup diet for it to be beneficial to you. Could you add some chicken or sausage to it? I understand the "balance" me out thing, but it's really having a negative effect if you lose muscle mass.

my lodger used to take the piss about these . . .

What does that mean?
posted by Juicylicious at 8:13 AM on January 20, 2005

It's a Brit thing (and Aussie, I think), meaning "make fun of".
posted by taz at 8:21 AM on January 20, 2005

Oh, about the protein thing... It's only for seven days, and you get to eat meat on two of those days. I can't imagine that there's much danger of losing muscle mass. I probably should have linked to the diet.
posted by taz at 8:25 AM on January 20, 2005

The instructions are pretty much witchcraft (the "fruit today but no vegetables" stuff) except that it has a lot of fiber and few calories. And it has an acceptable amount of protein, so don't sweat that. It also has a bit of fat in it, which helps ensure the absorbtion of fat-soluable vitamins. So this is a decent diet-- certainly not a short-term health risk.

(In the post-Atkins period, it's a common misconception that protein is the most important component of one's diet. If you're not trying to build muscle, one g of protein for every two kg of body weight is adequate. And you'll get at least that with the diet you linked.)
posted by Mayor Curley at 8:45 AM on January 20, 2005

If I were going to do that diet, I'd play around with the seasonings in the soup a good bit. It seems pretty clear from the page you linked to that throwing in some cumin or some basil or some hot peppers or some cilantro isn't going to mess anything up. Also, I'd probably make a couple of batches that were seasoned very differently so that I could alternate between them to keep from getting too bored. I'd probably make it with chicken stock, too since that adds flavor but hardly any calories. Those strategies have been very successful for me on low-calorie diets.
posted by anapestic at 9:19 AM on January 20, 2005

A 7 day diet might be a quick way to lose water weight for a one time event, but if your goal is long term weight loss, "diets" as we conventionally use the word are not the answer.

The answer is sustainable lifestyle changes that do not end. For example, about 4 months ago, I started bike commuting to work, and stopped drinking soda. I made no other changes to my diet. Since then, I feel better, have more energy, and have lost about 10 pounds. I wasn't very overweight if at all, but unless I made those changes, I definitely would have been eventually.

The Atkins diet phenomenon has lead to an unjustified demonization of carbohydrates. The Atkins diet is really only suitable for those with a sedentary lifestyle, since carbohydrates are a major energy source, and even then many nutritionists say it's unhealthy. Since exercise is an important component of sustainable weight loss, the whole system is flawed.

posted by recursive at 9:19 AM on January 20, 2005

You will lose the water in one week. The next week, the weight will all come back.

Don't waste your time with diets like these. If you're losing two and a half pounds a day, you are doing something very unhealthy. To put it into perspective, you need to burn roughly 8750 calories to lose that much weight in fat.
posted by madman at 12:08 PM on January 20, 2005

you need to burn roughly 8750 calories to lose that much weight in fat

3300 to 3500 calories.
posted by Mayor Curley at 12:15 PM on January 20, 2005

I'd like to add to the doom-saying above that caloric restriction diets lower your metabolic rate, thus, in everything more than the shortest term, stymying efforts to lose weight, and that "yo-yo dieting" (repeated cycles of weight loss through caloric restriction and subsequent gain through ceasing the restriction) is well-documented to be bad for you.

(My apologies for veering from the question as given.)
posted by Zed_Lopez at 12:57 PM on January 20, 2005

Mayor Curley I don't know if you were qualifying or correcting, but madman was right in that 3500 * 2.5 = 8750.
posted by knave at 12:58 PM on January 20, 2005

My wife tried this one shortly before our wedding, though she didn't buy the "fruit only today" crap. I agree that it works (temporarily) because all that fiber and water fills you up. That and getting veggies in our diet is another reason we make soup a lot.

I'm just going to make a plug for the current favorite cookbook in our house: 1,001 Delicious Soups and Stews. (When we bought it last summer, it was called 1001 Low-Fat Soups and Stews and didn't have LOW-CARB all over it.) We've made several of the recipes (including breads) and I think there's been just one we didn't much care for, the rest were wonderful. It's been a great way for us to get our veggies and have leftovers for the week.
posted by DakotaPaul at 12:59 PM on January 20, 2005

OK, not sure if it's a different book or not, but here's what we have.
posted by DakotaPaul at 1:02 PM on January 20, 2005

Your cabbage soup description is integral to the weeklong weight watchers diet that was a specter to my teen years.

First day is all vegetables.
Second day is all fruit.
Third day is vegetables & fruit.
Fourth day is cabbage soup.

The funny thing is that I can't remember anything after the fourth day, which is my point exactly. That damn cabbage soup always destroyed my resolve.
posted by naxosaxur at 1:39 PM on January 20, 2005

Mayor Curley I don't know if you were qualifying or correcting, but madman was right in that 3500 * 2.5 = 8750.

He was indeed. I was just proving that I can't read well. Sorry!
posted by Mayor Curley at 1:42 PM on January 20, 2005

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