You know that feeling after a night smashing pizza and wine coolers? The “OMG, gimme a juice cleanse!” times when you think “maybe a quickie diet could do me some good?”
Maybe you’ve noticed the cabbage soup diet making the rounds again. Fans say it blasts more than a pound per day. But as with any fad diet that promises rapid weight loss, you’ll need to read the fine print.
We’re throwing mega shade at this fad diet. Super low-calorie diets sabotage weight management long term and put you at risk for malnutrition, gallstones, and fatigue (more on that in a bit).
Weight loss goals shouldn’t exceed 1 to 2 pounds per week. Slow and steady baby.
The cabbage soup diet (we’ll call it CSD for short) is exactly what it sounds like — 7 soupy days filled with more cabbage than you’ve ever wanted.
It includes a few other specified foods each day, but we’re talking about “indulgences” like plain baked potatoes and whole tomatoes.
Team #CabbageSoup claims you’ll drop about 10 pounds in 7 days on the CSD, which isn’t healthy or sustainable. Not to mention any weight loss that happens is merely a result of your body using up glycogen stores and depleting water retention. So as soon you return to a less restrictive diet, your body will just start storing water again.
Whose idea was it anyway?
The origins of the CSD are unknown. But it seems to have gained momentum in your mom’s favorite magazines back in the ‘80s. Even then, it wasn’t advertised as a long-term fix.
It’s more like a gateway diet to unhealthy, restrictive eating, which is so “2000 and late.”
So — you’re probably wondering why is this even a thing? Well, in a world of long, listy, eat-this-don’t-eat-that diets, the CSD is suuuuper simple. As the name implies, you’ll eat a lot of cabbage soup. It’s home cooking meets #detox meets many, many heads of cabbage. Your body isn’t simple though, and it requires much more than cabbage.
Maybe you just really like cabbage soup? There’s a recipe for that…
- 2 large onions
- 2 green peppers
- 2 (8-ounce) cans of stewed tomatoes
- 1 head of celery (about 10 stalks)
- 1 cabbage (pick a firm head with bright leaves tightly attached to the stem)
- 3 carrots
- 1 (8-ounce) pack of mushrooms
- 1–2 spoonfuls of oil for sautéing
- 1–2 bouillon cubes (optional, but you do like flavor, right?)
- 6–8 cups of water or vegetable cocktail like low-sodium V8
- Chop all the veggies into cubes.
- In a large stockpot, sauté onions in oil.
- Add the other veggies and cover with water or vegetable cocktail.
- Add bouillon cubes or other seasonings (Salt? Pepper? Italian seasoning? Pick your poison!).
- Bring to a boil, then reduce to medium heat. Simmer for about 30 to 45 minutes, until the vegetables are tender.
Play around with herbs, spices, and even hot sauce until you find a flavor combo you love. You can also add non-starchy vegetables like spinach, broccoli, or brussels sprouts.
More on the cabbage patch rules
On the CSD, cabbage soup is life. Hunger pangs in the morning? Sip some soup. Cravings in the afternoon? Soup me. Joining friends for happy hour? First, why do that to yourself?! Second, sneak a cup o’ soup in your purse.
The main rule is to eat as much cabbage soup as you want, when you want.
You’re also allowed one or two non-cabbage foods per day. Check the daily guidelines for specifics.
No sweetened drinks allowed during the CSD. Stick with water, unsweetened tea, or other no-calorie drinks.
Here’s the daily breakdown.
Day 1: All-you-can-eat cabbage soup. Nosh on fruits for a snack, but avoid bananas.
Day 2: Cabbage soup and veggies. Aim for leafy greens instead of starchy vegetables like corn or beans. Add in one baked potato with a little butter or oil, if you wish.
Day 3: As many fruits and vegetables as you can eat, in addition to the soup. No baked potato and no bananas.
Day 4: Nonstop bananas, skim milk, and cabbage soup.
Day 5: Shake it up with 10 to 20 ounces of meat — beef, chicken, or fish. You can also have 6 (yes, 6!) fresh tomatoes with your soup. Stay hydrated with at least 6 to 8 glasses of water.
Day 6: It’s another soup, veggies, and beef day. If beef isn’t your jam, swap in broiled fish (unless you had fish yesterday — gotta mix it up!). Stick with fresh green veggies if you can. Skip the baked potato.
Day 7: Dreaming of pizza yet? On your last day, nosh on brown rice and veggies with your soup. You can also add some fruit juice sans added sugar (good luck finding that).
While the notion of losing weight quickly may sound appealing, it’s rarely healthy — and for anyone living with an eating disorder, it can be dangerous.
We love cabbage as much as the next person, but the CSD is deeply flawed.
You’re losing water weight, not fat. And that means you’ll probably gain it all back when the diet is finished.
Here’s why: When you severely restrict your calorie intake, your body goes into survival mode. The body’s engines slow down, reducing the number of calories burned. And that’s bad news for the week after the CSD.
Rapid weight loss equals slower metabolism. And slower metabolism could mean packing on more pounds once the diet is over.
So does the CSD work for weight loss? Maybe, at first. But the risks far outweigh any “benefits.”
Studies of people in larger bodies suggest that super low-cal diets can kickstart the weight loss process.
But the diets used in medical studies aren’t full of cabbage soup and veggies. Participants usually follow a liquid diet of 450 to 800 calories per day. They’re hardcore — and also monitored by a doctor.
You might lose a few stubborn pounds, but the CSD has drawbacks too. Here are some potential ways this old-fashioned fad diet could backfire.
- Weight loss likely won’t last. Again, the CSD isn’t a long-term solution. It doesn’t pack enough nutrition to be a permanent lifestyle change. Research shows that even with a super low-calorie plan, you’re lucky if a third of that weight loss is from fat. The rest is lost water and muscle.
- It’s not well-rounded. Cabbage is great. It’s packed with nutrients like magnesium, potassium, and tummy-loving fiber. But look closely at the CSD and you’ll notice that key nutrients are MIA. There’s not much protein. And you’re waving buh-bye to healthy fats for a week.
- It’ll bore you to tears. Variety is the spice of life, right? It’s bad news when a diet tempts you to rip open a bag of Doritos the minute it ends. Moderation is key to healthy eating habits.
- You’ll spend a lot of time in the kitchen. Keeping up with the CSD means a lot of pot-stirring. It’s great to cook fresh veggies like cabbage and celery, but prepping gallons of soup might not be your cup of tea.
The CSD can cause damage if you have an underlying health condition. Here are the red flags.
Unless you’re slurping soup 24/7, you might not reach 1,000 calories a day on the CSD. That’s waaay below the recommended daily minimum. Most medical experts suggest at least 1,200 calories per day for women and 1,500 for men.
If you need to lose weight for health reasons, talk to your doctor or dietitian about creating a custom meal plan.
Don’t forget your daily vitamins and supplements. Doctor-designed super low-calorie liquid diets (450 to 800 calories per day) are packed with vitamins, minerals, and amino acid supplements.
Even though veggies are a great source of some vitamins, the diet lacks enough variety to catch ‘em all.
Studies suggest vitamin and mineral deficiencies can increase your risk of cancer and even make you age faster. A week of cabbage soup won’t do much damage, but watch out if you’re feeling weak or dizzy on the CSD.
All that juicy cabbage fiber? It’s gotta go somewhere. Your gut works extra hard to process fiber, and a byproduct of digestive juices is major gas. This diet = farting and cramping for days.
Eating a low fat diet like the CSD can be associated with gallstones because, well, science.
On a normal day, fat tells your gallbladder to release its juices (bile, to be precise). So no fat means no emptying, and an inactive gallbladder gives stones more time to form.
The good news (can there be good news with gallstones?) is that there’s no mistaking a gallstone or gallbladder blockage. You’ll know it when you feel it — then get to a doctor, stat.
Blood sugar rollercoaster
Research suggests cutting carbs can help regulate blood sugar levels. But the problem with the CSD is that it drastically cuts carbs and calories at the same time. This can throw your blood sugar out of whack.
The CSD is a no-go if you have diabetes, but it’s probably not dangerous for others since it only lasts a week.
Friends don’t let friends do the CSD.
If you’re hoping to lose a few pounds quickly, consider some healthier diet and exercise alternatives.
If you have diabetes or an underlying health condition, restricting yourself to cabbage soup for a week is a doubly bad idea.
The CSD is weak in the nutrition department. It’s also pretty extreme. If you have ongoing health issues, talk to your doctor or nutritionist before trying the CSD.
A full CSD might not be your jam, but you can still cash in on some perks. Cabbage is a low-key superfood — cheap, nutritious, and packed with fiber. Here’s what it can do.
- Soothe stomach ulcers. Cabbage juice is a beloved home remedy for stomach ulcers. Cabbage is also full of soluble fiber, which lowers your risk of getting ulcers in the first place. You’ll want to use green cabbages for this purpose and drink it fresh from the juicer.
- Strengthen your bones. Cabbage is full of vitamin K, which is known for its bone boosting and blood clotting powers. One cup of cabbage has 85 percent of your recommended daily vitamin K.
- Lower bad cholesterol. One study showed that cabbage inhibits fat absorption, which could lower your overall cholesterol.
- Lower blood pressure. Red cabbage has plant pigment called anthocyanin that could reduce your risk of blood pressure and heart issues. #Winning
Just 👏don’t 👏do 👏 it👏!
Just like any super low-cal diet, the CSD will only provide temporary loss of water weight –– not fat.
The diet’s lack of vitamins, protein, and fat will cause problems if you stick with it for longer than a week. Depending on your lifestyle and personal goals, consider healthier options if you want to lose excess weight and keep it off for good.