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Cabbage Soup Diet

Cengage Learning 1/1/2013
Photo © Laurence Mouton-ès cuisine-Corbis Photo

Definition

The cabbage soup diet is a quick weight-loss program intended to be followed for seven days. The centerpiece of the diet is a recipe for cabbage soup, which the dieter may consume in unlimited quantities. In addition to the cabbage soup, there are certain other foods that the dieter must eat on specific days during the week. There are several versions of the diet, most of which promise a 10–17 lb. (4.5–7.7 kg) weight loss after one week.

The cabbage soup diet has a number of other names, including the TWA Stewardess Diet, Model's Diet, Dolly Parton Diet, Military Cabbage Soup Diet, Mayo Clinic Diet, Sacred Heart Hospital Diet, Miami Heart Institute Diet, Spokane Diet, Fat-Burning Diet, T. J.'s Miracle Soup Diet, and the Skinny.

Origins

The cabbage soup diet may be the oldest fad diet still in use; it seems to resurface with a new name every 10 to 15 years. It has been described by some historians of popular culture as a good example of an urban legend—a type of modern folklore passed from person to person via word of mouth, photocopies, or e-mail. Urban legends are often stories or anecdotes, but some can be called “widely accepted misinformation.”

No one seems to know when the cabbage soup diet was first formulated or the identity of its originator. According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics' (formerly the American Dietetic Association) timeline of fad diets, the cabbage soup diet originated around 1950. After the 1950s, the cabbage soup diet was revived in the early 1980s not only as the Dolly Parton Diet but also as the Trans World Airlines (TWA) Stewardess Diet and the Model's Diet. It acquired these names because of the belief that celebrities, models, and flight attendants had to meet rigorous periodic weight check-ins in order to keep their jobs. The cabbage soup diet was passed around from person to person in the form of photocopies during this period. It was claimed that the dieter would lose 10–17 lb. during the first week, either because cabbage supposedly has no calories at all or because it contains a “miracle fat-burning” compound.

The cabbage soup diet reappeared again in the mid-1990s, when fax machines and the Internet made it easy for people to transmit copies of the diet to friends and workplace colleagues. The diet was also published in magazines such as Cosmopolitan and Gentlemen's Quarterly (now GQ) in 1995. The diet was attributed to health associations as well as the cardiology departments of several hospitals and medical centers in this period. These institutions supposedly gave the diet to overweight patients preparing for heart surgery to help them to lose weight quickly before their operations. Thus, the diet acquired such names as the Sacred Heart diet or the Spokane diet (from the names of hospitals in Brussels, Belgium; Montreal, Quebec; and Spokane, Washington), the American Heart Association Diet, the Mayo Clinic Diet, and the Miami Heart Institute Diet. However, these institutions have no official affiliation with the diet.

Description

The cabbage soup diet features very specific menus for each day of the diet, plus an unlimited amount of cabbage soup. There is no restriction on the amount of cabbage soup that can be eaten to help prevent hunger. The diet is intended to be followed for seven days. At least four glasses of water should be consumed each day, in addition to the required foods. The cabbage soup meal plan is as follows:

  • Day one: Eat only the cabbage soup and unlimited fruit (except bananas). Cantaloupe and watermelon are recommended. Permissible drinks are water, black coffee, cranberry juice, or unsweetened tea.
  • Day two: No fruit. Raw or cooked vegetables can be eaten in unlimited quantity along with the soup, except for corn, peas, and beans. A baked potato with butter can be eaten at dinnertime.
  • Day three: Unlimited fruit or vegetables, but no baked potato.
  • Day four: Eat at least three and as many as eight bananas, and drink an unlimited amount of skim milk. Day Four is supposed to curb a desire for sweets.
  • Day five: Eat 10–20 oz. of beef and up to six fresh tomatoes (or one can of stewed tomatoes). Cabbage soup must be eaten for at least one meal. Drink 6–8 glasses of water to flush acids from the body. Baked or broiled chicken (without the skin) or fish may be substituted for beef at one meal.
  • Day six: Eat cabbage soup at least once during the day; otherwise, an unlimited amount of beef and vegetables can be consumed, but no baked potato.
  • Day seven: Eat an unlimited amount of brown rice and vegetables and drink an unlimited amount of unsweetened fruit juice. Cabbage soup must be eaten at least once during the day. No bread, alcohol, or carbonated beverages (including diet soda) are allowed.

Most versions of the cabbage soup diet begin with a recipe for the soup. One change that has evolved since the diet first appeared in the 1950s is the cooking instructions; the earliest versions of the diet recommended cooking the soup for an hour, which would destroy most of the nutrients in the cabbage and other ingredients. Recent soup recipes recommend letting the soup simmer no more than 10 to 15 minutes after being brought to a boil.

STANDARD RECIPE.

  • 6 large green onions
  • 2 green peppers
  • 1 or 2 cans diced tomatoes
  • 1 bunch of celery
  • 1 envelope of dry onion soup mix
  • 1 or 2 bouillon cubes (some versions specify low-sodium vegetable flavor) if desired
  • 1 large head of cabbage
  • 1 8 oz. can of vegetable juice (optional)

MILITARY DIET RECIPE.

  • 2 13-ounce cans of chicken broth
  • 1 large bunch of celery
  • 2 bunches of spring onions
  • 1 large head of cabbage
  • 1 large can of whole tomatoes
  • 3 large bell peppers
  • Salt and pepper to taste

GREEN CABBAGE SOUP RECIPE.

  • One-half of a green cabbage, chopped
  • 3 large onions, diced
  • 1 large green pepper, sliced
  • 1 cup fresh mushrooms, washed and sliced
  • 1 or 2 cups washed fresh spinach leaves
  • 1 can of diced tomatoes
  • 1 envelope of dry onion soup mix
  • 3 vegetable-flavored bouillon cubes
  • 8 to 12 cups of water
  • oregano, cilantro, garlic powder, basil, pepper, and/or parsley to taste

Function

The cabbage soup diet is intended only for short-term weight loss. It is very restrictive and is not in line with federal dietary recommendations. Safe and healthy weight loss is considered to be 1–2 lb. (0.45–0.9) per week. Most of the weight lost on the cabbage soup diet is water weight and will likely return after dieters revert back to previous eating habits.

Benefits

Due to the limited number of daily calories consumed on the cabbage soup diet, following it may result in weight loss. Some people like the fact that the diet offers a break from junk food or fast food and does not require any unusual or expensive ingredients, complex recipes, or appetite suppressants. However, it is not a realistic way of eating and is not intended for long-term maintenance. People interested in the cabbage soup diet should meet with a physician or registered dietitian to discuss healthier and more long-term weight-loss methods.

Precautions

Though not nutritionally sound, the cabbage soup diet poses no serious danger to adults in good health who follow it for no more than seven days. However, this does not mean that it is a recommended or safe diet. The cabbage soup diet does not include an adequate balance of nutrients and is too low in calories for long-term use. Claims that the diet can be used indefinitely or repeated within three days of completing the first cycle should be ignored as they are not safe. Frequent use could lead to weight cycling, which has been shown to be detrimental to health.

The diet should not be used by anyone without first consulting a doctor or registered dietitian, and it should not be used by individuals with type 2 diabetes, eating disorders, or other disorders requiring special diets.

Risks

Side effects from the diet may include dizziness, light-headedness, and flatulence (intestinal gas). The latter may be a social risk due to embarrassment related to passing gas in public. Common versions of the soup recipe are high in salt. Dieters who must restrict their sodium intake should discuss variations with their physician.

Research and general acceptance

The American Heart Association (AHA) and the hospitals whose names have been associated with the cabbage soup diet have issued formal disclaimers warning the public that they do not endorse this diet. The Hôpital du Sacré-Coeur de Montréal stated in a press release that the diet is contrary to healthy feeding patterns and even presents potential dangers to good health. The Sacred Heart Medical Center (SHMC) in Spokane requests that people do not affiliate the diet with their hospital as they do not consider it a safe or healthy method of weight loss. A SHMC disclaimer states, “This diet did not originate at SHMC and it is not endorsed by the dietitians or the staff of our cardiac rehabilitation program. One of our major concerns about this diet plan is it emphasizes the consumption of fruits and vegetables while excluding the consumption of meat or fish, cereal grains, and milk products on most days. Any diet that focuses on only certain food groups will be low or deficient in essential nutrients and, therefore, lead to poor nutritional status long-term. Our experience with any low-calorie diets, like this one, is that they do not lead to permanent weight loss. Once individuals start eating in a more normal pattern, the weight is regained. A very important factor in obtaining a healthy weight is to evaluate your physical activity and other lifestyle concerns. This is most appropriately done by consulting with a registered dietitian.”

Scientific evidence is not available to support claims that cabbage has unique detoxifying, fat-burning, immunoprotective, antidepressant, or anticancer properties. Claims regarding the possibility of losing 17 pounds by the end of one week on this diet are exaggerated. In addition, there is no indication that any government has ever sponsored clinical trials of cabbage soup, whether in pill form or fully constituted.

Resources

Danbrot, Margaret. The New Cabbage Soup Diet. Rev. ed. New York: St. Martin's Press, 2004.

Scales, Mary Josephine. Diets in a Nutshell: A Definitive Guide on Diets from A to Z. Clifton, VA: Apex Publishers, 2005.

Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. “Fad Diet Timeline.” http://www.eatright.org/nnm/games/timeline/index.html (accessed August 10, 2012).

“The ‘Miracle Soup Diet.’” Providence Health and Services, Spokane. http://www2.providence.org/spokane/facilities/sacred-heart-medical-center/services/food-and-nutrition/Pages/soup-diet.aspx (accessed August 10, 2012).

Zeratsky, Katherine. “What is the Cabbage Soup Diet, and Can It Help Me Lose Weight?” Mayo Clinic. http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/cabbage-soup-diet/AN02134 (accessed August 14, 2012).

Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, 120 South Riverside Plz., Ste. 2000, Chicago, IL 60606-6995, (312) 899-0040, (800) 877-1600, amacmunn@eatright.org, http://www.eatright.org.

Dietitians of Canada, 480 University Ave., Ste. 604, Toronto, Ontario, Canada M5G 1V2, (416) 596-0857, Fax: (416) 596-0603, centralinfo@dietitians.ca, http://www.dietitians.ca.

Rebecca J. Frey, PhD

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