Muscle loss, fatigue, and bloating are just some of the terrible side effects of the cabbage soup weight-loss diet
INSIDER 2hrs ago
a bowl of soup sitting on top of a wooden table: Doctors do not recommend the cabbage soup diet, a fad diet that promotes rapid weight loss, because it isn't sustainable. istetiana/ Getty Images © istetiana/ Getty Images Doctors do not recommend the cabbage soup diet, a fad diet that promotes rapid weight loss, because it isn't sustainable. istetiana/ Getty Images
  • The cabbage soup diet is considered a fad diet that's not sustainable or effective, and no prominent doctors or medical institutions promote it.
  • Because liquids can lead to fullness, as can fiber-filled cabbage, the concept behind the diet is to minimize hunger and cravings.
  • Although cabbage is a healthy diet component, the plan calls for such an intense caloric deficit that it may lead to weakness, muscle loss, and water-weight loss, which is easily regained.
  • Visit Insider's Health Reference library for more advice.

The cabbage soup diet is designed for rapid weight-loss and is considered one of the oldest fad diets, originating in the 1950s. The plan allows for unlimited consumption of cabbage soup with small amounts of other foods included in a strict schedule. 

In the 1980s, this diet was touted as the Dolly Parton Diet, the Trans World Airlines Stewardess Diet, and the Model's Diet. It typically cycles through every 10 years or so with a new name.

There is no science backing the effectiveness of the cabbage soup diet, and no prominent doctors or medical institutions promote it. However, some elements of the diet can be appropriated in healthier ways - like consumption of more filling, vegetable-based soups - says Laura Zeratsky, registered dietician and nutritionist for the Mayo Clinic.

"It falls under being a fad diet for the fact that it is not considered sustainable," Zeratsky says. "Any diet that has a purpose to produce rapid weight loss is a concern."

Here are more details about the cabbage soup diet, along with its pros and cons.

What is the cabbage soup diet? 

The meal plan for the cabbage soup diet is as follows:

Day 1: Cabbage soup and raw fruit (but no bananas) 

Day 2: Cabbage soup and raw or cooked vegetables but not potatoes 

Day 3: Cabbage soup and raw fruit and vegetables, but no bananas or potatoes 

Day 4: Cabbage soup, skim milk, and as many as eight bananas 


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Day 5: Cabbage soup, six tomatoes, and 20 ounces of chicken or beef

Day 6: Cabbage soup, unlimited beef, and unlimited vegetables (excluding potatoes) 

Day 7: Cabbage soup, brown rice, and sugar-free fruit juice

The soup is meant to serve as a filling, low-calorie primary food source, Zeratsky says. Because liquids can lead to fullness, as can fiber-filled cabbage, the idea is to minimize hunger and cravings. Between the fiber and the fluid, this typically limits the appetite, making it easier to adhere to a strict calorie deficit.  The diet provides fewer than 1,000 calories a day on days one through three, about 1,000 or slightly more on days four and seven, and more than 1,200 calories on days five and six. That is well below the recommended range of 1,600 to 2,400. 

Several variations on the soup recipe have been published, but most include cabbage, onions, tomatoes or tomato juice, celery, and carrots. 

Pros and cons of the cabbage soup diet: 

As with most weight-loss plans, there are both healthy elements and drawbacks. The cabbage soup diet is no exception.

Pros:

Cons:

  • Cabbage commonly causes bloating and flatulence because of its high fiber content. It also contains raffinose, a complex sugar that is hard to digest. Both of these can make you feel very uncomfortable.
  • The diet is strict, allowing only relatively bland foods. According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, diets this strict should be avoided because critical nutrients are missing. 
  • The diet may cause weakness and fatigue due to low-calorie and low protein intake.
  • The diet may lead to muscle loss because it is a rapid weight-loss program, which may lead to loss of water weight and muscle atrophy. Most of the weight lost on this diet is water weight and will likely be regained once a dieter resumes their normal food intake.
  • Depending on the recipe or a dieter's taste preference, this cabbage soup may contain high amounts of sodium, making it risky for people with hypertension and kidney disease.
  • The weight loss linked to such low-calorie diets is usually not sustainable.

Insider's takeaway

Like many other short-term, low-calorie diet plans, the cabbage soup diet is not recommended by medical experts.  

Although cabbage is a healthy diet component, the plan calls for such an intense caloric deficit that it could lead to weakness and muscle loss. 

"It's nothing I would recommend, but there are points of it someone could use within an otherwise balanced diet," Zeratsky says. "Including a low-sodium [kind of] vegetable soup could be a step in the right direction in terms of feeling full."

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