Losing weight can be tough, so it's understandable why the promise of a quick fix could make even a diet skeptic hopeful. The cabbage soup diet is one such fad that first became popular in the 80s and re-emerges every so often like an urban legend.
"This is an extreme diet designed around the daily consumption of a low-calorie cabbage soup and certain other 'allowed' foods for a period of seven days," says Katie Loth, PhD, MPH, RD, assistant professor in the department of family medicine and community health at the University of Minnesota Medical School.
Supporters claim cabbage soup dieters can lose 10 or more pounds each week, which is clearly appealing to those looking for a fast weight-loss fix.
"Fad diets rarely seem to die because many people have hope they'll find a quick and easy way to lose weight," says Rachel Johnson, PhD, RD, professor of nutrition at the University of Vermont.
You Lose Some, You Gain Some
Although extreme diets like this one may indeed result in quick weight loss at first, they can ultimately backfire.
"Although dieting is often touted as the solution to excess weight, research suggests it's not effective," Dr. Loth says. In fact, she adds, for most people going on a diet can actually lead to weight gain.
Take this May 2014 study published in Appetite: Researchers followed up with women after three years and found that women who dieted actually had a higher body mass index (BMI) than non-dieting women.
One of the main reasons diets often fail is because they're only doable over a short period of time.
"[The cabbage soup diet] isn't sustainable because it's very restrictive and eliminates a lot of healthy foods," Dr. Johnson says. "It's difficult to deprive yourself of so many foods over the long-term."
The Scary Untold Health Hazards
And weight gain isn't the only risk: "Variety is the key to healthy diets. By eliminating so many foods, the cabbage soup diet runs the risk of developing nutrient inadequacies over time," Johnson adds.
Though it might feel less glamorous, slow and steady always wins the race when it comes to weight loss. But first be sure you need to lose weight in the first place.
"If an individual is overweight and there are health reasons that justify weight loss, it's recommended they aim to make healthy lifestyle changes they feel they can sustain over the long-term," Loth says.
The Healthy Way to Shed Pounds
Johnson suggests following these tips for healthy, long-term weight loss:
- Learn about reasonable portion sizes.
- Use smaller plates.
- Ask for kid-sized meals at restaurants, or get a take-out container and put half your meal in it before you start eating.
- Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables — about five servings each day.
- Think about what you drink. Avoid drinks that are high in sugar, such as soft drinks, energy drinks, sports drinks and fruit juices.
- Keep tempting, high-calorie foods out of your home. Rather than storing a half gallon of ice cream in your freezer, go out occasionally for a small cone as a special treat.
- Move more: Walking is great exercise.
It's important to pay attention to internal signals of hunger and fullness, and to use these as cues to eat or stop eating. Avoid a too-rigid plan that will be tough to maintain and "may result in feelings of failure when the plan doesn't go as intended," Loth says. "These types of sustainable, healthy lifestyle changes will result in slower weight loss, but you'll be much more likely to maintain it over time."