On New Year’s Resolutions, Cabbage Soup, and Pumpkin Pie


New Year’s Day is coming soon, and along with it an annual flood of resolutions. Memberships at fitness centers will skyrocket, and websites touting fad diet plans will see a sharp increase in traffic.

After all, according to Nielsen, resolutions to “stay fit” or “lose weight” are more popular than simply “enjoying life”.

It makes sense that resolutions and dieting go hand in hand, as they typically act as short-term solutions to long-term problems.

One of the most well-known and enduring fad diets is the cabbage soup diet. For those who aren’t familiar, this is usually presented as a seven-day diet plan that prominently features – you guessed it – cabbage soup.

Each day comes with a particular set of “rules” that are presented as having a purpose when followed in order. The first day, you can eat fruit – but not bananas. No fruit the second day, but help yourself to a large baked potato with butter. On the third day you can eat both fruit and vegetables, but absolutely no baked potato. Day four allows you to eat several bananas and drink skim milk. Day five allows only beef and tomatoes. Day six allows beef again as well as vegetables, and again you are reminded that you cannot have a baked potato. The seventh and final day allows brown rice and fruit juice, but specifically states that no carbonated beverages are allowed. And, of course, you can have cabbage soup every day.

The implication is that when you combine cabbage soup with just the right sequence of foods – and just the right amount of baked potato – it will somehow create a special, fat-burning environment in your body.

That’s not what happens at all.

Cabbage soup doesn’t have very many calories in it. Additionally, it’s pretty difficult to overeat when you’re only allowed to have 1-2 other foods each day. What really happens? You eat less, and you’ll probably lose weight as a result. A good percentage of that will be water weight due to restriction of carbohydrates. You’ll regain a large percentage of that weight on the eighth day. They don’t mention that, but they do emphasize that the cabbage soup diet is only meant to be followed for seven days and is not nutritionally adequate to sustain you for more than that time period.

Let’s make up our own diet. We’ll call it the pumpkin pie diet. Before you start your week, you bake a whole pumpkin pie. Cut it into seven slices – inconvenient, I know – and you’ll have one slice of pumpkin pie each day. Then eat 500 additional calories of whatever else you want each day. I can say with reasonable certainty you will lose weight doing this.

Now that doesn’t seem very nutritious, does it? It’s not, but neither is the cabbage soup diet. The cabbage soup diet leaves you deficient in protein, essential fatty acids, iron, and much more. All the “rules” are just window dressing that make it seem like there’s a grand plan, a nutritional secret that’s being unlocked in your body. The reality is, the rules just make you eat less – a lot less. And it’s certainly not a healthy approach to nourishing your body.

To be clear, I actually love cabbage. I even love sauerkraut. And it’s really nutritious. But no one food “burns fat” on its own, at least not enough to make a difference.

Be wary of diets that promise you quick, dramatic results, because you’re likely to be disappointed over time. Complicated “rules” and “phases” are red flags as well. If you’re making a resolution to eat better or lose weight, make sure it consists of more than seven days of eating cabbage soup.

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