Testing the Cabbage Soup Diet: Day 4

With Day 4 on the cabbage soup diet I've found a bit of a dip in energy again. This explanation of the cabbage soup diet (which I'm pretty sure is one of the first - it's the one I remember seeing many years ago) says that at this point the body needs a burst of carbohydrates and other things to lessen the craving for sweets, which seems about right for how I've felt. Fortunately as a consequence today's additional food is bananas and milk!

The plan allows you 8 bananas and as much skimmed milk as you can drink (or 8 glasses according to another page). To be honest milk doesn't really agree with me all that well (I think I may be mildly lactose intolerant - it always makes me feel bloated and a bit nauseous although I love the taste and texture) so I've replaced all but the first two glasses with unsweetened soy milk, which is a bit grim but in a banana smoothie (which is how I'm drinking it all today) is almost undetectable. So all day I've been enjoying delicious ice-cold banana smoothies. Not a bad diet this!

And tomorrow it gets better. Tomorrow I get my first meat since Sunday - up to 20 ounces of beef. I'm salivating (and planning obsessively) as I type this.

I've been doing a fair amount of background digging on the cabbage soup diet, and the debate around it is quite fascinating (and often quite depressing in the sheer level of stupidity and poor argument). There really doesn't seem to be an "original" version of the diet, although there are several cash-in books (which I'm not going to link to because I'm not going to give them the support) including "The New Cabbage Soup Diet" and "The Ultimate Cabbage Soup Diet". There is however a sizeable body of testimonials, on all sorts of pages and from different sources, from people who have used it and found positive results.

Most of these are detailed enough to be fairly convincing - and in any case, who would try to artificially boost impressions of the diet's effectiveness if no-one really owns it and most people use a free online version? The only one of these which I found mildly worrying was an article from Weight Loss at Families.com (now sadly unavailable), in which the writer calculated (with pretty convincing figures) that she lost a significant amount of lean muscle mass as well as fat. This is not an effect I've found investigated anywhere else, so there's no verification from other sources.

The amazing thing is how many articles there are debunking or attacking the cabbage soup diet, and all of them poorly written, based on a bunch of assumptions and unverified statements, and often massively inaccurate. I've found over 20 so far (I'm not going to link to them, you can find them all on Google and they're not worth the effort), all based largely on the same set of straw man arguments:

"It's not a longterm weight loss solution" - of course it's not, it lasts for 7 days!

"It doesn't provide all the things the body needs" - which is why you don't do it for long.

"Weight loss will be entirely from water and lean muscle tissue" - then prove it! This oft-repeated statement is completely unsupported by any research!

"If you come off the diet and stuff yourself all the next day then you'll put the weight right back on" - yes, and if you come off the diet and then stab yourself in the brain, you will die.

A handful of these articles lead into a final conclusion of "So you should use MY diet, available for only $29.99!", which at least explains why they're rubbishing this one. But a fair number are independent bloggers and writers. The only conclusion I can see is that a diet of this kind is an easy target with which to fill an article without doing any real research because "it's just a fad" and easy to knock down. Maybe I shouldn't complain; let's face it, modern journalism and particularly internet journalism usually errs strongly on the side of less critical thinking (just ask Ben Goldacre). But this isn't smart critical journalism, it's cheap and easy hit work based on a total absence of solid facts. Depressing.

Hopefully keeping a reasonably complete written record of my experiences on this diet (and after) will provide a slightly more accurate impression of its effects. Unless I drop dead tomorrow from malnutrition, of course.

Mark Hewitt is an English foodie, cook, philosopher, geek, shaman and writer. At the start of 2007 he sold or gave away almost all his possessions and left on a backpacking journey round the world, the purpose being (at least in part) to figure out why he would want to do such a thing. You can follow his journey and find other articles at: Seeking An Extraordinary Life.

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