March Miracle? Or Madness?

As a medical student in the mid 1990s, a few of the women in my class followed a popular fad diet called the Cabbage Soup Diet prior to a trip to Cozumel. It’s basically a very low carb diet, with lean protein added here and there, with the claim to fame of losing up to 10 pounds in one week.  Per my recall, I lost 7-8 pounds, and while I gained back half the weight thanks to street tacos and margaritas, some of it did stay off.

Fast forward to 2020.  I gained almost 10 pounds during the first four months of the pandemic, due to stress eating, lack of exercise options, and this sort of bizarre mentality that I should support our local restaurants and order take out every other night from the places that were still open. (And, with everyone stuck at home, I grew EXTREMELY tired of cooking, very quickly.)  I lost about half this weight last summer by increasing exercise, biking to work, and logging my calories on a phone app.  But going forward, now almost a year after the start of all this madness, I could still not shed those last 5 pounds.  And as any woman of a certain age will tell you, all of it settled in my lower abdomen, and so just the mere 5 pounds really had an effect on how my clothes fit.  After getting vaccinated and planning a trip to Florida, I vowed to somehow get that weight off.

I decided to Google the Cabbage Soup Diet, and lo and behold, it was still a “thing!”.  Many websites and blogs featured variations of the soup recipe, the 7 day plan, and of course ratings and comments. I could see by reading these that the diet still had traction, in part because for many people, it simply works. Since it’s only one week, I thought, why not give it a try?  Nothing else was working, so I have nothing to lose! (Or, hopefully, something.)  I chose March 1st as my start date.  

I used the recipe and plan from divascancook.com with just one modification: I made the soup with bone broth instead of regular chicken broth for the additional protein, and this seemed to improve the “staying power.” In fact, one of the best things about this diet is I never felt hungry.  This was not the case for any other plan I’ve tried; I found intermittent fasting miserable, dealing with strong hunger pangs every morning until 11 am. The soup itself is rather tasty and can lend itself to any assortment of herbs and spices or even different hot sauces if you enjoy heat as I do.  The plan was actually sort of fun to prep and shop for; basically, you raid the produce aisle and pick out whatever looks good or what was on sale. I even brought home some items I wouldn’t normally purchase such as fresh mangoes, kiwi, and dragon fruit.

I did have to carefully consider the notion of dining out or ordering take out.  Luckily, there is a Thai place near us that my family enjoys, and there are several options that fit with the plan–such as a vegetable stir fry or a chicken curry over steamed spinach (skipping the rice and using as little of the sauce as possible) or a real gem, the green papaya salad.  It is practically carb free as the “noodles” are actually julienned papaya and the dressing is only lime juice, fish sauce, and rice vinegar.  Even our favorite Italian restaurant, which is a carb lover’s haven, has a dish composed of grilled salmon alongside oven roasted asparagus, which also fits.  With a little advance planning and reviewing menus online, it was not hard to find something for everyone.

So the outcome of following this Cabbage Soup Diet for one week?  Well, I did not lose 10 lb as the diet claimed; I didn’t even lose 5, but instead 3.9.  Not quite as impressive as when I was in med school. Which just goes to show you: when approaching 50, your metabolism is that much different and weight loss is more challenging compared to your mid 20s. 

Still, I was that much closer to my pre-pandemic weight, and also, it shed light on certain eating patterns that I have continued going forward. Increasing fruits and veggies while reducing carbs seems to be a good idea. And finding creative substitutions, such as cauliflower rice or zucchini noodles–I probably would not have done that if it weren’t for this diet.  

Even after the Florida vacation, I continue the effort of healthy eating and exercise.  It certainly helps that we’ve had an early spring in Minnesota, with temperatures in the low 60s in March–warm enough to run outside, or even play a round of golf.  Now I am just wondering if I should recommend this diet to my patients who ask me about weight loss…well, as a short term strategy, I do think it is manageable and not unhealthy, at least for a 7 day stretch. 

March Miracle, or Madness?  I know many of us are in the same boat dealing with pandemic pounds. If any of you have tried a diet lately, I’d love to hear about your experience and results!  

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