The diet industry is exploding with fad diets, where you might eat only one kind of food, such as soup, or limit yourself to “detox” beverages to lose weight fast. When you want to drop 20 pounds, a quick fix like an all-soup diet may look appealing, especially with all those “before” and “after” photos to wow you.
But the truth is, while you may lose weight on the soup diet (or any other fad diet), the odds are good that you’ll gain it back. You might even gain back more than you originally lost. However, some foods that make up fad diets, such as soup, may be beneficial when used as part of a healthy weight-loss regimen.
What Is the Soup Diet?
The term "soup diet" is a broad one that covers a lot of slightly different diet approaches. Most commonly, there's the cabbage soup diet, which was popularized in the 1960s. Participants only ate cabbage soup for seven to 10 days in the hopes of losing weight quickly.
Soup diet may also refer to a number of other similarly structured diets. The basic idea is that you only eat soup (or primarily soup, sometimes with some fruits and vegetables added) for an allotted time (again, usually seven to 10 days).
Does the Soup Diet Work?
As with any other crash diet, the safety of the soup diet depends on how much and what kind of soup you eat, what else you eat and how long you remain on the diet. The main concern is that on these types of diets you aren't consuming enough calories, with getting sufficient amounts of macro and micronutrients as a secondary concern.
If the question is whether the soup diet actually works, the answer is not really, especially if you're looking for long-term weight loss. Much of the weight loss from a week on the soup diet is water weight, meaning you'll gain the weight back once you start eating other foods. Additionally, many people feel deprived after such a restrictive diet, and thus begin eating whatever they want when the diet is over.
Weight-Loss Benefits of Soup
But the questionable efficacy of the soup diet as a whole doesn't mean soup can't help you drop a few pounds. Maybe you usually turn down a cup of soup before a meal, thinking it’s too much food. But in fact, some research suggests that eating low-calorie soups before your meal can assist your weight-loss efforts.
In a study published in the journal Appetite in 2007, 60 normal-weight adults received a “pre-load” of low-calorie soup before lunch for five weeks. After they consumed the soup, they were served their main meal.
In the group that ate their soup first, researchers found that the subjects consumed 20 percent fewer calories at that meal — and because the soup was low-calorie, they reduced their caloric intake overall. The conclusion was that adding soup to your diet can be an effective means of curbing calories. Having soup before your meal may also force you to slow down — another technique shown to reduce overall energy intake.
Try this technique for a week — consume a serving of low-calorie soup before lunch or dinner and cut back on your main meal accordingly. For example, a cup of vegetable beef soup provides about 40 calories.
If you have soup before dinner for a week and forgo a large, plain baked potato — which is 290 calories — you save 1,750 calories, or half a pound of body weight. Having soup instead of a serving of French fries nets you even bigger savings of 3,150 calories, or almost a full pound of weight.
Best Soups for Weight Loss
Not all soups offer the same benefits. In the Appetite study, participants ate low-calorie soups of broth and vegetables; chunky vegetables; chunky-pureed vegetables or pureed vegetables; all had the same calorie-reduction benefits.
But in contrast, cream-based soups or those loaded with cheese or pasta can add significant calories to your regimen. A cup of broccoli cheddar soup at one popular chain, for example, has 220 calories. Instead, opt for vegetable-based soups made from clear vegetable broth or from clear chicken or beef broth. At the same restaurant chain, a cup of vegetable soup with pesto has 90 calories.
Soups can make excellent main-dish meals; try swapping out higher calorie pasta dishes or meat-and-potatoes meals for a main-dish soup one or two nights a week. When making bean soups, puree some of the cooked soup and add it back to the pot to give the dish a rich, velvety texture without the extra calories of cream or cheese. Serve your soups with a side salad instead of bread.
Need even more healthy soup ideas? Here are some recipes for you to try out as an appetizer or main course:
- Caramelized Red Onion and Chicken Soup
- Middle Eastern-Spiced Creamy Tomato Soup
- Garlicky Italian White Bean, Spinach and Pasta Soup
- Carrot Ginger Soup with Mascarpone Cheese & Pomegranates
- Hearty Chicken, Vegetable & White Bean Soup
- Creamy Broccoli and Cauliflower Soup
- Mexican Black Bean Soup with Avocado
- Healthy Asian Veggie and Soba Noodle Soup
- Spicy Sweet Potato Soup with Coconut
The Best Way to Lose 20 Pounds
But forget the soup-only diet! There are plenty of creative ways to lose 20 pounds that don't involve eating the same thing over and over again. But first, remember that you didn’t put on 20 pounds overnight. In fact, the average American gains about a pound annually during the fall and winter seasons, and then doesn’t take it off during the spring and summer.
Slow and Steady Weight Loss
The best way to lose 20 pounds and keep it off is to go about it methodically — at a rate of 1 to 2 pounds a week. In this way, you could lose 20 pounds in two to five months. Making a switch to a whole-foods diet — fresh fruits and vegetables, lean protein, whole grains, legumes and healthy fats — will not only help you shed those pounds, but will also provide the nutrition that fad diets don’t offer.
Whole-foods diets, for example, tend to be rich in protein and fiber, two nutrients associated with satiety and weight management. This kind of diet — it's actually more of a lifestyle change — is also sustainable over a lifetime, meaning you’re likely to keep up with it instead of returning to unhealthy eating after you reach your goal weight.
The standard recommendation for weight loss is to create a calorie deficit of 3,500 calories a week to lose 1 pound and 7,000 calories to drop 2 pounds. That means if you’re currently eating 2,500 calories a day, you would reduce that number to 2,000 or 1,500.
This is merely a goal to help you plan your regimen, however; weight loss will vary with the individual. If you want a more tailored approach to weight loss, try an app like LIVESTRONG.COM's MyPlate. There, you can calculate your daily caloric need as well as track the foods you eat (like soup!).
Add Exercise for More Weight Loss
Cutting calories by eating soup can help you shed pounds — but unless you also incorporate regular exercise into your regimen — you're likely to gain back the weight you lose, according to Harvard Medical School.
Exercise not only helps curb your appetite, it also boosts your resting metabolism rate so you burn more calories and shed more fat. Standard guidelines suggest at least 150 minutes of endurance or aerobic exercise a week, plus strength training two or more days a week to build and maintain muscle.
- FamilyDoctor.org: Nutrition for Weight Loss: What You Need to Know About Fad Diets
- The New England Journal of Medicine: A Prospective Study of Holiday Weight Gain
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Losing Weight; What Is Healthy Weight Loss?
- American Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: Back to Basics for Healthy Weight Loss
- Go Ask Alice! How Many Calories Does it Take to Lose One Pound?
- Appetite: Soup Preloads in a Variety of Forms Reduce Meal Energy Intake
- Journal of the American Dietetic Association: Eating Slowly Led to Decreases in Energy Intake Within Meals in Healthy Women
- HealthAliciousNess: A Soup Calorie Ranking From Lowest to Highest
- USDA Nutrient Database: Foods List
- Harvard Health Publications; Exercise and Weight Loss: The Importance of Resting Expenditure