I thought I’d heard it all, but the Snake Diet is a new one on me. The diet is a twist on the current popularity of fasting, and its extreme nature is raising a lot of red flags for health professionals like me. Here’s the lowdown on what the plan entails, and why I strongly recommend skipping it.
What is the Snake Diet?
While the Snake Diet is marketed as a lifestyle, it’s not at all optimal or sustainable, in my opinion. The program promotes what the creator, Cole Robinson (who is admittedly not a health professional), refers to as "proactive eating." He defines this as narrowing your eating to an “intentional and deliberate” window of time, which in this case is one to two hours, according to the plan’s website.
It’s unclear if this is one to two hours per day total, as the protocol advises followers to stop eating, drink "Snake Juice" (more on this below), and continue to fast for as long as you feel good. The initial phase involves eating supper, and then completing a full 48-hour fast, while only consuming Snake Juice and remaining inactive.
A 72-hour fast is advised as the next step. Testing your urine via keto strips is also recommended, as the program is designed to trigger ketosis (the goal of the super popular keto diet). Exactly what to eat when you restart eating isn’t laid out, but followers are encouraged to keep meals simple, be consistent, and not gorge—which may be difficult to do after not eating anything for two to three days at a time.
The Snake Juice allowed during the fasting hours is an electrolyte drink that hasn’t been researched for safety. It sells on amazon for $39.99 for 30 packets. Up to three packets per day are recommended.
Health risks of the Snake Diet
The obvious goal of this plan is fast weight loss, but it’s also important to consider how this method could affect physical and emotional health short-term, and if any weight lost this way can be maintained.
RELATED: 7 Dangers of Going Keto
The diet’s creator correctly states that when you eat more food than your body can readily burn or use, the excess is stored away. That’s true, but you do not need to starve yourself to this extreme to prevent a calorie surplus. Doing so deprives your body of vital nutrients that influence your health, including the health of your immune system.
He also incorrectly states that obese people only need saltwater to meet their needs, because fat stores provide all the nutrition required. The fact is, anyone can become malnourished if they’re missing an adequate amount of vital nutrients day after day, which are not all found in stored body fat. So it is possible to be simultaneously nutrient-deprived and obese.
As far as ketosis, it’s also important to not push the limits. The biggest risk is the potential for ketoacidosis, a state when ketosis goes too far. When excess ketones build up in the body, blood becomes acidic. Severe ketoacidosis can lead to coma, or even death, and acidosis in general can trigger bad breath, headaches, dizziness, muscle cramps, constipation, and bone-density loss. Rapid weight loss can also increase the risk of gallstones.
Finally, you will lose lean weight in addition to body fat while fasting. Within one or two days of not eating, your body will deplete its glycogen, which is the carbohydrate reserve socked away in muscle and liver. At this point, your energy needs will be met by breaking down stored fat, but that’s not all. Your body will also break down lean tissue, which includes both muscle mass and organ cells. Even if you have lots of body fat left to burn, you can still harm your body and health, as muscles and organs are weakened.
The Snake Diet may be dangerous
What all of this points to is that fasting and other methods of rapid weight loss should be medically supervised. An extreme diet such as this can be risky for anyone, but particularly for those with pre-existing medical conditions that need to be carefully managed, such as diabetes and heart disease, or digestive, and kidney issues. Because there is no clinical research on the Snake Diet, there is very little to go on in terms of its true effectiveness and safety.
Robinson is critical of what he calls mainstream health professionals, and he is as extreme as the plan itself. In his loud, profane-riddled YouTube videos, he refers to viewers as "fatties" and spouts a lot of unconventional and sometimes flat-out incorrect or dangerous advice. Much of what the diet’s creator advocates is based on oversimplifications and a lack of understanding of how the human body works. While he may wholeheartedly believe what he’s saying, he doesn’t have the proper training to understand why much of what he advises isn’t accurate.
I also worry about the psychological ramifications of the Snake Diet. Apart from the bullying language Robinson uses, his approach may result in eating phobias that can progress to serious disordered eating patterns.
Humans are not snakes, and we shouldn’t be mimicking their eating patterns. It’s true that there are some benefits to time-restricted eating and certain methods of fasting. But this not research-based approach takes it too far, and extreme weight-loss methods rarely result in sustained results.
Research shows that within two years, more than half of weight lost is regained, and by five years, more than 80% is regained. Weight loss that lasts requires a lifestyle that can be maintained—one that supports physical, emotional, and social well-being. That’s not impossible, and it most definitely does not call for such an extreme approach.
This plan has a lot of fans and defenders, with rhetoric that feeds distrust of science and health professionals. The reality is, health professionals truly want to help people lose weight safely and successfully, and this diet is not the way to accomplish either.
Cynthia Sass, MPH, RD, is Health's contributing nutrition editor, a New York Times best-selling author, and a consultant for the New York Yankees.
To get more nutrition and diet tips delivered to your inbox, sign up for the Balanced Bites newsletter