From Taylor Swift scandals to Harry Potter, snakes don’t have the best reputation. We call people “snakes” when they lie, backstab, or act in slithery ways that fuel our suspicions.
Despite its name, though, we were willing to give this fad diet a chance. Spoiler: It doesn’t live up to the hype. If you feel wary of following a diet regimen named after a sometimes-venomous reptile… well, you’re not wrong.
The Snake Diet involves fasting for at least 2 days while consuming “snake juice,” which is basically electrolyte water. Then, you’re supposed to eat a large-ish meal and begin anew.
But, to put it bluntly, medical professionals strongly advise against prolonged fasting. It’s unsustainable and can be very risky because it leaves little room for vital nutrients.
Whether you’re seriously considering trying this diet or are just curious about the controversy, here are the deets.
Like many trendy diets, the Snake Diet claims it will help you drop pounds fast (or “slither” them away, in this case). Like other fad diets (such as the cabbage soup diet or the lemon detox diet), the Snake Diet is based on a starvation model and doesn’t provide enough nutrients to support a healthy lifestyle.
The founder, Cole Robinson, is a 34-year-old self-described fasting coach who doesn’t have credentials or experience in nutrition, biology, or medicine.
He instructs his clients to fast for 48 hours (or “as long as f*cking possible,” as he says on YouTube) while drinking electrolyte water when needed. Then, he advises taking 1 to 2 hours to eat one meal. And repeat.
This diet is way more extreme than intermittent fasting due to the lack of nutrients and the long fasting period. It’s modeled after the eating patterns of some wild animals, like snakes, which sometimes eat only once a week. (They also swallow rodents whole, so… not the best role models, IMO.)
When he appeared on “The Doctors,” he also claimed that his client cured her cancer by fasting, which “melted” her tumor. On the show, Andrew Paul Ordon, MD, replied, “No, you didn’t melt that tumor down. That would defy science.”
Robinson changes up the diet often on his YouTube channel, so what he recommends may vary from one day to the next.
“Snake juice,” which is integral to the diet, can be made at home or purchased from Robinson directly. Here’s the breakdown of the electrolyte concoction:
- 8 cups water
- 1 teaspoon salt-free potassium chloride
- 1/2 teaspoon Himalayan pink salt
- 1/2 teaspoon food-grade Epsom salts
Robinson doesn’t say exactly how much to drink, but he limits buyers to three commercial packets per day. He also claims that those new to the diet don’t need more than a dangerously low 3,500 calories a week.
Meanwhile, from the USDA…
The U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends that women consume 1,600 to 2,400 calories and men consume 2,000 to 3,000 calories each day.
Yep, that’s 11,200 to 21,000 calories a week to stay healthy — a far cry from the few thousand Robinson recommends.
Due to the diet’s very restricted calorie intake, those who try it are at risk of serious calorie deprivation. And with calorie intake so low, weight loss may happen at an unsafe rate.
According to the CDC, 1 to 2 pounds per week is a safe and healthy rate of weight loss — and going slow and steady might mean you’re more likely to keep it off.
During the diet, Robinson encourages participants to measure ketones using a pee strip. By now, you’ve probably heard all about ketosis, the metabolic state that occurs as a result of extended fasting and eating a high fat, low carb diet.
The Snake Diet isn’t the same as ketosis-inducing intermittent fasting, though, which involves consuming nothing but water for 8 to 36 hours. While both plans promote extended fasting, the Snake Diet’s long fasting periods present serious risks.
The diet has three main phases:
This is the first 48-hour fast. Robinson says to consume an unspecified amount of an apple cider vinegar drink and snake juice during this phase.
Then, you can eat for 1 to 2 hours, though Robinson doesn’t specify what you can eat. Just have at it. Because next comes a 72-hour fast. Robinson claims this phase will “detoxify your liver.”
Somehow, you’re now supposed to fast for even longer periods: between 48 and 96 hours. Robinson encourages fasting until you can’t stand it any longer.
Phase 3 consists of 24- to 48-hour fast cycles peppered with single meals. You’re supposed to listen to your body’s natural hunger cues during this phase. Since most people’s hunger signals will fire within 8 hours, this advice is a little contradictory.
It’s true that fasting can help you drop pounds. Fasting forces your body to use energy that’s stored in fat and lean muscle.
One 2016 study found that intermittent fasting leads to weight loss at a similar rate to daily calorie restriction, and it may be a safe and effective method of weight loss for some people. But the Snake Diet is really more of a starvation diet than a fasting diet.
When fasting veers into starvation, things shift. In an attempt to protect your vital organs, your body might shut down some non-vital processes (possibly including fertility, according to some research on rats).
The Snake Diet also doesn’t incorporate enough essential nutrients like protein, fat, and vitamins. Since your body doesn’t produce these nutrients naturally, you’ve gotta work them into your diet somehow.
Robinson claims that the Snake Diet cures type 2 diabetes, herpes, and inflammation (oh, and cancer — NBD). But he must not have listened to teachers who told him to cite 👏 his 👏 sources, because these claims have no scientific basis.
It’s true that healthy weight management is correlated with a reduced risk of type 2 diabetes — but claiming that the diet can cure diabetes is a stretch.
In a 2019 study of 1,422 adults who ate just 250 calories a day for 4 to 21 days (under constant medical supervision), participants did report better moods, improved blood sugar regulation, and reduced blood pressure. Still, due to the risks of extended fasting, there’s not a lot of research on it.
Plus, the Snake Diet is a lot stricter than the typical intermittent fasting regimen. So in terms of a classic pro/con list, it’s unclear whether there’s any upside to this diet.
We’ll be honest: The Snake Diet just might be the worst thing since the Tapeworm Diet. (Sorry to report that’s a real thing.) Here are just a few negative effects:
It promotes disordered eating
Our culture’s emphasis on dieting can be harmful in general, especially for those who already have a rocky relationship with food. In a 2008 study of adolescent girls subjected to fasting, those who fasted appeared to have a higher risk of bulimia and binge eating down the road.
In the long run, fasting may also alter your body’s levels of leptin and ghrelin, the hormones that control fullness and hunger. Essentially, it can throw your system out of whack.
Robinson also says to fast “until you feel like death”… yeah, no. Feeling like death should never be your goal.
It’s super restrictive
Robinson’s diet recommends eating several thousand fewer calories than the USDA guidelines recommend for healthy adults. He also encourages people to dry fast (meaning no water), which can increase the risk of dehydration and be extremely dangerous.
Without vital nutrients, you’ll start to feel low on energy. In a 2018 study, people who were subjected to water-only fasting for 2 or more days reported a lower quality of life and increased fatigue. They also had side effects like insomnia, nausea, headaches, and high blood pressure.
Eventually, you’ll need more micronutrients to improve your health and well-being than this diet provides, which makes it unrealistic and unsustainable.
Let’s face it: It’s dangerous
The Snake Diet is less of a diet and more of a way to plunge your body into starvation mode. At its core, it encourages abstaining from food for as long as possible. Sure, there’s an electrolyte beverage thrown in there, but that doesn’t exactly help with, you know, severe nutrient deficiency.
So please don’t try it. You deserve to feel good, enjoy food, and love yourself.
- Just because snakes sometimes eat only once a week doesn’t mean you should do that. (You also don’t swallow mice whole, to be fair.) You deserve better than this!
- The Snake Diet doesn’t provide enough essential nutrients for a healthy lifestyle. It’s unsustainable and may provoke disordered eating.
- Intermittent fasting might be a safer approach to weight loss, although the research on that is inconclusive.
- Never fast for more than 72 hours without medical supervision. Back-to-back fasts with little food in between — like those the Snake Diet recommends — can pose serious risks.
- If you’re interested in finding a path to a healthier you, talk to your doctor before you try any snake oil.