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Is the Snake Diet for Weight Loss Safe?

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Snake diet - Dr. Axe

While incorporating fasting into an otherwise balanced diet can lead to certain health improvements for many people, according to many studies, eating only several meals per week may not have the same effects.

The snake diet — which involves having one giant meal roughly every other day or so— has been called one of the “strangest diet trends” and a “bad idea” by a number of health experts.

While the snake diet might lead to rapid weight loss, the lost weight is unlikely to stay off. The diet also fails to emphasize the importance of nutritional quality and is hard to put into practice if you’re someone who likes to eat meals socially with others, including your family, friends and coworkers.

What Is the Snake Diet?

The snake diet is an eating plan that involves prolonged fasting and eating only one meal per day (or less), several days per week. While fasting, a drink called “Snake Juice” is also permitted, which is basically a powdered electrolyte mixture dissolved in water.

One of the goals of the diet is to help you get into the state of nutritional ketosis in order to boost weight loss. While in ketosis, your body creates ketones bodies, which are used for energy rather than using glucose from carbohydrates. However, the snake diet and the ketogenic diet are very different, as explained more below.

The snake diet was created by a man named Cole Robinson, who refers to himself as “fasting coach” and fitness trainer. Why is it called the snake diet? Apparently because it mimics the way that reptiles, including snakes, eat: They typically eat only one big meal per day, or even every several days, and then don’t eat again for another day or two.

Method:

The official Snake Diet website states that the diet is a “fasting focused lifestyle that promotes a proactive eating routine.”

The snake diet is split into three phases:

Phase 1 — The first phase is meant to kickstart the diet, get you accustomed to fasting, and put you into ketosis. You start the diet with an initial fast of 48 hours (2 days) or longer. Have a refeed of 1–2 hours, then fast again for 72 hours if possible.

Phase 2 — The second phase is intended to cause weight loss and allow someone to reach their body composition goals. Continue to cycle between fasting and having short refeeds. Try fasting for 48–72 hours, or up to 96 hours.

Phase 3 —The final phase is intended to be a “maintenance” plan that helps you maintain your desired weight. Fasting is still incorporated and cycled with refeeds.

Below are more detailed steps involved in following the snake diet protocol:

  • Once you’ve reached your target weight you’re instructed to keep cycling in and out of fasts, eating one meal every 24–48 hours.
  • Stick to a feeding window of 1–2 hours before starting the next fast. This means that you should only eat one or possibly two meals during the entire day, then fast for the remaining 22–23 hours of the day or longer.
  • The time period when you can eat and break your fast is referred to as a “snake diet refeed.” During refeeds, you’re encouraged to focus on eating low-carb, high-fat meals, including non-starchy veggies, meat and fats like oils. However, there are no strict guidelines in terms of what to eat while breaking a fast.
  • Between meals, supplement with Snake Juice, an electrolyte beverage described more below. Apple cider vinegar and lemon juice are also recommended to help with detoxification and appetite control.
  • If possible, consume less than 3,500 calories per week when starting the diet, according to the diet’s guidelines.
  • Once you’re accustomed to following the diet, increase calorie intake to 10,000 to 20,000 calories per week (men are encouraged to eat much more than women).

Can It Lead to Weight Loss?

Because the snake diet involves extreme calorie restriction while fasting, it’s not surprising that it can cause weight loss. However, fast weight loss isn’t always the healthiest thing for your body, not to mention your mind.

What kind of results can you expect from the diet? For example, can you drop 10 pounds in a week like some people claim?

Cole Robinson (creator of the diet) claims that he lost 8–9 pounds the first week of starting the diet, however these results are likely not typical. When fasting for several days in a row, you can expect to quickly lose several pounds, which is typically a combination of water weight, muscle and fat. You may lose several pounds during the first week of the diet, but the weight loss should slow down as your metabolism begins to adapt.

Once your body gets the signal that you’re fasting more often and consuming less calories overall, your metabolism will cause you to use less calories and you’ll maintain your weight while eating less.

Potential Benefits

Other than weight loss, does the diet offer any real health benefits?

There have not been any well-controlled, reliable studies suggesting that the snake diet specifically protects against any health conditions. The diet’s creator claims that it can offer protection against problems like type 2 diabetes, inflammation and obesity, but these claims have not been tested or proven.

On the other hand, there are some studies that have found evidence suggesting that long-term fasting can have potential benefits. For example, one study found that when adults fasted long-term (for 4 days or more, up to 21 days) while consuming under 300 calories per day, they experienced improvements in their mood, blood sugar regulation and blood pressure.

There are also many studies showing that intermittent fasting, which commonly leads to restriction of the daily food intake, can result in weight loss and associated health improvements, including healthier triglycerides, total cholesterol, low-density lipoprotein cholesterol, blood pressure, glucose, insulin and C-reactive protein levels.

Snake Diet vs. Intermittent Fasting

Intermittent fasting refers to a dietary tool in which meals are only consumed within a strictly defined time period, whether within a day or week.

A large body of research shows that intermittent fasting can be effective for weight loss, in addition to providing many other benefits like inflammatory effects, cardiovascular protection, and cognitive enhancement.

The snake diet, however, if very different than most popular intermittent fasting (IF) protocols.

  • The snake diet is most similar to the intermittent fasting protocol that consists of a 24-hour fasting period, alternated with a 24-hour eating period, repeated two or three times a week. This is sometimes called the “5:2” or “4:3” plan, in which caloric restriction is used for two or three days a week, and a regular diet for the remaining days.
  • For most people, a popular and safer approach to practicing IF is to stick to an “eating window” of about 4–8 hours per day. By fasting for about 16 to 20 hours daily, this allows for enough time to consume two meals daily and leads to less severe calorie restriction compared to the the snake diet.
  • Many people find this approach to be less restrictive compared to traditional methods of calorie restriction. The goal is not necessarily to cut calorie intake, but to make mindful choices and pay close attention to your hunger/fullness signals which may allow you to go longer periods without eating.

On another note, fasting can increase the body’s production of ketone bodies, which is why people following the snake diet are encouraged to test their ketone levels.

Ketones can be tested in several ways, such as using urine ketone strips or a blood sample. Most people on the snake diet test ketones using urine strips, which are available in most drug stores, easy to use and expensive.

Snake Juice Ingredients

While following the snake diet and practicing prolonged fasting. it’s recommended that you consume plenty of water, electrolytes in the form of “snake juice,” and also possibly caffeine, lemon juice and/or apple cider vinegar.

“Snake Juice” is an electrolyte beverage made using simple ingredients. It’s intended to help replenish the electrolytes you lose while fasting in ketosis, especially sodium. It can be purchased online or made at home using ingredients like pink salt and epsom salt.

Here is a basic “Snake Juice” recipe:

  • 8 cups (2 liters) of water
  • 1/2 teaspoon (2 grams) of Himalayan pink salt
  • 1 teaspoon (5 grams) of salt-free potassium chloride (a salt substitute)
  • 1/2 teaspoon (2 grams) of food-grade Epsom salts

The mixture above can be consumed on its own, or mixed with coffee to make “snake diet coffee.”

How much snake juice should you consume per day? If you use premade packets of powdered electrolyte mix to make snake juice, the diet’s guidelines recommend having no more than three packets per day. If you make your own mixture at home, there are no clear instructions for how much to consume.

Experts warn that one problem with consumption of snake juice is its high concentration of sodium. A day’s worth of Snake Juice can contain up to 4,000 milligrams of sodium, which is roughly double the amount that most adults need. This can contribute to health problems like high blood pressure, kidney issues and more.

Is It Safe?

While you might lose weight from skipping meals and cutting calories, here’s the downside of fad diets like the snake diet: They also pose a risk to your overall health and can cause a number of side effects, both short and long-term.

One thing that makes the snake diet potentially dangerous is how restrictive it is in terms of calories. This can put your body into starvation mode and slow your metabolism.

The diet’s creator recommends having 3,500 calories or less per week when beginning the diet. This can be compared to the caloric needs of adult men and women according to the USDA’s guidelines, which is between roughly 12,000 and 21,000 calories per week (men typically need more).

Risks involved with severe calorie restriction include developing nutrient deficiencies and experiencing side effects such as:

  • fatigue
  • dizziness/lightheadedness
  • hypoglycemia
  • mood related changes such as irritability
  • trouble sleeping
  • poor concentration
  • headaches
  • constipation
  • low libido
  • and many other symptoms

There are also potential psychological downsides to following such an extreme diet. For example, some believe that fad diets can increase the risk for developing issues like binge eating and irregular periods among women.

Even the snake diet website points out that “you may find your choices at odds with the norm” in these situations: during special occasions, family functions, work meetings or conferences, friendship gatherings, etc.

So what’s the bottom line on the safety of the snake diet? You’re much better off focusing on making sustainable changes that will lead to gradual weight loss (about 1–3 pounds per week) without causing negative side effects. If you do in fact want to lose weight quickly, a better option is to try the ketogenic diet and/or intermittent fasting.

As long as you aren’t at risk for experiencing adverse reactions to fasting due to an existing health condition, here are tips that can help you safely get started with intermittent fasting:

  • Start with a relatively easy fast lasting 14–16 hours. The fasting period includes the hours overnight when you’re sleeping.
  • Eat within a 8–10 hour window at first and then consider decreasing your eating window if you’re responding well.
  • While not fasting, focus on eating filling and healthy, whole foods. These include high-fiber foods like plenty of vegetables, healthy fats and quality protein sources that help control hunger.
  • Be sure to drink plenty of water throughout the day (although consuming electrolyte mixes is not necessary).

Final Thoughts

  • What is the snake diet (also called the snake juice diet)? It’s a diet that involves long-term fasting and severe calorie restriction, intended to put someone into ketosis and to cause rapid weight loss.
  • While following the diet you fast for 1–3 days at a time, eating for only 1–2 hours per day at most. While fasting you’re encouraged to drink “snake juice,” which is an electrolyte mixture made from salt, water and potassium.
  • Is the diet safe? Results vary depending on how long and often someone fasts for, plus severely he/she cuts their calorie intake, as well as other factors like genetics.
  • Overall the diet is considered risky and capable of causing side effects like nutrient deficiencies, fatigue, poor cognitive abilities, mood swings and more.

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