The Snake Diet is an extreme intermittent fasting diet founded by self-described fasting coach Cole Robinson. (Side note: There’s no designated fasting coach credential, so this really isn’t a thing. And based on publicly available information, Robinson has no medical, nutrition or health coaching qualifications.)
Besides weight loss, the Snake Diet website claims this form of fasting can lead to tighter, clearer skin, a revved-up metabolism, and a reversal of type 2 diabetes. In addition, during an appearance on the television show The Doctors, Robinson claimed that he used this fasting protocol to cure himself from herpes and help shrink a woman’s brain tumor.
The Snake Diet’s claims of health transformations and six-pack abs are alluring, but there are a lot of red flags. So, let’s unpack what the Snake Diet is, what it can (or can’t) help with, and how it’s different from other forms of fasting.
What is the Snake Diet?
Simply put, the Snake Diet promotes prolonged fasting periods. Among other studied forms of fasting, people typically have a 16-hour fasting window, or they fast (or eat very lightly) for two non-consecutive days per week. The Snake Diet, on the other hand, suggests fasting for days at a time. On the days you’re permitted to eat, the eating window is short — just one to two hours long compared to up to eight hours on a more flexible fasting plan. Other than that, the guidelines are pretty simple. The Snake Diet recommends limiting variety to make meal planning easy and it calls for Snake Juice, a concoction of water, sodium and other minerals. Although the website lists the recipe to make Snake Juice, you can also buy 30 packets for about $40, which can add up quickly considering that it’s recommended to drink one to three glasses of Snake Juice per day.
Is Snake Juice healthy?
Snake Juice is designed to provide electrolytes to keep you sufficiently hydrated during your fast. However, each packet of the commercial product has 1,045 mg of sodium of the 2,300 mg per day upper limit recommended by our Dietary Guidelines. The American Heart Association says an ideal daily target is more like 1,500 mg a day. So, drinking up to three packets of this beverage per day can put you over the healthy range and promote high blood pressure. Eventually, high blood pressure can injure your blood vessels and raise your risk of heart attacks and strokes.
What’s more, when your body tries to get rid of the excess sodium, calcium goes along for the ride. Since you’re fasting, you’re not maintaining an adequate calcium intake, which can lead to frail bones and osteoporosis over time.
Plus, each packet of Snake Juice contains 100 mg of magnesium citrate. Magnesium is an important mineral that’s involved in regulating heart rhythm, blood sugar, blood pressure, nerve function, stress hormones, and it supports healthy sleep cycles. However, this form of magnesium draws water into your colon, potentially causing cramping, bloating and a laxative effect.
What all of this points to is that in an effort to lose weight, you could be harming your body.
Does the Snake Diet work?
If you were used to eating multiple meals a day and switched to the Snake Diet, you’d likely lose weight. But don’t take that to mean that it’s a good idea. As a registered dietitian, I’d recommend avoiding the Snake Diet for two main reasons.
There’s no scientific validity to the Snake Diet’s claims
Robinson points to his Facebook community as proof, but anecdotes on Facebook don’t provide evidence of safety or efficacy. Scientific evidence is a much higher bar than comments and photos from a Facebook group. The best evidence comes from randomized trials, in which one set of people follows one diet and another group follows a different one. Scientists investigating weight loss will then compare the groups to see if there was any difference between the two diets and whether that difference was meaningful. They might also look at metrics like waist circumference and markers of metabolic health to see if the intervention influenced people’s health. Finally, they’ll see whether a diet produces side effects and how many people drop out due to those unwanted symptoms. This kind of data helps health professionals make sound recommendations.
Meanwhile, other forms of intermittent fasting have been rigorously studied, so we can have something to go off of to determine their potential safety and effectiveness. For example, in one review among people with type 2 diabetes, scientists evaluated three fasting protocols — an alternating fast/feed protocol, a two non-consecutive fasting days protocol, and a time-restricted eating window from four to 12 hours. They concluded that all three plans could produce weight loss and improve insulin sensitivity and may be helpful in treating type 2 diabetes. (Note, if you have a medical condition, get your doctor’s okay before trying any form of intermittent fasting.)
The Snake Diet could be harmful
It’s hard, and probably even unlikely, to meet your nutrient needs on one meal a day. In the study on fasting and type 2 diabetes, the researchers raise concerns about meeting nutrient requirements with limited eating windows, and they recommend consulting a registered dietitian for counseling. And in case you’re wondering, supplements are not substitutes for a balanced, plant-heavy diet.
Also, the Snake Diet suggests limiting the variety in your diet to simplify grocery shopping and meal prep. But this strategy could also have unintended health consequences. That’s because a diet that includes 30 or more unique plant foods can lead to a more diverse microbiome. A healthy microbiome influences inflammation, weight, mood and immunity, so limiting variety could promote health and mood problems.
Additionally, you could experience unpleasant side effects, such as dizziness, headaches, fainting, constipation and other potentially serious symptoms from extreme fasting.
Furthermore, food is more than fuel. It’s at the center of most celebrations, is integral to many religious rituals, and promotes social connection. If you’re willing to forgo the joys of food to participate in extreme dieting, it may be a sign that you have an unhealthy relationship with your body and food. If that’s the case, the Snake Diet (or any extreme diet) could do further damage.
Other concerns with the Snake Diet involve using before-and-after weight loss photos to market the plan and Robinson’s fat-shaming language. These can promote body dissatisfaction and social pressure to be thin, which is a leading contributor to eating disorders.
The best diet boils down to the one that’s realistic for you
While the Snake Diet will likely help you lose weight, that doesn’t make it worth the substantial risks. If you’re looking to lose weight, it’s better to find a more practical approach that supports you physically, socially and emotionally, even if it leads to more modest weight loss.
Meanwhile, other forms of intermittent fasting may be helpful for some people. However, if you have a medical condition, such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease or digestive diseases, or you’re over 65 years old, check with your healthcare provider before trying any type of intermittent fasting. In addition, if you’re an avid exerciser, think twice before attempting intermittent fasting; fasting is not appropriate on active days. Finally, pregnant or breastfeeding women, people with a history of disordered eating or an eating disorder, and those under 18 should avoid intermittent fasting.