Does the Snake Diet Really Work for Rapid Weight Loss?
The Snake Diet: Why Prolonged Intermittent Fasting "Works" for Rapid Weight Loss
The so-called "Snake Diet" has become one of the more popular intermittent fasting protocols in recent years. It is seemingly a barebones spin-off of the "Warrior Diet" that was popularized in the 2000s by Author Ori Hofmekler, which entails extended periods of energy deprivation (e.g. drinking water only) followed by a short "refeed" window—usually one to two hours per day.
The creator of the Snake Diet, Cole Robinson, is a self-professed "fasting coach" (if such a thing exists) that makes some questionable claims about the benefits of prolonged fasting for metabolic health.
Now, you might be wondering, "Does the snake diet entail eating whole rodents, birds, insects, eggs, and rabbits like a reptile? Does it involve eating snakes themselves?"
Well, not quite.
In fact, the Snake Diet is not a "diet" at all. There are no specific foods or drinks advised by the Snake Diet, aside from an electrolyte formula of Robinson's dubbed "Snake Juice." It's simply a type of intermittent fasting regimen. It tells you when to eat, but little about food choices or portion control—both of which are paramount to establishing healthy eating habits.
We won't go into detail about how to follow the Snake Diet in this article; instead, we will take an objective look at the pros and cons of this unorthodox meal pattern and some of the scientifically suspect claims surrounding it.
What Is the Snake Diet, Exactly?
First, let's get you up to speed on the umbrella term "intermittent fasting." As its moniker implies, intermittent fasting is a feeding pattern involving cyclical "fasting windows" and "feeding windows."
The fasting window—which may last anywhere from 12 hours to several days in some cases—is bookended by a finite timeframe for eating (i.e. "the feeding window"). After the feeding window "shuts," the subsequent fasting window "opens," and so on...
People typically adhere to the "16:8" fasting-feeding method: a 16-hour fasting window followed by an 8-hour feeding window. Less-traditional approaches are alternate-day fasting and weekend fasting (e.g. fast Saturday and Sunday, then eat ad libitum Monday through Friday).
On the "Snake Diet," the fasting window starts with an initial 48-hour "cleanse" before tapering into a "maintenance phase" with 22+ hours of daily fasting, leaving just 1-2 hours for the feeding window.
Like any intermittent fasting regimen, the Snake Diet is not a "diet" per se—it's a lifestyle choice involving a time-restricted eating window and a lengthy fasting window. Terms like "intermittent fasting diet" and "snake diet" are technically misnomers because they don't tell you what or how much to eat, but when to eat.
As a noun, "diet" describes an individual's food choices and nutrient intake. Meal frequency is independent of a person's diet. Therefore, you can follow any diet, whether it's a ketogenic, Paleo, or carnivore diet, while also adhering to an intermittent-fasting regimen.
Does the Snake Diet Work for Weight Loss?
Intuitively, restrictive diets like the Snake Diet are effective at producing rapid weight loss by virtue of greatly reducing calorie intake (but not energy expenditure).
The transient feeding window prescribed by the Snake Diet means you'll be eating large amounts of food in a limited timeframe. Naturally, this makes it much harder to overeat on any given day.
But the Snake Diet isn't a panacea. One might even argue that it's suboptimal for weight loss and improving body composition. The vast majority of research in humans fails to show a significant difference in lean body mass changes and total weight loss between individuals who follow a "normal" eating pattern (e.g. 3 to 4 meals spread throughout the day) and those on an intermittent fasting protocol .
The body burns fat to a greater degree when we're in a fasted state, but this doesn't necessarily translate to better body composition because muscle protein breakdown also increases. Contrarily, limiting yourself to one or two large meals after a day of fasting will make it tough to eat enough to build any muscle.
So yes, the Snake Diet might be useful for those looking to lose weight quickly, but it's probably not ideal for active gym-goers and athletes.
Drawbacks to the Snake Diet
Extreme fasting is not without consequences. For example, dealing with your body's natural hunger cues throughout the day can be quite a challenge during a long fasting window. You might also experience symptoms of low blood sugar (hypoglycemia) throughout the initial week or two of following any intermittent fasting regimen.
Another issue is that extended fasting can engender unhealthy eating habits, and even full-blown eating disorders in some cases. Remember, fasting for 20+ hours is not a free pass to stuff your face with as much food as possible when the feeding window rolls around. Binge eating is not synonymous with eating sizable meals after fasting.
Thankfully, the human body can adapt to new eating patterns over time, thereby attenuating the untoward effects of fasting. As such, intermittent fasting may be advantageous for people who prefer to unwind with controlled, sizable meals instead of frequently eating smaller meals throughout the day. Plus, it takes some of the stress off by when you don't have to prep 30+ meals for the week ahead!
Why Is it called the "Snake Diet"? Are Humans Supposed to Eat Like Reptiles?
Snakes, like all reptiles, are cold-blooded animals (i.e. they are ectothermic) that rely on the sun and their surroundings to regulate body temperature. "Cold-blooded" doesn't mean they have ice in their veins; rather, it means they can increase or decrease their metabolism at will by exposing themselves to different temperature ranges.
Thus, snakes do not depend on food/nutrients to generate body heat like we do; snakes eat as infrequently as once a week and do just fine. As humans, if we were to restrict ourselves to one massive meal per week throughout our lifespan, we would inevitably suffer from health complications and very premature death.
Granted, the Snake Diet created by Cole Robinson tones things down a bit and still encourages you to eat at least once a day during the abbreviated feeding window.
As humans, we are warm-blooded (endothermic) mammals. When we consume food, the energy (calories) liberated by digesting nutrients generates heat. Hence, during a prolonged fasting period, you might start to feel a little cooler than usual.
In fact, the phenomenon of "meat sweats" results from your body trying to dissipate excessive heat produced by protein digestion. Shivering is another mechanism by which our bodies produce heat when we're cold.
Should You Follow the Snake Diet to Lose Weight Fast?
The metabolic health benefits of intermittent fasting, as a whole, are intriguing from a conceptual standpoint, but we still have a ways to go before drawing any conclusive statements. If anything, empirical evidence suggests that intermittent fasting approaches like the Snake Diet tend to yield poorer body composition outcomes, especially in active gym-goers that engage in resistance training [2, 3].
Nonetheless, the Snake Diet might be effective to help you lose weight without compromising (too much) of your lean muscle mass. However, it's an extreme lifestyle that many people will probably find unsustainable after achieving their desired weight loss. Not to mention, it might have the inverse effect of creating an unhealthy relationship with food.
For more resources and information on intermittent fasting, be sure to read: The Science of Intermittent Fasting