Have you heard of the Snake Diet? Here, a registered dietitian addresses the hyped-up fad diet with the sinister name.
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A big part of my job as a dietitian and health coach is to demystify food trends and field questions about the latest health crazes and fad diets cropping up online. I've been getting a lot of questions recently about the Snake Diet. Heard of it? Wondering what in the world this is and if it has you eating snakes for breakfast, lunch, and dinner? Now that you're officially creeped out, learn more about the Snake Diet and if it's legit.
What is the Snake Diet?
So no, the Snake Diet is not a "slither away the pounds" meal plan or an "eat what a snake eats" gimmick (swallowing mice whole sounds pretty brutal), but rather a structured plan with a detox period, timed fasting portion, and maintenance phase.
I was actually relieved when I heard the name started out as a joke. The Snake Diet is meant to imitate the eating patterns of wild animals. It promotes eating one large meal and then fasting for the rest of the day—or even several days or, I kid you not, "as long as f***ing possible," according to the diet's founder, Cole Robinson. It's this kind of language that had the hosts of The Doctors stunned and even a bit angry when Robinson appeared on the talk show recently. "If you're f***ing fat, you don't need to eat," he screams into the camera. "Drink water and f***ing salt. You don't need anything more than that." He goes on to argue his theory to the panel of medically trained doctors that "fat people don't need to eat any food because they have more calories than they could ever use in like weeks on the gut."
If that kind of hurtful talk weren't bad enough, Robinson goes on to inaccurately claim that following the Snake Diet can actually cure cancer. Robinson shared that a female client of his who had a brain tumor adhered to a strict fasting schedule and because of that she was able to "melt that tumor down in two months." I don't need a medical degree to know that "melting" tumors isn't possible, and plastic surgeon Andrew Paul Ordon, M.D., immediately tells him, "No, you didn't melt that tumor down. That would defy science."
So let's back up an explain a little more:
Here's how the Snake Diet is supposed to work: You fast for the first 48 hours and drink something called Snake Juice, which sounds really suspicious but is actually just water, sea salt, and potassium chloride (a salt substitute) and is intended to help replenish your electrolytes.
After those first two days, you focus on a low-carb, high-fat diet with plates filled with mostly nonstarchy veggies with a little meat and fat. Here's the thing that many people misunderstand about low-carb, high-fat diets, though: Fat intake doesn't have to come from meat, and this interpretation doesn't help clear up that confusion. Why can't we just say "fill most of the plate with nonstarchy vegetables, include a small serving of meat or fish, and include a serving of healthy fat like avocado or olive oil"? That sounds like a reasonable, balanced, nutritional meal to me.
The goal is to get your body into ketosis. Sound familiar? Yep, that's the same fat-burning state that's associated with the keto diet. (As a refresher, while in ketosis, your body relies on fat ketones as its first source of fuel instead of using glucose from carbohydrates.)
Next, Robinson recommends you do another 72-hour Snake Juice fast fairly early on in the diet to "break your fear of fasting." During this fast, you'll drink the Snake Juice and a tonic of apple cider vinegar and lemon juice. He also recommends fasting for longer if you find that you're not losing weight. Hmm, it sounds like there's a lot of fasting and very little actual eating happening on this diet.
Does the Snake Diet work for weight loss?
In the short term, yes, you'll lose weight on this diet because you're depriving yourself of calories and going into ketosis. But as with pretty much any restrictive diet, the risk of regaining lost pounds is high when you return to your usual habits.
Even if he didn't use such harmful language that is essentially promoting starvation, intermittent fasting is a difficult habit for most people to sustain. Beyond just messing with your metabolism, seriously depriving yourself of calories in this way can be dangerous, especially if you're feeling lightheaded—not helpful if you're trying to build up a regular workout schedule as well. Fasting-induced mood swings and hunger-related irritability can also derail your day. You're also looking at digestive disturbances like constipation, especially if you don't take care to get the recommended 25 to 35 grams of fiber per day. It's also worth noting again that the type of fat and protein matter—routinely going to town on butter and bacon is very different from consuming avocado, nuts, and wild fish. Call me old-fashioned, but losing weight at the expense of your heart and other organ systems just doesn't sound worth it.
Also, if your schedule changes a lot, it can be hard to get into a consistent routine. Consuming a very large meal in one sitting may trigger some people into binge eating behavior. You're the expert on you, but in practice, I've seen timed fasting regimens to be mentally and emotionally challenging even for people without a history of disordered eating. It may also be risky for someone with diabetes who needs to space their eating (especially of carbohydrates) throughout the day to promote stable blood glucose levels. (More: Why the Potential Intermittent Fasting Benefits Might Not Be Worth It)
It goes beyond the physical aspect too—the emotional piece is just as important. Which brings me to the next question:
So, should you try the Snake Diet?
I tried really hard to look for good things about the Snake Diet, but there weren't any. So the short answer is no. The long answer? Hell no! This idea of I'm not losing weight by fasting so I should fast for longer just doesn't sound okay to me. Worse than not okay, it sounds like opening the door for the disordered eating and overthinking food monster.
As a dietitian who works closely with people who have a history of disordered eating patterns or who struggle with loving and trusting themselves, I find Robinson's abrasive approach to be downright alarming. I mean, he starts most videos by shouting, "Hey, fatty!" It sounds like the diet advice is coming from a grade-school bully. Not to mention his advice is not based on science. "You're confident, you're well-spoken, you're charismatic," says Jedidiah Ballard, D.O., an emergency medicine physician on the show. "If I didn't have an exercise science degree, a medical degree, and 20 years of intensive self-study, I would personally believe you, but what you're telling people is bulls**t. It's not safe."
Gimmick or not, his shaming tone has the potential to do way more harm than good. It's one thing if you've had lots of education and support in the past around health and diet and can take his approach with a grain of salt (even then, proceed with extreme caution). But for the many people who are just starting their weight-loss or wellness journey who have no idea where to start, stumbling upon Robinson and the Snake Diet during a Google search or social media scroll could be incredibly damaging to their mental and physical health.
When you're making lifestyle changes, having guidance from someone who's supportive and understanding is key to success. At one point during the video aired on The Doctors, Robinson tells viewers: "Don't be a crybaby" in reference to fasting and weight loss. Not exactly what I'd call supportive.
Online, you'll find lots of Snake Diet fans talking about how they've lost weight and have all this energy now. But when it comes to fad diets, I like to think of it the way I think of Yelp restaurant reviews: The people who leave comments are usually those who either had a really great or a really bad experience—or they're being paid to post.
I'm sure it's not shocking that my recommendation is to take a more moderate approach to reaching your weight and fitness goals. I know it's never the sexy answer, but seriously—there's no quick fix without a catch. (BTW, the anti-diet movement is not an anti-health campaign.)
That said, if there's something about the Snake Diet (or any trendy diet plan) that appeals to you, get clear on what that is, and see whether there's a way to make that thing fit healthfully into your real life. For example, instead of eating one massive meal a day, you could think about what time of the day you need to fuel the most. If it's the afternoon before a hectic evening or workout, make lunch the shining star of your nutrition for the day.
As always, if you're struggling to find a sustainable eating plan or style that allows you to meet your goals without feeling miserable, work with a registered dietitian to help you come up with a diet that works for you.