Cole Robinson is a fitness trainer and describes himself as a fasting coach. The 34-year-old is touting the benefits of his Snake Diet, which promotes fasting and eating just one meal a day – or even every several days.
“It started off with me. I was eating one meal a day,” Robinson said. “I’m a fitness trainer and I was having a tough time getting the results I really wanted out of people. Diet is 99 per cent of weight loss.”
So, he asked all his clients to do a 24-hour fast while he did a 36-hour fast.
“I ended up eating one meal a day from that first 36-hour fast forward,” he said. “The first week I lost eight or nine pounds and I felt amazing. No strength loss at all and I’m a power lifter so I’d really notice it.”
Robinson says the Snake Diet lets you lose weight while still maintaining strength. He compares the eating routine to that of wild animals. The Snake Diet name, however, started as a joke.
“They eat like a pile of food – 10 times their body weight – and then they won’t eat for weeks or days.”
He believes fasting resets the body and this diet helps the body use up extra fat stored in the body. Robinson claims his plan is more effective than the typical clean-eating-several-meals-a-day approach.
“They’ll do like two hours of cardio a day and I’ll burn more body fat sitting around. That’s how well this works. It’s just because it’s the natural way we’re supposed to eat.”
Dr. Arya Sharma is the founder and director of the Canadian Obesity Network. He’s also a professor of medicine and chair in Obesity Research and Management at the University of Alberta.
Sharma says the Snake Diet seems like yet another fad diet and worries how it could be sustained over the long term.
“Even if this diet works, then this will have to be a diet you would have to be on for the rest of your life. Is that really what you want to do? And how realistic is that for most people?”
Sharma says obesity is a chronic disease and those who have it will be battling it for their entire lives.
He points out that weight lost doesn’t simply stay off. It requires a life-long approach.
“The challenge in obesity is not, ‘how do I lose the weight?’ The challenge in obesity is always, ‘how do I keep the weight off?’ And that’s unfortunately where all of these fad diets fail,” Sharma explained.
“Most fad diets are not life-long treatments because you cannot stay on these diets forever.”
He also worries that fasting changes your metabolism and can lead to poor nutritional decisions.
“When you don’t eat for an extended period of time, your body responds to that and it kind of starts going into starvation mode… Your metabolism starts changing in the sense that your body’s trying to conserve energy,” Sharma said.
Sharma says fasting doesn’t necessarily “mess up” your metabolism – since your body can cope with not eating for several days – but it prepares the body to find those calories.
“What happens is that you start developing cravings, you start getting hungry, and the next time you eat, that food is not going to be healthy and it’s probably going to be more than you really need.”
His overall advice? Focus on maintaining life-long healthy behaviours.
“Eat the best you can, get as much physical activity as you can, try to get the best quality of sleep as you can. That is going to improve your health whether you lose weight or not.”
Sharma suggests eating regularly throughout the day so you don’t get too hungry and make poor choices. He also recommends taking 20 minutes to eat your meal so that your body has time to tell you when it’s full.
And what’s Robinson’s take-away advice?
Wake up and try to fast as long as you can, ideally until the evening so you haven’t eaten in about 17 hours.
“Their body’s finally recognizing that they got the fuel there and that’s why they don’t need to eat,” he said.
Then, eat your one meal before you go to sleep.
“Eating at night is optimal,” Robinson said. “I know it sounds nuts.”
Health Canada recommends people get some kind of activity every day and get at least two-and-a-half hours of moderate to vigorous physical activity each week.
Health Canada also recommends adults eat about seven to 10 servings of fruits and vegetables, between six and eight servings of grains, two servings of milk or alternatives and between two and three servings of meat or alternatives daily.