Can shivering through the winter help you shed a few pounds?

Lately there’s been a lot of buzz about a new diet trend called “Thermal Dieting.” Supporters of the trend claim that your body burns more calories to heat itself in cold climes, so exposure to below-freezing temperatures should boost your metabolism and burn fat.

But will bathing in ice and drinking cold water realistically impact on your diet and weight-loss? We weren’t sure, so we went to the expert.

Dr. Phillip Snider of Amelia Medical Associates

Dr. Phillip Snider of Amelia Medical Associates

Dr. Phillip Snider, of Bon Secours Amelia Medical Associates, has been competing as a triathlete since 1985. He holds a Masters in Sports Nutrition and was a registered dietitian and American College of Sports Medicine certified Health Fitness Instructor and personal trainer for ten years prior to his entry into medical school. And he gave us the real scoop on this fad diet.

“Thermal dieting can help you lose weight,” Dr. Snider agrees, “but only if you’re active while you’re outside. Just drinking cold water simply won’t work.” According to Dr. Snider, raising the temperature of 1 gram of water by 1 degree Celsius requires 1 calorie. So for every 8 ounces (or 240 grams) of cold water you drink you’ll burn 240 calories for every degree Celsius you heat the water.

Seems reasonable, right? Here’s the problem: when we talk about 1 calorie, we are actually talking about 1 Kcal or 1,000 calories. Dr. Snider explains how this affects our calculations:

This means that heating  8 ounces of water really requires 0.24 Kcal per every 8 ounces. Therefore, if you drank 1 gallon (128 ounces) of 35 degree water, you would burn roughly 4 Kcal for every degree celcius the water was raised. Suppose the water were 35 degrees farenheight. You’d need to raise the water by 64 degrees farenheight (or 17 degrees celcius).  So the 1 gallon of 35 degree water requires 4 x 17 or 68 Kcal in order to raise the temperature to 98.6 degrees farenheight.

This maths shows us that, while drinking cold water can burn calories, the results are negligible. “In order to lose a pound of fat doing this,” Dr. Snider observes, “you’d need to drink 51 gallons of 35 degree water.” It’s also important to note that exposure to extreme cold, through ice baths or wintry walks, can cause a host of heath complications for those with cardiovascular problems.

Staying active in the winter time can be great for your physical and mental health, but over-exposure to the cold weather can be counter-productive and cause health issues. Those interested in participating in a “Thermal Diet” (particularly through ice bathing or “chill walks”) should consult with their physician beforehand to further weigh the potential risks and hazards.

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