What is Dry Fasting? Nutritionists Debunk the Dangerous New Trend Among Influencers
Just when you thought Internet wellness trends couldn't get any stranger (yes, we're looking at you, jade eggs, perineum sunning, and snake diet), a new wellness trend has started making the rounds on social media—and it's actually dangerous.
"Dry fasting" is a new "wellness" trend—note the quotations—that's been gaining popularity among lifestyle influencers recently. The concept? That drinking water is actually bad for you—and that cutting some major sources out of your diet could actually help you achieve "optimal health."
Austrian influencer Sophie Prana, who has 2,350 subscribers on YouTube (and 18,700 followers on Instagram), shared a video of her dry-fasting, water-free diet, in which she describes the practice as the "best choice for body [and] environment."
"I stopped drinking water 1 year ago," explains Prana, before she dives into her "scientific" reasoning for nixing H2O. Prana goes on to explain that the muscle in your body "consists of 99 percent water molecules" (incorrect: muscle is actually made up of 79% water, per the USGS), and that the water in your cells isn't "regular water, but highly structured water with special properties."
She refers to this “highly structured water” as the fourth phase of water—not H2O but H3O2—aka “living water." Prana goes on to explain H3O2 as "more viscous, dense, and alkaline than regular water; has a negative charge, and can hold energy, much like a battery, and deliver energy too," which can be "important for optimal health."
Instead of actually drinking water, Prana says she gets her fluids in other ways. “I get my living water and cell hydration from fruits, veggies and coconuts, the purest form of H3O2,” she said. Since cutting out those sources of water, Prana said that "extreme swelling in [her] skin and joints" has gone away, according to The Daily Mail.
Of course, Prana isn't the only influencer touting dry fasting. Alice Copilet, who calls herself a "dry fasting and detox specialist," also boasts the benefits of the water-limiting practice, claiming it can help clear up skin conditions like "acne, eczema, cysts, allergies, rashes, and psoriasis." She even claims the practice is "the key to reversing skin conditions."
Hold on...is dry fasting really a thing? And is it even healthy?
So, unfortunately dry fasting is a trend—just not necessarily a healthy one. "While there are some variations, dry fasting basically involves drinking absolutely no tap or bottled water and relying on the water you obtain only from food, mainly fresh fruits and veggies," Jackie Newgent, RDN, culinary nutritionist, author of The Clean & Simple Diabetes Cookbook, and advisor for Lunch Unpacked, tells Health. "This is cleverly coined 'living water,'" she says, despite "living water" not actually being a thing.
While it is true that water-rich foods (fruits, vegetables, soups, juices) can contribute to hydration, Health’s contributing nutrition editor Cynthia Sass, RD, points out that it would be difficult to obtain all the fluid our bodies need this way. According to the National Academies of Sciences Engineering Medicine, women over the age of 19 need 2.7 liters of total fluid per day—over 11 cups—while men need 3.7 liters, or more than 15 cups. “About 20% of our fluids typically come from food, but that still leaves 8-12 cups based on the IOM’s guidelines, not including additional needs due to exercise,” she explains.
When you deprive yourself of that water, "you're unnecessarily stressing the body and pushing it to its limits," says Sass. That's because the body uses water to support healthy digestion and circulation, and helps to regulate body temperature, eliminate waste, lubricate joints, support organ function, and protect organs and tissues, says Sass. What's more, "just a 2% loss of body fluid can negatively impact physical performance, and a 1-3% loss has been shown to impair mood, reduce concentration, increase headaches, impair working memory, and increase anxiety and fatigue," she adds.
And as far as those claims about dry fasting's impact on skin conditions go, those don't really hold any, uh, water either. "While some influencers claim dry fasting may be helpful for digestion, skin health, and inflammation, the exact opposite is true when you don't get adequate fluids," says Newgent.
In addition to being unhelpful to the body's processes, dry fasting can also be dangerous, says Newgent. "If you're not properly hydrated, it can increase your risk for kidney stone development and urinary tract infections," she says. Newgent adds that, for some people, dry fasting may also be life threatening, due to complications from dehydration. "Water is the number one most important nutrient for your body processes, including proper digestion and transportation of nutrients," she says. "We need water to flush waste from our body. Water is essential for life."
Overall, experts—that means trained professionals with actual registered dietitian certifications—agree that the concept of avoiding water is not only unhealthy but potentially dangerous. Brittany Modell, RD, founder of Brittany Modell Nutrition and Wellness, even goes so far as to call those who practice and recommend it "downright reckless," saying that it's just another example of how social media can influence unhealthy practices.
The bottom line when it comes to dry fasting? As with any type of fasting, it's important to be skeptical and get an expert's opinion first, says Newgent—but dry fasting in particular can be "downright dangerous" and should absolutely be avoided.
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