The Coffee and Cold Bath Diet

An unlikely-sounding regimen invented by a minor British actor promises weight loss of OMG proportions — but does it work?

A six-week diet of just coffee and cold baths.

Week 4:

After I stopped counting carbs, I only lost a half of a pound, the same amount I’d lost the week before, when I’d had a 12-course dinner and wine. Disconcerting. Before I began this diet, I had my thyroid levels checked: All good, no imbalance. So a week in which I hadn’t behaved perfectly was now yielding the same results as a week in which I had toed the line?

Khanna urges readers to "be relentless in your pursuit of happiness," but there’s nothing but disdain when such methods don’t work. "We only reach a plateau if we’re doing something wrong. For most people, a diet only stops working if basic principles are broken or ignored." This is not helpful advice, because it’s not advice. However, this line occurs in a chapter about weight training. Khanna says that when you begin losing weight you inevitably lose muscle, and that "every ounce of muscle you lose reduces your ability to burn calories." So you have to pump iron to keep losing weight.

Khanna says you only need to lift every 10 days. I stepped up my hourlong weight training class, which I was already doing once a week, to twice to see if it would make a difference.

"It’s your life. Only you walk around in your shoes. Only you wake up with your thoughts. And only you will fall asleep to them. Should and shouldn’t are useless words. Even reading them can make you feel under pressure. Trash them!" Khanna writes. So the end of week four came. I resolve to lift weights more (as opposed to lifting more weights), but also that I’m going to trash that cold bath. Four weeks of daily freezing cold baths? I can always say I did it. And then I can say I realized I didn’t hate myself enough to keep doing it.

Weigh in: -1.6 pounds

Week 5:

Five pounds, five weeks: not bad. In fact, exactly average for what experts say is the ideal rate at which to lose weight and keep it off. It’s what Weight Watchers promises. And that’s a diet that doesn’t say anything about cold baths, black coffee, or my beloved favorite meal breakfast.

Khanna says I’m supposed to feel really energized. I’m happy to be rid of five extra pounds, but the tedium of sticking to a diet has set in. My meals have taken on a joyless sameness, mostly because it’s easier to have a plan than it is to figure it out on the fly. Also, at noon daily I never tire of a sudden starving sensation: By this time I’ve been up for five and a half hours or so, have taken a cold bath, have exercised for at least 30 minutes, have consumed at least 12 ounces of black coffee, and have grown both jittery and hungry.

The meal pattern involves breaking the fast around noon with several slices of salami, a handful of almonds or pistachios or cashews, some thinly shaved sharp Cheddar cheese, gluten-free "Nut Thin" crackers (if not counting then at least watching those carbs), and ½ cup or so of blueberries. Wait three hours. Try to take a 30-minute walk, wait 15 minutes, and then a snack. Usually a 6-ounce Greek yogurt and an organic beef jerky. Wait three hours. Try to take a 30-minute walk, wait 15 minutes, and then dinner. Usually a piece of lean locally sourced protein and a salad. With a vodka-soda on the side.

This is a healthy way to live. But it’s a boring way to live. Way, way more boring than a 10-minute cold bath. The joy of eating, of contemplating what I might like to have for lunch — the only meal I consume in solitude, the one that five days a week I get to enjoy with my own thoughts and without having to prepare anything for anyone else — that’s not something I give up lightly. And even though I’ve chosen foods I like, the feeling of restriction is palpable. And so I can wear a size 8 instead of a 10?

This isn’t a story about my issues with my weight. This is a review of a diet. But there are ways in which the two overlap. During week five of this diet I asked myself: If being skinny — not "thin," not "healthy," not "in shape," and not even "beautiful" but just "skinny" — means maintaining this black coffee/cold bath/no breakfast existence, is it worth it? I will soldier on.

Point of fact: Having given up the daily 10-minute cold bath (in four weeks I never made it to the advanced stage of 15), I found I missed a certain refreshed feeling of stepping out of the icy water. I didn’t miss the bath itself, mind you, but I liked the "I’m all woke-up now!" feeling after it was over. So what I began doing was running a very cold stream of water for a few minutes over my body after I’d finished a hot shower. Khanna actually advises this for people who are unable to bear the bath. It’s kind of cool; you should try it. You walk out of the shower invigorated.

Weigh in: -1 pound

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