The Cold, Hard Truth: Can Ice Baths Help You Lose Weight?

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Minnesotans love to complain about our winter weather, but we also know how to enjoy it. So, what if the secret to losing weight was actually buried in all that snow and ice?

Tim Ferriss says it is. He takes three ice baths a week, loading 20 pounds of ice into his tub to do something he calls thermal loading.

“I’ll sit in an ice bath up to my waist for 10 minutes,” he said, “also reading a book or magazine.”

Ferriss wrote about it in his book, “The 4-Hour Body,” and talked about it on the Doctor Oz show. He says the key is the cold.

“Your body wants to be 98.6 degrees, and if your body temperature is lowered, it will do everything it can to get back to 98.6 degrees. It burns calories as heat, and most of those calories come from fat,” he said.

Ferriss said you shouldn’t start this plan cold turkey. Start with cold showers, work up to ice packs on your neck and then ice baths three times a week. But does his science hold water?

“We are looking for these quick fixes,” says Dr. Stacy Ingraham, “no sweat equity to burn calories, and here’s yet another great example. You don’t have to sweat because you’re freezing to death.”

She studies kinesiology and exercise physiology at the University of Minnesota. She said Ferriss has his science backwards, because cold actually slows down metabolism.

“To burn the most calories,” according to Ingraham, “sauna and room temperature, not cold water immersion.”

But what if you still bought into what Ferriss was saying? We decided to see what it was like and go ahead and take the plunge.

We filled Frank Vascellaro’s tub and added the bags of ice. Frank said it didn’t hurt initially, it just made him cringe. But a few minutes in, it starts to become painful in your toes and feet. And after eight minutes, Frank decided to call it quits.

Afterwards, it took him quite a while to shake the chill, which left us wondering about the dangers.

“Long-term exposure in cold water can start lowering your core body temperature and that can be very dangerous,” said Ingraham.

That’s why ice baths for physical therapy are usually limited to 10 minutes.

More from Frank Vascellaro

One Comment

  1. Jen says:

    Thank you for de-bunking another “lose weight quick” scheme.

    1. Paul says:

      I did this for 4 weeks and lost 12 lbs. I stopped for 4 weeks and gained back 1-2 lbs. It does work, look up Ray Cronise NASA and he will explain it much better.

      1. Greg Barton says:

        I did this last year and lost 20 lb. Going for another 20 this year. It works. To those who say this is a “quick fix” and requires “little effort” are crazy. It was not easy! But it does work. The interesting thing is that, unlike other times I have lost a significant amount of weight, I have not gained it back, and I haven’t had elevated hunger levels like after previous weight loss attempts. The 20 lb has been off for a year.

  2. Mike Hawk says:

    Thanks Frank. Hope you didn’t damage “the boys”.

  3. Kathy Larsen says:

    This is so ridiculous. I don’t like being out in the cold that long, if my horse cringes when it is cold outside. So, why would I want to sit in an ice bath when I can go outside and get cold.

  4. Serious says:

    The theory behind the ice-bath is true: the human internal body temperature needs to be at 98.8 C to maintain healthy function (usually). By lowering the surrounding temperatures your body much burn calories in order to maintain the 98.6 C temperature. However, those colder temps due cause the body to slow its metabolism. This test would have been better with some hard data.

    Seriously, eat less food and start running or swimming.

  5. Mary says:

    This kind of story on a news program makes me so mad. Why would you waste a few minutes on another silly weight loss idea, and humiliate your anchor? There are so many legitimate local/national/international stories you could have covered instead. I know you have to do human interest type stories, but this one was just silly and not what I watch WCCO for.

    1. Mary's Smarter Brother says:

      There are many ignorant people replying to this ice water therapy!

      Try doing some homework before saying something is “another silly weight loss idea”, and getting mad about it!

      Even the stupid Ingraham in the article says “Long-term exposure in cold water can start lowering your core body temperature and that can be very dangerous,” – and this is EXACTLY the whole point of Ferris’ protocol! – To lower the core temp so that it has to BURN fat to raise it back to normal. Short term exposure is NOT harmful to most people.

      This is the very reason arctic and antarctic explorers need to eat about 10000 calories or more a day! Because its so cold! Even after short periods of a few months, on this high calorie diet, they report weight loss of 30 to 50 lbs! Its not simply because they are pulling a sled on the ice.

  6. smilinggreenmom says:

    Noooo! That sounds crazy and unhealthy too. Yikes. What about a whole foods lifestyle? I just don’t like the word diet since I feel like that sounds restrictive and unhealthy and so for our family, we just want to make healthy lifestyle choices when we can. We also drink mostly water and green tea except on special occasions and even take our Vidazorb probiotic too. I am looking so forward to warmer weather here so I can get outside and walk!

  7. Willow says:

    Someone is going to do something stupid trying this and wind up dead or hospitalized. Mark my words.

    1. Randy says:

      There are always people who will do stupid things and wind up dead or hospitalized. If not this, then something else. People drive stupid and wind up dead or in the hospital all the time. Does that make driving dumb? There is a right way and a wrong way. Some just don’t have a clue.

  8. kelly says:

    I been using ice pack to loss weight for about 8 months and I loss about 20 pounds and kept it off with ice packs. I use ice pack for about 15 min each day. Its very easy.

    1. Alpha says:

      Brown Fat is found in the neck and spine and is activated by cold. This type of fat contains iron and more capallaries and burns white fat. Skip the bath and put ice packs on your neck and spine. Up your intake of iron.

  9. Sheep says:
    People should do their research, especially the aforementioned “doctor” above. What’s really scary is that doctors ‘study’ these ideas by keeping their heads in 40 year old textbooks.

    1. Randy says:

      Yeah, but don’t tell you is those textbooks are bios information paid for by the pharmaceutical companies who want the doctors to be drug pushers! If you believe everything your doctor says, you will find yourself up a creek without a paddle.

  10. Tara says:

    What a horribly written article. The author asks one doctor about his out-dated opinion and then has some random individual go cold turkey into an ice bath, with no preparation as Feriss did. Then he ends the article talking about how it’s dangerous but physical therapists do it for 10 minutes, just like Feriss. Go back to journalism school.

  11. negu says:

    The article seems to suggest this doesn’t work. I posit that cold might actually work under two principles:

    1) Cryolipolysis(tm) – [ ] – the FDA approved of a laser (Zeltiq) for ‘skin cooling’, and the company claims this results in fat loss by cooling the adipose tissue down to -7C / 19.4F (pubmed src from wikipedia) for ten minutes, causing adipose cells to rupture under the same principle of cold panniculitis, without harming the surface skin.

    These are claims, but the pubmed source shows it works on pigs, and the laser treatments are showing favorable yet modest results for this noninvasive treatment.


    2) Stimulation of brown adipose tissue production. There was a news story a while back about a man who swam the English Channel in freezing water that should have quickly given him deadly hypothermia within 30 minutes. I believe the principle allowing him to brave the cold water was that he trained in very cold water and thereby replaced his white fat under the cryolipolysis principle above with brown adipose tissue, which is much more performant in heat and energy production because it has much more mitochondria (iron rich, red energy cell organelle).

    Some thoughts. Science!

  12. Randy says:

    Wow, I think I wrote a better article in Freshman College English class than this story here. If people with no skill can write and get paid for it, maybe I should apply!

  13. Mike McMack - Attorney for the defense says:

    This is proof that a) television news is aimed at those with no more than an 8th-grade level of comprehension, which b) the news directors, anchors and reporters also can barely attain, but most importantly c) the majority of the commenters here are “waiting for further instruction” from these self-described experts. Alot of “feeling” – not alot of thinking. Truly a sign of the intellectual entropy that signals the dearth of American Exceptionalism.

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  16. Michael Cane says:

    I though of ice baths too then then my girlfriend brought me this blue fat freeze system which helped me lose 3 inches around my waist in 2 months. It is basically a wrap that uses controlled cold temperature technology to freeze off any unwanted fats from the body.

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