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

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(credit: CBS) Frank Vascellaro
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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.

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