Women and girls may be putting their lives at risk with a startling new fad diet. Actually, the so-called Sleeping Beauty diet is not really new. Some claim that Elvis Presley himself used the technique to squeeze into sequined jumpsuits in the 1970s. An exposé published on Broadly traces the diet back to the 1966 satirical novel Valley of the Dolls by Jacqueline Susann. The Sleeping Beauty diet is surfacing in the national conversation today because a whole new generation has discovered the unsafe practice, and they’re talking about it online (more on that in a moment). As for what this “diet” entails, part of its nefarious appeal seems to be its simplicity. When you’re asleep, adherents figure, you can’t eat. Therefore, if you could sleep nearly all the time, you’d drastically reduce your caloric intake: Boom, instant weight loss.
Here’s where things get really scary.
In order to sleep more—even up to 20 hours a day according to some weight loss websites—dieters must sedate themselves. As in, with actual sedatives. Dangerous, addictive, illegal-in-this-context sedatives. The Broadly piece quotes Dr. Tracey Wade of the Flinders University School of Psychology on the most obvious dangers of using powerful drugs to encourage unnatural sleep schedules. “If people have to rely on medications to produce sleep—particularly [meds] like benzodiazepines, which are addictive—it’s putting the person at risk of addiction,” Wade told Broadly. “It’s not only getting the body to sleep more than it needs to; they’ll also have to use higher and higher dosage levels to get the desired effect.” And addiction is just one of the risks.
Getting too much sleep can eventually lead to depression, which is associated, ironically, with eating disorders.
“This is really taking it to the nth degree; [dieters] literally can’t participate because they’re sleeping,” Wade said. “They’d have increased social isolation, and in turn there’s an impact on their mood, which can cause depression. “We know that depression also triggers disordered eating. It sounds like it would actually just push people more firmly into the vicious cycle that the eating disorder creates.” In fact, the growing popularity of unsafe diets like Sleeping Beauty are intimately connected with eating disorders. More specifically, they’re actively encouraged in some of the darkest corners of the internet. The Sleeping Beauty diet seems to appeal to the troubled visitors to “pro-anorexia” blogs, where you’ll find most of the online discussion of the dangerous practice. Pro-anorexia, or “pro-ana,” writers treat eating disorders not as a health problem but as a lifestyle choice. They publish blogs and forums in which women with eating disorders can trade tips on managing hair loss, hiding their behavior from friends and family, and avoiding the “temptation” to eat. They tend to ignore or gloss over sobering statistics, such as the fact that eating disorders carry the greatest risk of mortality of any psychological illness, as The Telegraph reports.
The new popularity of the Sleeping Beauty diet grows naturally out of the pro-ana world, in which nothing is off limits in the quest for a thinner body.
According to one user of a pro-ana blog, quoted anonymously in the Broadly piece, “I love sleeping to avoid food. It’s pretty easy for me because I’m tired 99 percent of the time.” Others were sedating themselves with painkillers, which can reduce breathing rates to the point of killing the user. That’s why it’s so upsetting to read pro-ana commenters writing things like, “I just take some really strong pain killers they usually dope me out and I’ll nap for hours.” That user even went on to admit that “I do it all the time.” There’s a name for that, and it is not “diet.” It is “addiction.” While practitioners of the Sleeping Beauty diet may be gambling with their lives, there’s no proof that sleeping more will actually lead to weight loss. In fact, it might have the opposite effect. “The sad reality is that sleeping for several days straight won’t make [you] thinner,” Linia Patel, spokesperson of the British Dietetic Association, told Cosmopolitan. “If you do manage to wake up two pounds lighter, you will wake up being potentially addicted to sedative pills, which is not good news. Being addicted to sedative pills means one day you might not wake up at all. This diet has not been proven to be a safe and effective way to help weight loss by any means. If abused, it would lead to death.”
If you or anyone you know has an eating disorder, get help today.
You can call the National Eating Disorders Association Information and Referral Helpline at (800)931-2237, Monday through Thursday between 9 a.m. and 9 p.m. ET and Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. ET. Or send the word “hello” to the Crisis Text Line at 741741 any time of the day or night. And if you’re tempted to try a new diet that sounds dubious (which is about the kindest way we could describe the Sleeping Beauty diet), be sure to discuss your plans with a healthcare professional before getting started. There are healthy, safe ways to lose weight; sleeping your life away is not one of them.