If you’ve watched even one episode of Netflix’s Cheer, a docuseries about a competitive cheer squad in Texas, you know that you spend at least half of the episode with your jaw dropped and eyes bulging. The athleticism each cheerleader has is seriously impressive.
Season 2 shadows both Navarro College and Trinity Valley College as they prep for the national champs. For both teams, getting ready (both for tryouts to make mat and the competition) is no joke. All the stunting, tumbling, and flying through the air requires an incredible amount of strength and skill. But the training doesn’t just happen at practice; any coach will tell you that what you eat matters, too. In one episode, a few Navarro cheerleaders talked about going on a watermelon diet to get cheer-ready, eating literally nothing but watermelon for days.
Um, hold up. Pause the show. Just watermelon? For days? As someone who comes back from a two-mile jog completely ravenous, this seriously confounded me. How can they make it through even 20 minutes of their intense practice without any protein (or sustenance, for that matter)?
When I asked two different dietitians about this whole watermelon diet, they told me my gut feeling was spot on: No one should try a watermelon diet… ever.
Why nutritionists don’t recommend a watermelon diet
The idea behind the watermelon diet (apparently) is to “rid the body of toxins.” Watermelon is super hydrating, more than 90 percent water, so some believe it helps “flush” toxins out of the body. Amanda Baker Lemein, RD, says this is unnecessary because the body is designed to do this already. “Your body is very capable of detoxing itself thanks to the kidney and liver,” she says. For this reason, she says there’s no need to do any type of cleanse or detox ever, watermelon or no watermelon.
Besides that it’s unnecessary, Lemein says that going on a watermelon diet is actually dangerous. “Simply put, this is not adequate nutrition,” she says. “Watermelon is a nutrient-dense fruit and provides carbohydrates, water, and micronutrients like vitamin A, but it does not provide nearly enough energy or complete nutrition in terms of macronutrients as it lacks protein and fat.”
Kylene Bogden, RD, and co-founder of FWDfuel, agrees, adding that it’s especially dangerous for athletes or even anyone who plans on working out at all. “The lack of nutrients and total calorie intake can increase fatigue while decreasing reaction time. This can lead to an increased risk for injury,” she says.
How the watermelon diet affects the body
If you do decide to eat only watermelon for days, both experts say you can expect some pretty unpleasant side effects. “Someone may feel well initially, as watermelon is easy to digest and is hydrating, but over time expect to experience fatigue and shakiness due to the poor blood sugar balance an eating regimen like this can cause,” Bodgen says.
Forget having enough energy to get through a workout; Lemein says it will be tough to even get through the day, both mentally and physically. “Calories are simply units of energy our body uses to fuel its everyday functions—and watermelon has only around 45 calories per cup,” she says.
Bodgen says this type of extreme calorie restriction affects the brain just as much as the body. “Cognition won’t be as sharp because watermelon doesn’t have the needed nutrients for brain function like omega-3 fatty acids, choline, amino acids, and zinc,” she says.
Besides having low energy and brain fog, both dietitians say you will likely experience some digestive problems, too. “It will likely affect different people in different ways. Some may feel full due to the volume of watermelon you eat on a watermelon diet, but there may be uncomfortable side effects like bloating, gas, or diarrhea due to the fiber and natural sugars in watermelon,” Lemein says.
The bottom line is this: Watermelon is a healthy, super-hydrating food. But it doesn’t have enough nutrients for someone to live off of for days. “A healthy diet includes varied and adequate nutrition, something no one food can provide alone,” Lemein says. This is one eating plan no one should be cheering for.
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