Lion Diet: What Is It, Benefits, Drawbacks & Helpful Tips 2023

Ellie Busby

Updated on - Written by
Medically reviewed by Kathy Shattler, MS, RDN

lion diet

The Lion Diet is a strict, meat-based elimination diet similar to the Carnivore Diet. While following the Lion Diet, you can only consume unaged meat from ruminant animals, salt, and water. 

Followers of the Lion Diet claim it lowers inflammation and treats autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis. However, these effects are based on anecdotal evidence, with no scientific evidence supporting the claims.

So, what is the Lion Diet, are there any benefits, and what are the risks associated with following the diet? Here’s what you need to know.

What Is The Lion Diet?

The Lion Diet is an all-meat diet similar to – but even more restrictive than – the Carnivore Diet. While the Carnivore Diet allows all meat and seafood, the Lion Diet only allows meat from ruminant animals, such as cows, sheep, goats, and deer. Ruminant animals have multiple stomachs and are adapted to acquiring their nutrients from grass.

The point of the Lion Diet is to identify food intolerances, lower inflammation, and heal your gut. The diet is specifically designed for people born with a C-section or who are on antibiotics or currently ill, according to Mikhaila Peterson.

The Lion Diet was initially created by Mikhaila Peterson and later adopted by her father, Jordan Peterson, leading to the diet’s widespread fame. It may also be referred to as a ‘plant-free ketogenic diet.’

Mikhaila says following the Lion Diet cured her rheumatoid arthritis, lifelong depression, and chronic fatigue. Her followers claim the diet has “reversed” various chronic illnesses, from skin problems to gut issues, and helped them lose weight.

But how many of these stories of transformation and how much of this diet are backed by science?

How It Works

As stated, the Lion Diet eliminates all foods apart from unaged meat from ruminant animals. The aim is to avoid pro-inflammatory substances such as histamine, processed foods, and antinutrients present in plant-based foods, such as lectins, to let your gut “heal.” 

The theory is that most chronic health problems originate from “leaky gut syndrome[1].” Leaky gut is based on the scientifically-recognized phenomenon of increased intestinal permeability[2], but the syndrome itself is an unrecognized medical condition.

Avoiding pro-inflammatory substances such as histamine produces a less inflammatory state as histamine is released in response to allergens, inflammation, and injury, according to Mikhaila.

Once your gut is healed, you can start adding foods to see which you react to. Mikhaila proposes following the Lion Diet for at least six weeks before adding foods back into your diet. However, there are no official guidelines for how to do this on the Lion Diet. 

Is the Lion Diet Safe?

The proponents of the diet seem to ignore the American Heart Association’s recommendation to limit sodium intake to 2,300 milligrams per day, instead telling you to add it to your diet. In fact, the advice on the Lion’s Diet is not to drink unsalted water.

In the first few days, you may notice that you don’t feel well like you have the flu. This is normal and similar to the feelings you get when starting a ketogenic diet. To minimize symptoms, you may need to take electrolytes. Diet proponents suggest buying extra sodium, potassium and magnesium and mixing them into your water. 

Nutritional supplementation is advised while following the diet; just be wary of the coating on your multivitamin as they may have a cellulose outer layer or internal fillers that might cause an allergic reaction.

Foods To Eat And Avoid

Here are the food rules to build your initial Lion Diet meal plan.

Foods To Eat On The Lion Diet

As stated, the Lion Diet only allows you to consume meat from nonruminant animals, salt, and water. Here are all the foods allowed on the diet:

  • Beef
  • Lamb
  • Goat
  • Bison
  • Deer
  • Salt
  • Water
  • Electrolytes such as potassium and magnesium

Foods To Avoid On The Lion Diet

As the Lion Diet only allows you to eat meat from ruminant animals, the list of foods to avoid is rather long. Here are all the food groups, with some specific examples, to avoid while following the Lion Diet:

  • Meat from nonruminant animals: Pork, ham, etc.
  • Fruits: Apples, bananas, pears, etc.
  • Vegetables: Carrots, broccoli, spinach, cabbage, etc.
  • Nuts: Almonds, cashews, hazelnuts, etc.
  • Seeds: Pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, chia seeds, flaxseeds, etc.
  • Grains and grain products: Rice, quinoa, bread, pasta, etc.
  • Legumes: Kidney beans, chickpeas, peanuts, etc.
  • Dairy products and dairy alternatives: Milk, cream, yogurt, soy milk, oat milk, etc.
  • Poultry: Chicken, turkey, goose, etc.
  • Seafood: Salmon, sardines, cod, etc.
  • Fats: Vegetable oil, olive oil, butter, lard, coconut oil, margarine, etc.
  • All processed foods: Processed meats such as salami, baked goods, etc.
  • Drinks: Coffee, tea, juice, alcohol, soda, etc.

Benefits Of The Lion Diet

The claimed anecdotal benefits of the Lion Diet include lower inflammation, fewer autoimmune symptoms, weight loss, and improved digestion. However, there’s not much scientific evidence to back up these claims. 

So, rather than Lion Diet facts, here are some potential benefits based on studies of other, less restrictive elimination diets.

Cuts Out Processed Foods

One positive of the Lion Diet is that it avoids all processed and refined foods, automatically making the diet healthier than a standard American diet. Simply avoiding processed foods could also improve the chronic health symptoms experienced by those following the Lion Diet.

For instance, studies found that people with chronic skin conditions such as atopic dermatitis[3] and acne[4] reported the best symptom improvements when they avoided white refined flour products, such as bread, cakes, and other baked goods.

Moreover, studies suggest that avoiding processed foods is associated with fewer depressive symptoms[5]. However, the Lion Diet also avoids many other foods associated with a lower risk of depression, such as fish, healthy fats, and leafy vegetables.

Avoids Common Intolerances And Allergens

Elimination diets are essential for identifying potential allergens[6] and can hence improve chronic symptoms associated with allergies, such as skin rashes, when a trigger food is avoided. 

The Lion Diet avoids two of the main triggers of food intolerance symptoms: dairy (lactose) and gluten. 

Studies show that following a meat-, gluten-, and lactose-free diet for three months significantly reduces biomarkers of inflammation and symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis[7]. Avoiding dairy products may also improve acne[4].

Less Gut Symptoms

Studies show that certain elimination diets[8] can improve digestive disorders such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). 

However, currently, the only elimination diet with strong evidence for improving functional gut disorders like IBS is the low-FODMAPs diet[9], which is a diet is low in fermentable carbohydrates.

Weight Loss

Many followers of the Lion Diet claim it helped them lose weight. But Mikhaila recommends eating to fulfill hunger and not counting calories, so how does this work?

In fact, it’s probably difficult to avoid losing weight on the Lion Diet. Meat is high in protein and relatively low in calories, with an 85-gram tenderloin beef steak[10] providing just 282 calories. This means you’re likely to eat significantly fewer calories on the Lion Diet than you normally would.

Studies suggest that those with autoimmune disorders tend to be overweight[7], suggesting that losing weight by following the Lion Diet might be a factor in improving chronic symptoms.

However, following a low-calorie diet for a prolonged period of time can slow metabolism, causing you to conserve calories and making weight loss more difficult.

On the other hand, if you find yourself gaining weight, try cutting out the fatty meat choices. 

Feeling Better

One study found that people following the Carnivore Diet[11] – a less restrictive diet – for more than six months reported higher levels of satisfaction and overall health while experiencing fewer negative side effects than anticipated. 

One downside was elevated low-density lipoproteins (LDL) – i.e., “bad” cholesterol levels – after following the Carnivore Diet. However, the study received criticism[12] for being biased and unscientific, especially for using self-reported data for metabolic markers such as cholesterol levels.

Potential Downsides Of The Lion Diet

There’s a high risk of developing nutritional deficiencies and other associated health issues if you follow restrictive diets like the Lion Diet for too long. Even the Carnivore Diet, which is less restrictive, is not well-studied[13] and may have multiple potential health risks we’re not yet aware of.

Here are some of the potential risks associated with following restrictive elimination diets such as the Lion Diet.

Nutritional Deficiencies

The main risk of any elimination diet is nutrient deficiencies. For instance, studies show that people with chronic gut conditions avoid multiple food groups and are commonly deficient in micronutrients[14] such as vitamin B12, vitamin D, iron, and zinc.

Meat tends to be low in several essential micronutrients, such as magnesium[15], which is crucial for bone health, brain health, heart health, the immune system, and many other bodily functions. Adding magnesium to the water will help with this deficiency.

Meat is also low in essential fatty acids, such as omega-3, which studies suggest are crucial for managing autoimmune inflammatory conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis[16].

Low In Dietary Fiber

Although the Lion Diet is proposed to “heal the gut” and treat autoimmune disorders, evidence suggests it may do the opposite.

Being a meat-only diet, the Lion Diet contains no fiber. Evidence shows that dietary fiber is crucial for the gut microbiome[17], digestion, and overall health. A diet low in fiber is associated with an increased risk of constipation and various chronic illnesses, from type 2 diabetes to heart disease.

In fact, studies show that avoiding plant-based foods high in fiber for six months increases the prevalence of gut symptoms[18] and the frequency of symptom “flare-ups” in those with IBD.

As Americans consume less than half the recommended amount of dietary fiber, restricting fiber intake further could have significant negative health consequences.

High In Saturated Fat

Red meat is high in saturated fat, and eating a diet high in saturated fat is associated with high cholesterol levels and cardiovascular disease[19].

However, the relationship between saturated fat and cardiovascular disease[20] is controversial; this effect may be due to other components of a generally unhealthy diet rather than the saturated fat itself.

Eating Disorders

Restrictive elimination diets are linked to eating disorders such as Anorexia and Orthorexia Nervosa, an unsafe obsession with eating healthily. This is especially prevalent in restrictive diets when used as a treatment for IBS[21].

Studies find that people with eating disorders tend to have more gastrointestinal issues[22] and food intolerances than the general population, which may be underpinned by health anxiety[23]. There’s also concern that elimination diets for gut issues can increase disordered eating in at-risk individuals.

Risk Of Over-Restriction

One of the main risks of any elimination diet is restricting too many foods[24] for too long. This increases the risk of nutritional deficiencies and negatively impacts the gut microbiome due to the lack of various foods and fiber.

While many elimination diets have strict “allowed” and “unallowed” food lists, the reality is that everyone is different and requires a unique approach. 

So, the goal of an elimination diet is to discover which foods can be included to build a personalized, less restrictive diet[25] as quickly as possible to increase the variation of the diet and reduce the risk of negative side effects. However, this often requires the support of a registered dietitian.

No Personal Guidance

As the Lion Diet isn’t a recognized treatment, there’s no verified guidance available to do the diet effectively and safely. 

Proponents of the diet say you should follow it for six weeks[26] before reintroducing low-carbohydrate foods and wait two weeks after each introduction while you monitor for intolerance symptoms. You are told to avoid reintroducing grains, sugar, dairy or, legumes, and no guidance is given on whether you can ever eat these foods again or how to treat resulting nutritional deficiencies from avoiding these foods.

However, elimination diets are notoriously difficult to follow, and adherence tends to be low, even when there are well-structured guidelines. The evidence for how well self-guided methods work is scarce. To successfully follow the low-FODMAPs diet, for example, it’s essential to work with a registered dietitian[27]

A registered dietitian can tailor the diet to the individual, mitigating nutritional and psychological risks and re-introduce foods in the safest way while monitoring for the reoccurrence of symptoms.

Tips For Joining The Lion Diet

Before trying the Lion Diet, you might want to consider an alternative, evidence-based elimination diet proven to work for your condition. 

For example, the low-FODMAP diet is recommended for those with chronic gut conditions such as IBS or IBD. For rheumatoid arthritis, you might want to try a lactose- and gluten-free diet before trying a more restrictive diet.

We also recommend going to see your doctor or healthcare practitioner to see if you can get allergy tests or support for following an elimination diet from a registered dietitian. 

However, if you’d like to try the Lion Diet, make sure you get as much support as possible. For instance, there are Facebook groups for the Lion Diet, but be cautious about accepting advice from people on social media.

Remember, the purpose of elimination diets such as the Lion Diet is to identify foods that contribute to your symptoms and re-introduce “safe” foods as quickly as possible to build a healthy, varied diet. You should not stay on this diet for very long before reintroducing foods back into the diet.

Final Thought

The Lion Diet is an extremely restrictive elimination diet used to identify allergens and food intolerances that may be causing your health symptoms. The goal is to create a sustainable, personalized, varied diet with foods you can tolerate. In reality, the Lion Diet is not a sustainable approach that can be followed for long.

Moreover, unlike other elimination diets, there’s no evidence that the Lion Diet is helpful for any recognized health conditions. Instead, we recommend seeing your healthcare provider or following a recognized, less restrictive elimination diet with the support of a registered dietitian.

+ 27 sources

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Ellie Busby

Written by:

Ellie Busby, MS, RDN

Medically reviewed by:

Kathy Shattler

Ellie Busby is a Registered Nutritionist (MSc, mBANT) and nutrition writer. She holds a bachelor's in Chemistry and a Masters in Nutrition. Ellie specializes in plant-based nutrition for health and fitness. She is also the Founder of Vojo Health, a personalized nutrition service based on genetic testing.

Medically reviewed by:

Kathy Shattler

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