The controversial carnivore diet has an even more extreme friend: the lion diet. For those who don’t know what the carnivore diet is, a quick recap; the carnivore diet is where you solely eat animal products, cutting out other food groups like fruits and vegetables entirely and packing your plate with meat and dairy instead. The meat-only lion diet is even more restrictive – and cuts out chicken and fish.

Created by media personality Mikhalia Peterson in 2017 (note: not a dietician or doctor), Peterson claims that this diet was the only way she found relief from her many chronic and autoimmune issues like rheumatoid arthritis, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), fatigue, acne, and depression after years of struggling. Her thought was to cut out any food that could be inflammatory or an allergen, leaving her with the few pillars that make up the lion diet: ruminant (or, red) meat, salt, and water.

Peterson’s anecdotal claims suggest that the lion diet can improve chronic and autoimmune illnesses, support mental health, and purportedly heal leaky gut — but experts aren’t so sure.

‘I don't feel good recommending this diet to anyone, and I certainly wouldn’t recommend it to any of my clients,’ says Emily Van Eck, a dietician and intuitive eating counsellor. ‘It just sounds totally miserable, on top of the fact that I don't necessarily think it will help with anything.’

Meet the experts: Christy Harrison is a dietitian, certified intuitive eating counsellor and author of Anti-Diet and The Wellness Trap. Emily Van Eck is a dietician and the owner of Emily Van Eck Nutrition & Wellness.

What is the lion diet?

The lion diet is simple, yet extreme. It consists of only ruminant meat (more on that in a sec), salt, and water. That’s it. According to the lion diet website, it’s an elimination diet and meant to be practised for at least six weeks, though its creator says she has been practising the lion diet for years. Elimination diets are often designed to help people identify foods that cause negative reactions in the body, but they are not always necessary and best done with the help of a professional, says Van Eck.

Why would anyone want to cut out just about everything from seasoning to fruits and veggies? In theory, it can help soothe chronic illnesses and even mood disorders, per Peterson and others who practice the diet — though there is no scientific data to support their anecdotal claims, including from the experts consulted for this story. ‘I don't think there's anyone who should try this,’ says Christy Harrison, dietician and certified intuitive eating counsellor.

Foods approved on the lion diet

Here’s what you can eat on the lion diet, per the website.

  • Ruminant meat: Cow, deer, moose, lamb, goat
  • Seasoning: Salt
  • Beverages: Water (Note: Peterson has said she does drink alcohol while on the lion diet.)

Foods the lion diet doesn't allow

And, here’s everything you can't eat on the lion diet, according to the website.

  • Chicken
  • Fish
  • Vegetables
  • Fruits
  • Dairy (including cheese and milk)
  • Any seasonings besides salt
  • Any beverages besides water

Is the lion diet safe?

Experts say no. Because the lion diet is so restrictive, it’s missing a lot of major nutrients, Harrison and Van Eck agree. ‘There's lots of risks of following a diet that only contains meat,’ Van Eck says. ‘We just simply can't get all of our nutrients from meat.’

The lion diet also lacks fibre (which Harrison points out could cause digestive issues like constipation), folate, antioxidants, and vitamins and minerals — including vitamin C, which is responsible for collagen production and immunity. ‘I would worry about disorders that are not widespread in modern life, like scurvy,’ Harrison says. (In case your history classes didn't cover it, scurvy is a disease caused by vitamin C deficiency that was primarily developed by sailors throughout the 1600s and 1800s because they didn't have access to fresh fruit, per a 2023 study in Diseases.) You also might experience fatigue and less energy on the lion diet, Harrison adds, and in the long term, this diet could lead to serious nutrient deficiencies, says Van Eck.

People may experience flu-like symptoms in the early stages of the diet, per the lion diet's website. This is also known as the keto flu, which is what happens when your body goes from burning carbs for energy to burning fats (since, you know, you aren’t eating any carbs). While supporters of the lion diet (and the keto diet) might say that this is just a preliminary hurdle, the keto flu is a sign that your body is in distress, Harrison says. ‘The flu-like symptoms can be a sign that your body is in starvation mode, basically — that it's shifting over to this kind of backup generator type of energy to run on,’ she says.

Another potential side effect is brain fog, which could be due to the fact that you're eliminating carbs.‘The preferred fuel source for your brain is glucose,’ Harrison says. ‘Those come from carbohydrates.’ For this reason, you might also experience difficulty concentrating and have a tough time functioning overall while on the lion diet, says Harrison.

The lion diet is also hard to follow, says Van Eck. This might impact your social life, including your ability to eat at restaurants — something that the lion diet’s website recommends avoiding for the most part. Plus, restrictive diets put followers at risk of developing an eating disorder or complicating their relationship with food, Harrison and Van Eck warn.

Benefits of red meat

While experts were quick to say that eating only red meat is not nutritious, there are some benefits to eating red meat in moderation. Red meat is a high-quality protein that also has beneficial fatty acids, but ‘only and especially’ when it’s grass-fed, says Van Eck. ‘It does have lots of nutrients and it can be part of a healthy diet for sure,’ she says.

Still, Van Eck wouldn’t recommend eating red meat more than once or twice a week because of its connection to a higher prevalence of cardiovascular disease. (People with a history of high cholesterol or cardiovascular issues should not try the lion diet, she says). Red meat consumption is also particularly hard on the environment, she adds.

Can the lion diet heal leaky gut and other chronic illnesses?

The lion diet cannot heal leaky gut, according to Harrison and Van Eck, who point out that the condition has a complicated status in the medical field. While some conditions like IBS, ulcerative colitis, celiac disease and Crohn's disease can cause increased intestinal permeability, sometimes colloquially called ‘leaky gut’, ‘leaky gut syndrome’ is not something that occurs on its own. And, attempting to heal a leaky gut or any other autoimmune condition through an extreme diet like the lion diet might only make it worse. ‘It can just exacerbate everything and make existing symptoms worse and also make new symptoms that you never had before crop up because of malnutrition or the lack of diversity,’ Harrison says.

At its core, the lion diet intends to help people heal a wide array of chronic issues. It was created by someone who was seeking relief after decades of dealing with serious health challenges and draws people experiencing similar hardships. ‘The one thing I'll say that I see good in is not really in the diet itself, but it's just that people are pursuing something—that they're looking for healing, they're looking for support, they're looking for symptom relief,’ says Harrison, who has also dealt with chronic conditions.

Still, talking to a medical provider is your best bet for navigating these conditions. ‘As a dietitian, my role is to help people with food and with their relationship with food, and sometimes that means saying, “Your diet isn't going to fix this,”’ Van Eck says.

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2024-07-08T11:59:55Z dg43tfdfdgfd