What Is the Wild Diet?

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The Wild Diet eating plan is similar to the Paleo diet, but allows for a greater range of foods and more flexibility in your eating style than the caveman program. Instead of eating like our Paleolithic ancestors, creator Abel James says you should eat like your grandparents.

What Experts Say

"The Wild diet is a low-carbohydrate meal plan with several helpful takeaways, such as focusing on unprocessed foods and eating intuitively. However, experts agree that it isn’t right for everyone. Eliminating grains can be too restrictive for some to follow long-term."
Chrissy Carroll, RD, MPH

Background

Abel James is also known as “The Fat Burning Man.” To be clear, he does not promote himself as a credentialed, mainstream diet expert. He says that he has done his own research to debunk traditional thinking about diets. James participated in "My Diet is Better than Yours," a reality TV show that put different diet gurus in competition with each other to see whose eating plan would produce the greatest weight loss. While he did not win the final showdown, James’ program was a runner-up with his contestant losing 87 pounds.

Since the show aired in 2016, James' book, The Wild Diet; his podcast; and his website have become extremely popular, especially among men and others looking for an alternative to the Paleo diet. The Wild Diet PDF has also become a top-ranked Google search, although the downloadable version of the book does not look (nor does it claim to be) an authorized reproduction of his work.

How It Works

In the book, James explains how to choose foods to eat and foods to avoid. Advertisements for the diet promote the fact that you can eat fatty, indulgent foods like bacon, sausage, or heavy cream. But most of those foods are “supplementary foods,” according to the plan. James recommends that you eat no more than two total servings of supplementary foods per week until you reach your goal weight. The emphasis is on locally farmed, organic, plant-based and whole foods.

Wild Diet meals should be set up as follows:

  • Roughly two-thirds of your plate should be non-starchy vegetables. A limited amount of starchy vegetables (such as sweet potatoes or beets) is allowed for people who exercise regularly.
  • One serving of protein (meat, fish, or eggs) that should be about the size of the palm of your hand, or roughly three ounces.
  • The remaining section should be filled in with fruit and healthy fats.

What to Eat

Compliant Foods

  • Non-starchy vegetables

  • Fruits (in moderation)

  • Meat and seafood

  • Healthy fats

  • Plant-based oils

Non-Compliant Foods

  • Whole grains

  • Processed foods

  • Added sugars

  • Starchy vegetables

  • Dairy products (in excess)

Fruits and Vegetables

Foods allowed on the Wild Diet include mostly non-starchy vegetables, especially colorful ones (preferably organic). Think green leafy veggies, like mustard greens, beet greens, spinach, chard, and kale; and fiber-rich, brightly hued carrots, pumpkin, jicama, artichokes, peppers, and eggplant.

Starchy vegetables, such as potatoes and sweet potatoes, should usually be avoided, and fruits limited to no more than two servings per day.

Protein

The Wild Diet is heavy on meat: Grass-fed, pastured, organic, wild or locally raised meats such as bison, elk, buffalo, boar, veal, venison, pork, chicken, or beef. It also includes plenty of wild-caught, local fish or shellfish including shrimp, cod, salmon, sea bass, clams, crab, or tuna. Eggs (whether chicken, duck, or quail) are permitted but should come from birds raised in a humane environment.

Healthy Fats

These fats should come from sources including nuts and seeds; virgin, cold-pressed, plant-based oils such as avocado oil, coconut oil, olive oil, or walnut oil; and organic, pasture-raised animal fats such as butter or ghee.

Carbohydrates

On the Wild Diet, your carbohydrates will come from fruits and vegetables. Grains, even whole grains, are not permitted (so no bread, pasta, or rice). Neither are foods that are processed and/or have added sugar—potato chips, baked goods, sugar-sweetened drinks, and so on.

Dairy Products

Dairy products are allowed in moderation (about two servings per day), with an emphasis on whole milk and products made from grass-fed animal milk. James also recommends fermented dairy products (like yogurt and kefir) and dairy substitutes including almond milk, coconut milk, and cashew milk.

Recommended Timing

Even though James provides guidance about how to structure each meal and how to time your daily food intake, he says your eating plan should be organized to reach weekly goals, not daily ones. He says this allows for greater flexibility and makes the program easier to follow.

For example, if you can’t eat enough vegetables on Monday, eat more veggies on Tuesday or Wednesday so that at the end of the week, about 65 percent of your food intake has been nutrient-rich, low-starch vegetables.

Resources and Tips

Eating out is allowed and eating with friends is encouraged. Alcohol (preferably red wine) is OK in moderation (two drinks or fewer per day). James also recommends that you carry high-quality dark chocolate for "chocolate emergencies."

The Wild Diet plan is accompanied by an exercise program. The workout plan simply includes one 7-minute, high-intensity workout session per week. But note that not all exercisers are fit or healthy enough to complete high-intensity intervals. Current exercise guidelines suggest an activity program that includes 150 minutes or more of moderate activity.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Emphasis on vegetables and lean protein

  • Emphasis on whole foods

  • No calorie or carb counting

  • Can work for some people

Cons

  • Missing food groups

  • Too much saturated fat

  • Hard to sustain

  • Expensive

Pros

High-Quality Foods

There are many aspects of the diet that might help you to look and feel better. For example, many people who follow the program will benefit from an increased intake of nutrient-rich vegetables and high-quality sources of protein. And since processed foods, sugar-sweetened beverages, and simple carbohydrates (like baked goods and candy) are not allowed, some may improve their health on the Wild Diet as a result of the decrease in sugar intake.

No Counting

If you prefer not to count calories or carbohydrates, you might prefer the Wild Diet to other low-carb weight-loss plans. You will still need to keep an eye on your portions and consume certain foods in moderation.

Effectiveness

If you follow the Wild Diet perfectly, you are likely to lose weight, especially in the beginning of the program. If you currently eat a typical American diet (one that relies heavily on meat, processed foods, starchy carbohydrates, and sugary drinks), the shift to a low-carb, primarily plant-based eating style is likely to result in a quick loss of water weight. You will probably notice a change in your body size and you may even benefit from an increase in energy when you cut out processed carbs.

However, despite these benefits, not everyone will be successful on the program. Abel James says that you can lose 20 pounds in 40 days on the Wild Diet. While it is possible that some people hit that goal, many are likely to struggle to stick to the plan.

Cons

Missing Food Groups

Some dietitians have expressed concern over the lack of whole grains and dairy on this eating plan. It can be hard to get the nutrients, and energy, you need when you cut out all these foods. That could make this diet hard to sustain, and (since legumes and beans are also restricted) difficult for vegetarians to use.

Saturated Fat

This may also not be a smart eating plan for people who have been instructed to cut back on their saturated fat intake. While foods like butter and cream are limited on the plan, they might still be too high for people who are trying to follow an eating plan to boost heart health.

Expensive

James stresses the importance of organic produce, grass-fed beef, free-range eggs, wild-caught seafood, and so on. That's great, but these ingredients can be difficult to find and expensive too.

How It Compares

Lots of diets consider carbs the enemy. They can differ in the makeup of the rest of the suggested foods and the underlying philosophy of eating.

USDA Recommendations

The USDA guidelines suggest eating a variety of foods from all food groups: Meats (or plant-based proteins), dairy, grains, fruits, and vegetables. Since it eliminates grains entirely, the Wild Diet does not align with these guidelines.

Similar Diets

Here's how the Wild Diet stacks up against some other low-carb eating plans.

Wild Diet

  • Food choices: The Wild Diet favors whole foods, but not whole grains. People following this diet will eat a lot of meat, seafood, and vegetables.
  • Safety: While choosing whole foods over processed ones is a healthy choice, eliminating grains can be risky. So can consuming the amount of saturated fat that this diet allows.
  • Practicality: This diet doesn't require carb counting, which could be appealing to many. But it stresses the need for organic produce and meat and seafood that's as close to "wild" as possible. Those ingredients could be hard to find and pricey.
  • Sustainability: Experts say it would be tough for most people to adhere to a total ban on grains.

Paleo Diet

  • Food choices: The paleo plan is similar to the Wild Diet in that grains, legumes, sugar, and all processed foods are off-limits. The bulk of the diet is protein, mostly from meat, fish, and seafood.
  • Safety: Some people on this diet may consume too much saturated fat, and there is risk of calcium deficiency since most dairy products are also banned.
  • Practicality: As with the Wild Diet, there is no carb or calorie counting here; just don't eat the restricted foods. Of course, that is easier said than done in the real word.
  • Sustainability: This diet's restrictiveness may make it too hard for many people to keep up with, especially for the long term.

Ketogenic Diet

  • Food choices: On a ketogenic, or "keto" diet, users choose food based on its macronutrient content. They aim to get 75 percent of calories from fat (cheese, nuts, avocados, oils), 20 percent from protein (meat, fish, eggs), and just 5 percent from carbohydrates (grains, fruits, and vegetables).
  • Safety: Some people with epilepsy are actually treated with a ketogenic diet. Those with other health conditions should use caution because of the amount of fat in this diet, and the lack of nutrients from plant-based sources.
  • Practicality: It can take time to adapt to eating this way. Some people on a ketogenic diet track ketones (a measure of whether the body is burning glucose or fat for energy) with urine tests, but this may not be necessary for everyone.
  • Sustainability: One challenge with this way of eating is that it takes time to put the body into ketosis (that state of fat-burning instead of glucose-burning), and it can easily slip out of it if you eat too many carbs for your body to handle. Then you have to reestablish ketosis.

Atkins Diet

  • Food choices: The Atkins diet has a phased approach that starts with extremely low carb intake, similar to a ketogenic diet: Protein, fats, and non-starchy vegetables only. As you work your way through each phase, you slowly add carbs (in the form of legumes, whole grains, fruits, and starchier vegetables).
  • Safety: This method is safe and can even be beneficial for people with certain health conditions, but take care to get the full range of nutrients you need.
  • Practicality: You will need to learn how to count carbs for this diet to be effective. But it doesn't have the same emphasis on expensive, organic ingredients that the Wild Diet does.
  • Sustainability: The last phase of the Atkins diet is a maintenance phase. By this time, users will have learned how many carbohydrates they should consume to keep their weight steady.

A Word From Verywell

The Wild Diet is a perfect example of the fact that different diets work for different people. The eating style has clearly worked for Abel James. But he had an incentive (on a reality television show), time, and substantial personal motivation to build his diet around a unique array of foods. Many people who read his book or download the Wild Diet PDF will not have that same level of interest or investment.

If you try the Wild Diet and find that you can’t maintain it, don’t beat yourself up. Use the program as a guide, and make adjustments to fit your personal health needs, your schedule, and your lifestyle. Better yet, talk to your healthcare provider or invest in a session with a registered dietitian to make sure that the eating plan you choose supports a comprehensive plan for wellness and longevity.

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