What Is the Wild Diet?

wild diet

Verywell / Debbie Burkhoff

At Verywell, we believe there is no one-size-fits-all approach to a healthy lifestyle. Successful eating plans need to be individualized and take the whole person into consideration. Prior to starting a new diet plan, consult with your healthcare provider or a registered dietitian, especially if you have an underlying health condition.

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. Instead of eating like our Paleolithic ancestors, creator Abel James says you should eat like your grandparents, focusing on real, whole foods instead of processed ones.

James is also known as “The Fat-Burning Man.” To be clear, he does not promote himself as a credentialed 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, Kurt Morgan, 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 those seeking 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 James' work.

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

What Can You Eat?

The Wild Diet emphasizes locally farmed, organic, whole foods, with the exception of whole grains. People following this diet will eat a lot of meat, seafood, and vegetables.

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.

What You Need to Know

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% of your food intake has been nutrient-rich, low-starch vegetables.

Dining out is allowed on the plan 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 everyone is 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 for weight management and overall health.

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 3 ounces.
  • The remaining section should be filled in with fruit and healthy fats.
What to Eat
  • Non-starchy vegetables

  • Fruits (in moderation)

  • Meat and seafood

  • Healthy fats

  • Plant-based oils

What Not to Eat
  • Whole grains

  • Processed foods

  • Added sugars

  • Starchy vegetables (including legumes)

  • 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

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 only. 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.

Sample Shopping List

Though the Wild Diet stresses that all foods consumed on the plan should be locally- sourced and organic, this may not always be possible depending on where you live as well as your budget.

The following shopping list offers suggestions for getting started on the Wild Diet, and it's up to you to decide whether or not to choose organic. Note that this is not a definitive shopping list and you may find other foods that work better for you.

  • Dark leafy greens (kale, spinach, arugula, Swiss chard, collard greens)
  • Non-starchy vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, zucchini, Brussels sprouts, green beans, mushrooms)
  • Low-carb fruits (berries, pineapple, cantaloupe, avocado)
  • Healthy fat sources (avocados, walnuts, almonds, chia seeds, flaxseeds, olive oil)
  • Meat and poultry (beef, chicken breast, turkey breast, bacon, sausage)
  • Fresh or frozen fish (halibut, salmon, cod, snapper, shrimp)
  • Whole milk and/or heavy cream
  • Eggs
  • Dark chocolate

Sample Meal Plan

The Wild Diet emphasizes meat, seafood, and non-starchy vegetables, allows for fruit and dairy on occasion but eliminates grains entirely. This can make meal planning tricky since grains are a common dietary staple for many.

The following three-day meal plan offers suggestions for what to eat on the Wild Diet. Note that this meal plan is not all-inclusive, but if you do choose to follow this diet, there may be other meals that are more appropriate for your tastes, preferences, and budget.

Day 1

Day 2

Day 3

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

  • Unsustainable

Despite the weight-loss benefits associated with the Wild Diet, not everyone will be successful on this plan. Review the pros and cons to inform your decision about trying this style of eating.

Pros

High-Quality Foods

Many people who follow the program will benefit from an increased intake of nutrient-rich vegetables and high-quality sources of protein, along with reduced consumption of processed foods that may be high in sugar and salt.

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, however.

May Be Effective for Weight Loss

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 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.

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 all the nutrients you need when you cut out all or most of these foods. That could make this diet hard to sustain, and (since legumes and beans are also restricted) difficult for vegetarians to use.

High in 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 support heart health.

Difficult to Sustain

James stresses the importance of choosing foods as close to "wild" as possible, including organic produce, grass-fed beef, free-range eggs, wild-caught seafood, and so on. Those ingredients can be difficult to find and expensive, too.

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 people may have a hard time sticking with the diet long enough to get there. Experts say it would be tough for most people to adhere to a total ban on grains.

Is the Wild Diet a Healthy Choice for You?

There are plenty of diets that severely restrict carbohydrates. The Wild Diet resembles other low-carb eating plans but differs in terms of its philosophy and some of the suggested foods. For instance, the Atkins diet has a phased approach that starts with an extremely low-carb intake of protein, fats, and non-starchy vegetables only.

Current dietary guidelines from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) recommend consuming a variety of foods from all food groups, including lean animal protein (or plant-based protein sources), dairy products and fortified soy products, whole grains, fruits, and vegetables. Since the Wild Diet eliminates grains entirely and restricts other healthy foods, it does not align with federal guidelines.

There is no calorie counting on the Wild Diet, but nutrition experts recommend counting calories to stay within the recommended range for weight loss. The USDA advises a reduction of 500 calories per day for a steady rate of weight loss of 1 to 2 pounds per week. On a 2,000 calorie diet, that's about 1,500 calories a day—but this can vary based on an individual's age, sex, weight, height, and level of physical activity. Use this calculator to determine the right number of calories to meet your goals.

The Wild Diet encourages healthy habits like opting for nutrient-dense whole foods, but it eliminates whole grains. Restricting an entire food group does not align with USDA guidelines for a well-balanced diet—though this eating plan can still be a healthy strategy for weight loss if followed for the short term.

Health Benefits

Promotes Weight Loss

The Wild Diet promotes healthy habits like choosing whole foods and getting lots of exercise. There is plenty of evidence to show that low-carb, high-protein diets can be an effective strategy for weight loss.

And since processed foods, sugar-sweetened beverages, and simple carbohydrates (like baked goods and candy) are not allowed, some may improve their health on this plan as a result of the decrease in sugar intake.

Encourages Intuitive Eating

Despite the dietary restrictions, the premise of the Wild Diet encourages followers to eat mindfully and follow their body's natural hunger cues. Eating when you're hungry, savoring each bite, and stopping before you become overly full can help promote weight loss. Intuitive eating can also help people to cultivate a healthy relationship with food.

Health Risks

Too Much Saturated Fat

Though the Wild Diet encourages healthy fats, high-protein diets that emphasize animal protein are often high in saturated fats. Consuming the amount of saturated fat that this diet allows can be risky for long-term health. Research shows that high-protein diets that exceed the recommended daily intake of protein may cause high cholesterol, heart disease, and even some forms of cancer.

Nutrient Deficiencies

Choosing whole foods over processed ones is a healthy choice, but eliminating whole grains and restricting carbohydrates can lead to nutrient deficiencies. Common deficiencies in valuable micronutrients that are often experienced on a low-carb diet include low levels of vitamin B1 (thiamin), folate, vitamin C, magnesium, iron, vitamin D, vitamin E, and calcium.

In addition, consuming only non-starchy vegetables and restricting legumes could make it difficult for some people to meet their recommended daily intake of fiber.

A Word From Verywell

The Wild Diet is an example of how different diets work for different people. The eating style has clearly worked for Abel James, but he had an incentive (i.e., a reality TV 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 may not have that same level of interest or investment.

If you try the Wild Diet and find that you can’t maintain it, there's no need to beat yourself up over it. Use the program as a guide and make adjustments to fit your personal health needs, your schedule, and your budget. 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.

Remember, following a long-term or short-term diet may not be necessary for you and many diets out there simply don’t work, especially long-term. While we do not endorse fad diet trends or unsustainable weight loss methods, we present the facts so you can make an informed decision that works best for your nutritional needs, genetic blueprint, budget, and goals.

If your goal is weight loss, remember that losing weight isn’t necessarily the same as being your healthiest self, and there are many other ways to pursue health. Exercise, sleep, and other lifestyle factors also play a major role in your overall health. The best diet is always the one that is balanced and fits your lifestyle.

Was this page helpful?
Article Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. How much physical activity do adults need? Updated October 7, 2020.

  2. Calton JB. Prevalence of micronutrient deficiency in popular diet plansJ Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2010;7:24. doi:10.1186/1550-2783-7-24

  3. Rozenberg S, Body J-J, Bruyère O, et al. Effects of dairy products consumption on health: Benefits and beliefs--a commentary from the Belgian Bone Club and the European Society for Clinical and Economic Aspects of Osteoporosis, Osteoarthritis and Musculoskeletal DiseasesCalcif Tissue Int. 2016;98(1):1-17. doi:10.1007/s00223-015-0062-x

  4. Vici G, Belli L, Biondi M, Polzonetti V. Gluten free diet and nutrient deficiencies: A reviewClin Nutr. 2016;35(6):1236-1241. doi:10.1016/j.clnu.2016.05.002

  5. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and U.S. Department of Agriculture. 2020–2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Ninth Edition. December 2020.

  6. Moon J, Koh G. Clinical evidence and mechanisms of high-protein diet-induced weight lossJ Obes Metab Syndr. 2020;29(3):166-173. doi:10.7570/jomes20028

  7. Evans CEL. Sugars and health: a review of current evidence and future policyProc Nutr Soc. 2017;76(3):400-407. doi:10.1017/S0029665116002846

  8. Dunn C, Haubenreiser M, Johnson M, et al. Mindfulness approaches and weight loss, weight maintenance, and weight regainCurr Obes Rep. 2018;7(1):37-49. doi:10.1007/s13679-018-0299-6

  9. Delimaris I. Adverse effects associated with protein intake above the recommended dietary allowance for adultsISRN Nutr. 2013;2013:126929. doi:10.5402/2013/126929

  10. Gardner CD, Kim S, Bersamin A, et al. Micronutrient quality of weight-loss diets that focus on macronutrients: Results from the A TO Z study. Am J Clin Nutr. 2010;92(2):304-12. doi:10.3945/ajcn.2010.29468