The Lion Diet Is Going Viral on TikTok — but Is It Safe?
Extreme, restrictive diets have long been touted as "cure-alls" for a number of health issues. Diet plans like keto, Whole 30, and intermittent fasting come in waves — or really trends — and according to Mayo Clinic, there's not a lot of hard science behind claims to "detox" your body or improve your overall well-being.
TikTok's latest diet trend is called the Lion Diet — consisting only of ruminant meat (meaning the meat from cattle, sheep, buffalo, and elk), salt, and water for 30 days or longer.
The diet was invented by blogger and podcaster (note: not a doctor or dietician) Mikhaila Peterson, who has been eating this way since December 2017. Per the Lion Diet's website, Peterson says the meat-based menu has helped her heal from juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, chronic illness, depression, and SSRI withdrawal.
"My neurological symptoms from SSRI withdrawal took 2.5 years to heal but they're gone," she writes. "I am not dying of scurvy. I'm healing. I hope in the future I'll be able to eat plants again without neurological or autoimmune symptoms . . . Don't let anyone tell you you can't fix yourself."
Registered Dietitian and owner of UNstuck Nutrition Sarah Bullard says the Lion Diet is "a strict elimination diet with the end goal of less inflammation and elimination of food allergens. With any elimination diet, the main point is to eliminate potential allergens for a short amount of time, typically 4-6 weeks, and then reintroduce the potential allergens one by one to assess if that was the trigger or not."
Elimination diets are never meant to be followed life-long, only for about a month, says Bullard, as almost every vitamin and mineral is at risk for deficiency if following this diet long-term.
Of course, diet is a core component of a healthy lifestyle — and for many people, certain food plans can greatly improve their chronic conditions. For example, Cleveland Clinic notes that elimination diets can be useful for people with allergies, food sensitivities, and food intolerance, but only recommends this under the guidance of a medical professional. Those with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) may also benefit from the low-FODMAP diet, which reduces the intake of certain kinds of hard-to-digest carbohydrates. And while there are certain foods that can aid with conditions like arthritis, the Arthritis Foundation states that "no diet can cure arthritis." Translation? Only eating meat, salt, and water will not cure your chronic conditions.
"The Lion Elimination Diet is not the ideal balance of nutrients for children and most adults. It can stunt a child's growth and development," says Bullard. However, a traditional elimination diet (Bullard recommends the elimination diet by the Institute of Functional Medicine) is effective for resolving food allergies and intolerances.
The take-home message? If you are interested in trying out a new eating plan to help with a specific condition, or simply introduce new healthy eating habits, TikTok is not going to be your best bet for safe, reliable information. "There are other elimination diets that are less extreme and provide similar results without the risk of severe deficiencies. The standard elimination diet has clear time frames and provides a broader range of foods to eat while on the diet. Research backs this diet and its effectiveness and safety, and it is the gold standard for determining food allergies and intolerances," says Bullard. But as always, speak with a trusted doctor or dietician before cutting out large food groups or starting an elimination diet.
It can be easy to fall into the trap of wanting to "cure" or "heal" yourself, especially when Peterson includes her own story and anecdotal accounts of depression, IBS, eczema, and chronic pain magically resolving with the Lion Diet. But disabled, chronically ill bodies aren't broken — and forgoing scientifically-backed treatment for a white-knuckled diet could do more harm than good.