The Sonoma Diet is a Mediterranean-inspired eating pattern designed to promote weight loss and improve overall health.
Although it promises rapid weight loss by emphasizing portion control and a diverse intake of whole, nutrient-dense foods, you may wonder whether this diet is right for you.
This article reviews the Sonoma Diet, including its benefits, drawbacks, and effectiveness for weight loss.
diet review scorecard
- Overall score: 3.5
- Weight loss: 4.0
- Healthy eating: 3.5
- Sustainability: 2.5
- Whole body health: 3.0
- Nutrition quality: 5.0
- Evidence-based: 3.0
BOTTOM LINE: Inspired by the Mediterranean diet, the Sonoma Diet is a low calorie eating pattern that incorporates a variety of nutrient-dense foods. Although it may be unnecessarily restrictive, it likely supports weight loss if followed closely.
The Sonoma Diet is a weight loss program developed by registered dietitian and author Dr. Connie Guttersen.
The diet’s original book was published in 2005, but a revised version called “The New Sonoma Diet” became available in 2011.
Guttersen’s book promises weight loss and improved health within the diet’s first 10 days. It also includes lessons on how to beat sugar addiction and satisfy your cravings with healthy foods throughout the remainder of the program.
The diet is named for the famous wine-growing region in California where Guttersen lives.
Inspired by the Mediterranean diet, the Sonoma Diet promotes a balanced intake of fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and olive oil. It then adds specific portion control guidelines and three distinctive dietary phases (
Although Gutterson does not consider the Sonoma Diet to be a low carb diet, some parts of the diet remove or restrict certain carb-rich foods.
Excessive intake of saturated fats, alcohol, and artificial sweeteners is likewise discouraged.
The Sonoma Diet is a weight loss program designed by Dr. Connie Guttersen. It patterns itself after the Mediterranean diet but incorporates portion control guidelines.
The Sonoma Diet is broken into three distinct phases called waves. The first wave is the shortest and most restrictive, after which the limitations are gradually eased.
Each wave centers on the following 10 “power foods”:
- bell peppers
- whole grains
- olive oil
These foods comprise the foundation of the diet because they’re minimally processed and loaded with important nutrients like vitamins, minerals, fiber, and healthy fats.
You’re encouraged to eat three meals per day and only snack if you’re struggling with hunger between meals. Though you don’t need to count calories, portion control is central to the diet.
You’re meant to swap your usual dinnerware for a 7-inch (17.8-cm) plate or 2-cup (475 mL) bowl for breakfast and 9-inch (22.8-cm) plate for lunch and dinner. Each bowl or plate is then divided into sections to be filled with certain foods.
Wave 1 is the first and most restrictive phase of the Sonoma diet.
It lasts 10 days and is designed to encourage rapid weight loss, help you kick your sugar habit, and teach portion control.
In this wave, you’ll eliminate all of the following foods:
- Added sugar: honey, white sugar, maple syrup, agave, desserts, sweet treats, soda, and jam
- Refined grains: white rice, white bread, and cereals made from refined grains
- Fats: lard, margarine, mayonnaise, creamy dressings, and most cooking oils (except extra virgin olive oil, canola oil, and nut oils)
- Dairy: yogurt (all types), full fat cheeses, and butter
- Certain fruits: banana, mango, pomegranate, and peaches
- Certain vegetables: potatoes, corn, peas, winter squash, artichoke, carrots, and beets
- Artificially sweetened foods: all kinds
- Alcohol: all kinds
Though the original Sonoma Diet prohibited all fruit during Wave 1, the revised version allows one serving of fruit from an approved list.
Here are a few examples of foods permitted during Wave 1 — and throughout the duration of the program:
- Non-starchy vegetables: leeks, asparagus, celery, cauliflower, broccoli, tomatoes, spinach, and bell peppers
- Fruit (one serving per day): strawberries, blueberries, apples, and apricots
- Whole grains (up to two servings per day): oats, wild rice, and whole grain bread, pasta, and breakfast cereal
- Dairy: low fat cottage cheese, Parmesan, skim milk
- Protein: eggs (1 whole and 2 whites per day), seafood, beans (limited to 1/2 cup or 30 grams per day), and lean cuts of beef, pork, and chicken
- Fats (up to three servings per day): extra virgin olive oil, almonds, avocado, peanut butter, and walnuts
- Beverages: black coffee, unsweetened tea, and water
Although calorie counting isn’t encouraged, most people end up consuming approximately 1,000–1,200 calories per day in Wave 1 because portion sizes are extremely limited.
Wave 2 begins after the first 10 days of the diet. It lasts considerably longer than Wave 1 because you’re meant to stay in it until you reach your goal weight.
All of the foods permitted during Wave 1 are still allowed during this phase, but certain previously prohibited foods are reintroduced.
Depending on your food choices, you may consume up to 1,500–2,000 calories during Wave 2. Note that this figure is just an estimation, as calorie counting isn’t part of the Sonoma Diet.
You can reintroduce the following foods in Wave 2:
- Wine: red or white, up to 6 ounces (180 mL) per day
- Vegetables: all vegetables except white potatoes
- Fruit: all whole fruits but no fruit juice
- Dairy: fat-free yogurt
- Sweets: dark chocolate and sugar-free treats
Servings of high carb fruits and veggies like bananas and sweet potatoes are limited to one per day, whereas lower carb options may be eaten more often.
Wave 2 also introduces specific lifestyle changes, including regular exercise and mindfulness practices that encourage you to savor and enjoy your meals.
Wave 3 is essentially the maintenance phase of the Sonoma Diet. Most of Wave 2’s rules still apply, but there’s more flexibility and a few more food options.
You enter this phase after you’ve reached your weight loss goal.
Wave 3 allows some foods higher in carbs and fats, such as desserts, fruit juice, refined grains, full fat dairy products, and white potatoes — albeit very sparingly.
If you notice your weight creeping back up, it’s recommended that you return to Wave 2 until you reach your goal weight again.
The Sonoma Diet consists of three distinct phases that become progressively less restrictive as you approach and reach your goal weight.
Outside of anecdotal reports, no formal scientific evidence suggests that the Sonoma Diet aids weight loss.
Because the Sonoma Diet models itself on the Mediterranean diet, it may offer similar results.
Notably, it minimizes your intake of processed foods and added sugar while encouraging a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats.
These foods are naturally lower in calories than their more processed counterparts. What’s more, they provide important nutrients like fiber and protein, which may help regulate your appetite and metabolism.
Furthermore, because of the strict portion control in Wave 1, your calorie intake is likely to drop significantly. As with any other diet, you must consume fewer calories than your body expends to lose weight on the Sonoma Diet.
Remember that weight loss is a complex process that’s also influenced by physical activity, sleep quality, metabolism, age, and other factors.
The Sonoma Diet likely promotes weight loss due to its resemblance to the Mediterranean diet, but specific studies aren’t available.
As the Sonoma Diet mimics the Mediterranean diet in many ways, it may provide similar health benefits.
Decades of research have found that the Mediterranean diet is one of the best eating patterns for promoting general health and preventing chronic illnesses like heart disease and diabetes.
May increase your nutrient intake
The Sonoma Diet may boost your consumption of important nutrients.
Crucially, vegetables, fruit, whole grains, and lean proteins are cornerstones of the Sonoma Diet.
May promote heart health
The Sonoma diet is very low in saturated fat and promotes heart-healthy unsaturated fats from olive oil, avocados, and fish. It’s also very rich in vegetables, fruit, and whole grains, all of which may help reduce inflammation, blood pressure, and cholesterol (
In turn, these factors may lower your risk of heart disease.
May reduce blood sugar levels
The Sonoma Diet restricts all major sources of refined grains and sugars. Moreover, the carb content of the Sonoma Diet is much lower than that of a typical Western dietary pattern and mainly comes from high fiber foods like whole grains, fruit, and legumes.
In turn, lower blood sugar may reduce your risk of diabetes, heart disease, and other ailments.
The Sonoma Diet may boost nutrient intake, heart health, and blood sugar control. Keep in mind that the diet itself hasn’t been researched.
Although the Sonoma Diet has several benefits, it isn’t right for everyone. There are several downsides worth considering before you dive in.
May severely limit calorie intake
Wave 1 of the Sonoma Diet is meant to stimulate rapid weight loss.
Yet, this 10-day crash phase may slash your calorie intake by extreme amounts, which is unnecessary to promote healthy, sustainable weight loss. While specific figures aren’t provided, you likely eat only 1,000–1,200 calories per day during Wave 1 due to extreme portion control.
Eating so few calories puts you at risk of intense hunger and disordered eating (
Furthermore, no scientific evidence suggests that rapid weight loss is necessary. Although some people may find quick results encouraging, most weight loss from such an approach is linked to a drop in water weight, not fat (
Thus, it may be best for most people to skip Wave 1 and start with the more balanced approach of Wave 2.
Specific food restrictions aren’t based on science
The Sonoma Diet’s book asserts that it’s essential to completely avoid all refined carbs during Waves 1 and 2 to combat sugar addiction.
While research suggests sugary foods have addictive qualities and that eating high amounts of sweets may drive cravings, extreme measures, such as eliminating sugar or overly restricting sweet-tasting foods, may not be necessary for most people (
What’s more, certain healthy foods like white potatoes are unfairly demonized on the program.
Although some studies have associated certain types of potato products with weight gain, eating white potatoes in moderation prepared in healthy ways, such as baked or roasted, is unlikely to cause weight gain.
Plus, white potatoes are much more satiating than other carbohydrate sources like pasta and rice and can be included in a healthy diet (
Some of these issues can be mitigated if you adopt a flexible approach to the diet.
Very time intensive
One of the major critiques of the diet is that its meal planning and food prep takes a lot of time.
Because the Sonoma Diet relies almost exclusively on whole, unprocessed foods, you’re meant to cook almost all meals on your own.
While cooking is enjoyable for a lot of people, others may prefer a weight loss program that’s less intensive and fits better with their lifestyle. If long hours in the kitchen aren’t sustainable for you long term, this diet isn’t a good fit.
Can be expensive
At the diet’s onset, you’re supposed to throw out or donate any non-compliant foods in your pantry, then replace them with compliant versions. Depending on your pantry’s contents, this demand may spell a large grocery bill and a lot of food waste.
Moreover, many of the Sonoma Diet’s approved foods are costly, which limits access and may strain your food budget.
Notably, the diet limits widely affordable foods like legumes and potatoes in favor of more expensive items like seafood and high quality wine.
The Sonoma Diet has several drawbacks, including high costs and excessive restrictions on calories and certain foods.
The Sonoma Diet book and cookbook provide a variety of recipes for each phase of the program. Here’s a sample menu for 3 days during Wave 2:
- Breakfast: 100% whole grain cereal with skim milk
- Lunch: roasted turkey, hummus, and sliced vegetables in a whole grain tortilla with a side of blueberries
- Dinner: grilled salmon with quinoa, roasted broccoli, and 6 ounces (180 mL) of white wine
- Breakfast: ham, bell pepper, and egg white scramble with a slice of whole wheat toast
- Lunch: spinach salad with grilled chicken, sliced almonds, and strawberries
- Dinner: tofu and vegetable stir fry with brown rice and 6 ounces (180 mL) of red wine
- Breakfast: wild mushroom omelet
- Lunch: Greek salad with mixed greens, fresh herbs, tomatoes, olives, and grilled chicken
- Dinner: grilled lean steak with black beans, sautéed bell peppers, sliced avocado, and 6 ounces (180 mL) of red wine
The sample menu above provides a snapshot of nutritious meals for Wave 2 of the Sonoma Diet.
The Sonoma Diet is a weight loss program outlined in a book of the same name by Dr. Connie Guttersen. It’s based on the Mediterranean diet and emphasizes a variety of whole, healthy foods like veggies, fruit, lean meats, and olive oil.
By eliminating processed foods and strictly controlling portion sizes, the diet likely promotes weight loss.
However, it’s time intensive and costly. Additionally, its first phase may overly restrict calories, and some of its specific food limitations aren’t based on sound science.
If you’re interested in the Sonoma Diet, you may want to consider slight modifications to ensure it suits your needs.