The Sonoma Diet is a Mediterranean-inspired eating pattern designed to promote weight loss and improve overall health.
It promises rapid weight loss by emphasizing portion control and a diverse intake of whole, nutrient-dense foods. The diet has three phases or “waves,” each of which becoming less restrictive.
This article reviews the Sonoma Diet, including its benefits, drawbacks, and effectiveness for weight loss.
diet review scorecard
- Overall score: 3.6
- Weight loss: 4.0
- Adherence: 3.0
- Whole body health: 2.5
- Nutrition quality: 5.0
- Health promotion: 3.5
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. It’s named for the famous wine-growing region in California where Guttersen lives.
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 Sonoma Diet is essentially a spin-off of the Mediterranean diet with more rules, primarily focusing on weight loss,” explains Kelsey Lorencz, RDN and nutrition advisor for Zenmaster Wellness.
Taking inspiration from 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 (
“The three waves of the Sonoma Diet go from most restrictive to least restrictive, with the focus of quick weight loss in waves 1 and 2 followed up with a sustainable lifestyle diet in wave 3,” says Lorencz.
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 are likewise discouraged.
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 have important nutrients like vitamins, minerals, fiber, and healthy fats.
You’re encouraged to eat three meals per day and only snack if you’re having difficulty with hunger between meals. Though you do not 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.
Foods to avoid
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.
Foods to eat
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 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.
Foods to avoid
These foods should be avoided in Wave 2:
- Vegetables: white potatoes
- Fruit: fruit juice
- Grains: all refined grains
Servings of high carb fruits and veggies like bananas and sweet potatoes are limited to one per day, while lower carb options may be eaten more often.
Foods to eat
The following foods are allowed in Wave 2 of the diet:
- Wine: red or white, up to 6 ounces (180 mL) per day
- Vegetables: all vegetables
- Fruit: all whole fruits
- Dairy: fat-free yogurt
- Sweets: dark chocolate and sugar-free treats
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 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
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 as you move through the phases of the diet.
Many of these foods are less calorically dense than processed foods. Additionally, they provide important nutrients like fiber and protein, which may help with satiety after meals.
Furthermore, because of the strict portion control in Wave 1, your calorie intake is likely to drop significantly, but this may not always be sustainable or beneficial in the long run.
“The restrictive nature of the first two phases is unnecessary for long-term and sustainable weight loss,” says Lorencz. “In my experience with clients, following an overly restrictive diet for any period increases the likelihood of getting caught in the restrictive and binge cycle of dieting.”
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.
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 a healthy eating pattern that promotes general health and is associated with the prevention of chronic illnesses like heart disease and diabetes.
May increase your nutrient intake
The Sonoma Diet may boost your intake 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 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.
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 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.
Waves 2 and 3 allow for more calories, but the estimates are still as low as 1,500 calories per day in Wave 2.
While this diet isn’t extremely restrictive, it does cut out some healthy foods and could lead to cravings in some people (
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. To lose fat, keeping up with the low carb diet is essential (
Thus, it may be best for most people to skip Wave 1 and start with the more balanced approach of Wave 2.
The recommendation to return to Wave 2 if you notice weight gain after you’ve entered Wave 3 is another aspect of the diet that isn’t always recommended by experts.
“If your weight starts to creep back up on this diet, or any diet for that matter, it’s important to look at the big picture,” says Melissa Mitri, MS, RD of Melissa Mitri Nutrition. “For example, just because you are gaining weight back doesn’t mean the answer is to be more restrictive again.”
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.
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.
Mitri also says that dietary restrictions aren’t always the answer when it comes to weight changes. “It could be that your portions have gradually increased, you stopped tracking what you’re doing, or other habits have changed unknowingly,” she says.
Additionally, the recommendation to continue to restrict foods when weight regain is noticed isn’t necessarily recommended.
“There are a lot of factors that can cause weight regain including changes in diet, exercise, sleep, and stress levels. It would be a disservice to assume reverting back to a more restrictive phase was the solution.”
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.
Many of the customer reviews of the Sonoma Diet indicate that it’s easy to read and understand. Some customers consider the book to be inspiring and have indicated that it helped them lose weight.
However, some reviews suggest that the recipes are complicated and some of the information in the book is repetitive.
The book is readily available online from major retailers and sells for under $15.
The Sonoma Diet is most similar to the Mediterranean diet. However, there are other diets that may be worth considering if you’re looking to increase your intake of fruits and vegetables while also limiting processed foods.
A comparison of the Sonoma Diet to the Mediterranean diet, DASH diet, and Flexitarian diet is below.
|Sonoma Diet||Mediterranean diet||DASH diet||Flexitarian diet|
|Price||< $15||free (online |
|free (online resources |
|free (online resources available)|
|Personalization||no – waves are |
meant to be followed
|Eliminates food groups?||yes – in wave 1||no||no||no|
The Sonoma Diet is a Mediterranean-style diet with three distinct phases. The phases, called waves, require strict adherence to the foods to eat and avoid. The restrictions in the first wave result in a very low calorie diet.
Because of this, the Sonoma Diet may make it challenging to eat the recommended nutrients daily, especially in the first wave.
However, those looking to lose weight quickly may find the Sonoma Diet to be a good fit. This is especially true if you have time to cook and prepare multiple meals at home each day and don’t mind the expense of overhauling your pantry at home.
However, because this diet restricts certain foods and food groups in the beginning phases, it’s not appropriate for those with a history of disordered eating patterns or an eating disorder.
The Sonoma Diet is also low in carbohydrates making it less appropriate for highly active individuals or athletes where total carbohydrate intake is necessary for athletic performance.
The restrictive nature of this diet is likely difficult to sustain over the long-term, however the parallels between the Sonoma Diet and the Mediterranean diet are difficult to ignore for their health benefits.
If you’re looking for a Mediterranean-style diet, it may be best to follow one that allows for more flexibility in its approach.
“While the Sonoma Diet may lead to a faster initial weight loss, the Mediterranean diet is superior in terms of long-term weight loss and sustainability,” says Mitri.
“The Sonoma Diet is more restrictive and can be expensive and time-consuming to make the required recipes. Adopting the tenets of a Mediterranean-style diet is more flexible, affordable, and sustainable, while still supporting gradual weight loss (18).”
Does the Sonoma Diet allow for dietary restrictions or preferences?
The Sonoma Diet will allow for dietary restrictions or preferences as long as they fit within the foods recommended in each of the three waves. This may take some effort to determine which foods you can and cannot eat in each wave depending on your dietary restrictions.
How does the Sonoma Diet work?
The Sonoma Diet has three distinctive phases called “waves” that promote weight loss.
Wave 1 lasts for 10 days and is the most restrictive, while waves 2 and 3 allow for more foods.
“The Sonoma Diet focuses on eating whole foods instead of ‘diet’ foods or expensive shakes or bars,” says Lorencz. “It’s easy to follow since there are clear guidelines on foods to eat and what to avoid, which some people may find helpful.”
The diet also emphasizes portion control by providing guidelines on the size of the plates you should use for lunch and dinner. Additionally, calorie counting is not required.
Is the Sonoma Diet low carb?
The first wave of the diet discourages many foods that naturally contain carbohydrates making it a low carbohydrate diet. But as the diet waves progress, the total carbohydrates increase because foods higher in carbs are allowed on the diet. Despite this, the diet encourages a lower carbohydrate intake due to the reduced portion sizes and emphasis on limiting naturally high carbohydrate foods like potatoes.
Does the Sonoma Diet promote exercise?
Yes, the Sonoma Diet encourages an active lifestyle, but more emphasis is placed on exercise in the latest version of the diet — the New Sonoma Diet.
Is there a difference between the Sonoma Diet and the New Sonoma Diet?
There are minimal differences between the Sonoma Diet and the New Sonoma Diet.
“The New Sonoma Diet is essentially the same as the Sonoma Diet, with extra information and support for healthy lifestyle changes, a bigger emphasis on exercise, and research to help understand appetite, hunger, and satiety,” says Lorencz. “Two additional power foods, citrus and beans, were also added to the New 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.