Supporters of the extremely low-calorie “military diet” claim that it can help you lose up to 10 pounds in just three days if you follow it precisely. But is this true, and if so, is it even healthy for you?
A lot of experts believe that when people lose weight quickly due to severely restricting their calorie intake that they are actually losing a combination of water, some fat, and some muscle mass. A quick decline in water that is stored inside muscles and other tissues is the likely reason that someone can drop pounds so quickly when following a calorie-restrictive plan like the 3-day military diet.
However, the problem with crash diets is that once the diet ends and people return to their normal ways of eating, they usually gain back most or all of the lost weight. Knowing this, is the military diet a weight loss plan that is effective and worth a shot, or just another quick-fix diet fad?
It’s a very low-calorie diet plan that some people choose to follow several days a week in hopes of losing some weight quickly. How much weight loss might the military diet lead to? Well, according to those who promote it, up to 10 pounds in 3-7 days. However, there isn’t much evidence that this speed of weight loss will occur for every person, and even if it does, there are certainly some drawbacks of the military diet that you need to be aware of.
How Do You Follow the Military Diet?
The military diet is often called the “3-day military diet” due to how it restricts calories for three days over the week. The diet is split into two parts over a one-week period: for three days straight you limit your calorie intake by adhering to the diet’s strict meal plan, and then you eat normally for the rest of the week.
For the four days of the week when calories are not being restricted, you can eat whatever you like for the most part, although some people also choose to restrict calories for these days as well in order to increase their weight loss.
The military diet does not exclude any specific types of foods, such as all animal products or all grains, and it isn’t very low in only one specific macronutrient (carbs, protein, or fat).
According to the Military Diet website, below are recommended meals during the diet’s three days of restricted eating:
• Breakfast: Black coffee, ½ plain grapefruit (or another fruit as a substitute), 1 slice of toast with two tablespoons of peanut butter.
• Lunch: Water or more coffee, ½ can of tuna packed in water (or another protein substitute), 1 slice of plain toast.
• Dinner: 3 ounces of any meat or fish, 1 cup of veggies like green beans, 1 small apple, ½ banana, 1 cup of vanilla ice cream.
• No additional snacks are included in the military diet between meals.
• Breakfast: 1 egg (no added butter or oil), ½ banana or another equivalent fruit, 1 slice of plain toast.
• Lunch: One cup of cottage cheese (or substitute with equivalent calories), 5 saltines, 1 hard-boiled egg.
• Dinner: 2 hot dogs without buns (or protein substitution with the same number of calories), 1 cup broccoli or another vegetable, ½ cup carrots, ½ a banana, and 1 cup of vanilla ice cream.
• Breakfast: 1 slice of cheddar cheese, 5 saltines, 1 small apple.
• Lunch: 1 egg and 1 piece of plain toast.
• Dinner: 1 cup of tuna packed in water, ½ banana and 1 cup vanilla ice cream.
Pros and Cons of the Military Diet
Is the military diet effective when it comes down to weight loss? If your sole goal is to lose weight quickly, then you might consider the military diet to be an effective approach. Adult men and women who are moderately active usually require around 2,000-2,600 calories in order to maintain their weight, so eating much less than this (around 800 – 1,000 calories or so) is very likely to cause fast weight loss.
If you decide to try the military diet, you might be wondering how long you should stick with it. The military diet website recommends following the diet for about 4 weeks. Following these guidelines would mean you practice four series of having three “days on” followed by “four days off.”
However, the claim that you can lose 30 pounds in these four weeks are probably a gross exaggeration. If you closely followed the diet you might lose one to three pounds per week, but this would depend on factors such as how you eat during the four days off, your starting weight, how active you are, how healthy you are, and your genetics.
2. Includes Several Fruits and Vegetables Daily
While there’s still a lot of room for improvement, this diet includes daily veggies such as carrots, broccoli, and green beans. You can also substitute those for other types of non-starchy vegetables that you enjoy more, such as leafy greens, spinach, cauliflower, tomatoes, Brussels sprouts, mushrooms, peppers, or any other green vegetables.
The same goes for apples and bananas. You can swap these for other fruits such as two kiwis, berries, papaya, melon, pineapple, or two small figs or apricots.
3. Moderately High in Protein to Help Control Hunger
No matter what type of diet you decide to follow, avoiding protein deficiency is very important for a number of reasons, including controlling your appetite and preventing muscle loss. People who eat more protein usually report that they are satisfied for longer between meals and have better self-control when it comes to preventing snacking.
Some studies have found that consuming inadequate protein while dieting leads to appetite changes that might promote increased food intake, and having a high-protein meal usually leads to eater fewer calories (usually 9% less on average) at the next meal.
1. Includes a Number of Highly Processed Foods
Even if they can be included in a diet that leads to weight loss, eating empty calories such as processed bread, peanut butter, and ice cream are not ideal in terms of improving your health. A major drawback of the majority of diets that focus too much on counting and limiting calories is that they don’t emphasize the importance of eating quality nutrient-dense foods.
2. May be Too Low in Calories, Causing a Starvation Mode Response
Starvation mode is the term for a metabolic state in which the body starts to slow down and burn fewer calories because it recognizes that calorie intake is extremely low. Trying this diet for several weeks might not do any real damage, but sticking to it longer than this definitely can.
In order to try and prevent further weight loss when calories are severely restricted, which the body perceives as a threat to survival, hunger increases while fewer calories are used to repair tissue, produce hormones, support cognitive functions, and aid in digestion.
3. Doesn’t Teach You Health Habits and Isn’t Sustainable
The goal of any changes you make to your diet should be to help establish healthier habits to allow you to feel your best. This diet won't teach you how to respond effectively to your body’s hunger or fullness signals, it won’t prepare you to plan healthy meals and cook for yourself for years to come, and it won’t guide you toward finding healthier substitutions for unhealthy foods that cause you to overeat.
Giving It a Go
If you decide to give it a go, keep in mind the following precautions:
• Due to drastically reducing your intake of calories you will probably feel more hungry, irritable, and tired than usual. This might last for several weeks and contribute to other side effects such as muscle weakness, cravings, headaches, poor sleep, trouble concentrating, and digestive problems.
• You might not be able to recover from exercise as well or train very efficiently if you’re an athlete. This is because of the low-calorie intake and a depleted glycogen store.
• If you’re recovering from adrenal fatigue or any type of eating disorder, then trying the military diet is not a good, as it can worsen existing health issues and further prolong your recovery.