The military diet is a fad diet that’s not actually associated with the military but rather commonly touted on social media to help you lose weight quickly — up to 10 pounds (4.5 kg) in a week.
It purportedly jump-starts your metabolism by encouraging 3 days of calorie restriction, which is achieved by following a set, low-calorie menu, followed by a period of unrestricted feeding, all without taking any supplements or paying any fees or subscriptions.
While the diet may lead to rapid, short-term weight loss, it’s highly restrictive, and the results are unlikely to be sustainable in the long term. Plus, crash diets like this one may affect your relationship with food due to their restrictive nature.
This article explains everything you need to know about the military diet, including a meal plan, its risks, and whether it’s effective for weight loss.
What is the military diet?
The military diet, also called the 3-day diet, is a short-term, rapid weight loss diet that claims to help you lose up to 10 pounds (4.5 kg) in a week.
The diet plan involves a 3-day, calorie-restricted meal plan followed by 4 days off. Followers of the diet are told to repeat the weekly cycle for up to 1 month, or until they reach their goal weight.
Because it follows on-and-off calorie restriction, the military diet is a form of intermittent fasting. Intermittent fasting diets are characterized by shifting between periods of reduced calorie intake and periods of unrestricted feeding.
Nevertheless, while you may supposedly eat anything you want during your days off, the diet prompts people to follow a less restricted but set meal plan during those days to continue losing weight.
Summary: The military diet is a calorie-restricted weight loss diet that claims to promote significant weight loss in just 1 week.
How does the military diet work?
The 3-day military diet is split into 2 phases over 7 days.
The diet provides a set meal plan for breakfast, lunch, and dinner for the first 3 days, without snacks between meals.
During this phase, the total calorie intake comes out to roughly 1,100–1,400 calories per day, making it a low calorie diet — defined as a dietary pattern that provides 800–1,200 calories per day.
Importantly, this kind of calorie restriction falls well below the 2020–2025 United States Dietary Guidelines’ recommended calorie intake for adults, which starts with a minimum of 2,200–2,400 for men and 1,600–1,800 for women between the ages of 18–60.
To ensure your safety and adequate nutrient intake, you shouldn’t pursue the level of calorie restriction that the military diet requires without a medical professional’s recommendation or supervision.
For the remaining 4 days of the week, the military diet simply encourages people to follow a well-balanced diet.
Yet, as mentioned before, it does provide a less restrictive, 1,500-calorie meal plan for those who hope to continue losing weight for the rest of the week.
Summary: The first 3 days of the military diet have a set meal plan and involve extreme calorie restriction. The remaining 4 days involve fewer restrictions.
The military diet meal plan
Here’s a brief review of what a week on this diet looks like.
The 3-day meal plan
The 3-day meal plan on the military diet consists of a limited selection of foods — 16 total, to be precise — that is meant to be divided between breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
Examples of breakfast foods include:
- toast or saltine crackers
- peanut butter
- grapefruit, apples, or bananas
- hard-boiled eggs or cheddar cheese
Examples of lunch options include:
- toast or saltine crackers
- canned tuna, hard-boiled eggs, or cottage cheese
Examples of dinner options include:
- any type of meat, hot dogs without a bun, or canned tuna
- green beans, carrots, or broccoli
- apples or bananas
- vanilla-flavored ice cream
As you can see, there isn’t much variety during the first 3 days of the diet.
Also, the recommended amounts of these 16 foods slowly decrease day by day. Your total calorie intake starts at about 1,400 calories on the first day and falls to roughly 1,100 calories on the last one.
Regarding the permitted drinks, the diet promotes water or herbal teas. However, the menu allows caffeinated coffee or tea twice per day — but advises you to avoid creamers and sweeteners.
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The remaining 4 days
In theory, there are no rules for the remaining 4 days of the diet aside from following a healthy eating pattern.
However, a less restrictive, 1,500-calorie menu is provided for those who hope to speed their weight loss even further.
For instance, snacks are permitted during these days, but you’re encouraged to limit your portion sizes.
Again, keep in mind that eating 1,500 calories per day is still a calorie restriction that may not fit everybody’s energy needs. This is especially true if you lead an active lifestyle, which translates into increased energy expenditure, and thus, higher calorie needs.
Summary: The first 3 days of the diet have a set menu, while the other 4 days are less restrictive. You’re still encouraged to eat healthily or follow the diet’s suggested low-calorie menu for the remaining 4 days.
Additional permitted and forbidden foods
For those with dietary restrictions, the military diet allows substitutions during the 3-day phase, as long as portions match the calorie count.
Aside from swapping foods that may cause allergic reactions, such as peanut butter, substitutions include alternatives for those looking for a gluten-free, lactose-free, vegetarian, or vegan version of the diet.
Yet, the diet does emphasize avoiding substituting orange for grapefruit. Instead, it advises replacing it with a glass of water with ½ teaspoon of baking soda, which is purported to help alkalinize your body and reduce body fat.
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However, research shows that while some foods increase your body’s acid load, your kidneys can excrete the excess acid through urine. Thus, your dietary choices have little effect on your body’s acidity or alkalinity levels.
What’s more, animal-based protein foods such as the ones permitted in the diet are the type of foods that tend to increase your body’s acidic load, making this recommendation a bit contradictory.
Furthermore, there’s no evidence supporting the use of baking soda to reduce body fat.
Lastly, proponents of the military diet recommend avoiding artificially sweetened beverages to prevent weight gain. However, evidence of these drinks’ effects on body weight is mixed.
Summary: The military diet offers multiple food substitutions to fit various dietary restrictions. However, there’s no evidence supporting the need to substitute grapefruit for baking soda.
Is the military diet based on evidence?
There are currently no studies on the military diet. Nevertheless, a calorie deficit is generally required to achieve weight loss.
However, other factors that may affect weight loss, such as treatment for coexisting health conditions and whether you take certain medications, add complexity to some people’s weight loss journey. Yet, this diet does not consider these factors.
While some evidence highlights the importance of a calorie deficit over diet quality and vice versa, research shows that successful weight loss relies on a combination of both.
Therefore, it’s advised to follow a healthy diet that supports slow and steady weight loss and doesn’t involve severe restrictions. This is the opposite of what the military diet and many other fad diets propose.
Sustainable weight loss can generally be achieved by gradually lowering your calorie intake and increasing your physical activity while maintaining adequate nutrient intake.
Evidence shows that moderate and continuous calorie restriction is just as effective for weight loss as intermittent extreme energy restrictions — such as 3 days on, 4 days off — meaning that there’s no need to starve yourself to lose weight.
Furthermore, no single eating pattern is superior to others or works for everyone. Successful weight loss strategies should be tailored to meet each person’s needs.
Yet, the military diet fails to provide that, as it tries to offer a one-size-fits-all meal plan.
Moreover, proponents of the military diet claim that the specific food combinations in the meal plan increase your metabolism and burn fat, but there’s no truth behind these claims.
The one component of this diet that may help increase your metabolism is its suggested caffeine intake from coffee and tea, which has been proven to promote body weight and fat loss.
Summary: The very low calorie military diet can help you lose weight. Yet, that weight loss is likely to be unsustainable, and you may not get enough nutrients. Evidence suggests that well-balanced diets without severe restrictions are more successful for weight loss.
Is the military diet safe and sustainable?
The military diet is unbalanced. Repeating the cycle multiple times could lead to health issues, such as nutrient deficiencies.
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Additionally, research suggests that dramatic calorie reductions — even for short periods, such as in the case of the military diet — may create or worsen unhealthy eating patterns, poor relationships with food, or disordered eating.
What’s more, regularly eating processed foods, such as hot dogs, crackers, and ice cream may cause metabolic issues, which increase your risk of chronic disease. Instead, a healthy eating pattern should include mostly whole and minimally processed foods.
In terms of sustainability, this diet may be relatively easy for some to follow, as it only requires you to adhere to it for a short amount of time — although hunger is frequently reported due to its low-calorie intake.
Nevertheless, the military diet doesn’t promote positive, long-term habit changes. That means any weight that’s lost will be quickly regained once you return to your habitual eating pattern.
Research shows that setting realistic weight loss goals and aiming for lifestyle changes rather than short-term fad diets is essential for successful weight loss, weight maintenance, and the prevention of weight regain.
Summary: Following the military diet could prompt safety issues. It’s also not sustainable in the long run, and the lack of true lifestyle changes means that you will probably quickly regain the lost weight once you return to your regular eating pattern.
Can you lose 10 pounds in a week?
The military diet became popular because proponents claim that it can help you lose 10 pounds in just a week. However, everybody is different, so the diet won’t have the same effect on everyone.
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Plus, most of the weight loss you experience will be due to the loss of water. That’s because severe calorie restrictions lead to a decline in the body’s glycogen stores — your body’s energy reserve.
When you eat sufficient calories, fluid accumulates easily because 3 grams of water are stored for every gram of stored glycogen. Consequently, when your glycogen stores are depleted, the related stored water is lost as well.
Thus, this shift in water balance is what leads to a weight reduction. You may just as easily regain any lost weight once you return to your usual eating pattern and your glycogen stores get replenished again.
If you intend to lose weight, remember that weight management consists of two stages: achieving weight loss and maintaining it.
Best practices advise aiming for a maximum weight loss rate of 1–2 pounds (0.5–1 kg) weekly to ensure fat loss rather than the loss of fluid or muscle mass.
Research describes a suitable diet as safe, healthy, nutritionally adequate, and sustainable in the long term. You can attain that by reducing your intake of added sugars and highly processed foods while increasing your intake of fruits, vegetables, and whole-grain products.
Summary: While you may lose 10 pounds (4.5 kg) in a week on the military diet, not everyone will. Plus, most of this would be water weight rather than fat, which you’ll regain when you start eating as you normally do.
The military diet is an unbalanced and unsafe diet that promises rapid weight loss.
However, since most of the weight you’d lose would be water weight, you’re likely to regain the weight quickly once you return to your habitual eating pattern.
If you’re looking for long-lasting results, focus on making healthy and sustainable dietary changes instead of resorting to fad diets like the military diet, which can harm your health.
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Check this article below on evidence-based weight loss strategies if you’re thinking about losing weight — and most importantly, keeping it off. Be sure to talk with a medical professional before making any major dietary changes.