The Military Diet: How Safe Is It for Weight Loss?

If you're in a hurry to lose weight, the 3-day military diet promises to be the answer to shedding those unwanted pounds fast. But how safe is it really?


Nicolle Monico
Updated 10 May 2022
The Military Diet: How Safe Is It for Weight Loss?
Claim

The military diet is a safe and effective way to lose weight.

Rating

Mostly False

About this rating


Though individuals who follow the military diet plan will likely lose weight, what they are seeing on the scale is mostly water loss. Regular adherence to this type of diet can lead to harmful health conditions or exacerbate existing ones. The military diet is not a safe way to lose weight and will likely lead to quick weight gain once you've completed the diet.

Sections on this page
  1. What is the Military Diet Plan?
  2. How the Military Diet Plan Works
  3. Is Exercise a Part of the Program?
  4. Research on the Military Diet Plan
  5. Is the Military Diet Plan Safe? 
  6. How to Lose Weight Safely 

Despite its name, the military diet plan has no association with the military, but rumors suggest it got its name from troops wanting a way to lose weight quickly. However, the real story involves a letter to the public in the mid 19th century describing the dangers of obesity and the weight loss benefits of giving up bread, milk, sugar, potatoes, butter, and beer.

Though the fad diet re-emerged in the ‘60s as the “Air Force diet,” no branch of the military has ever officially claimed it. So, what is it exactly? Keep reading to learn more about the military diet, how it works, its effectiveness, the research behind its methods, and how safe it is.

What is the Military Diet Plan?

The 3-day military diet is a low-calorie eating strategy that promises to help you lose up to 10 pounds in one week. It alleges that individuals on the diet can jump start their metabolism by following a set calorie-restrictive meal plan for three days. After those three days, you can resume your normal eating habits for the following four days.

On days 4-7, there are no rules other than trying to eat a well-balanced and healthy diet. For those wanting to continue their weight loss, the diet includes a less restrictive, 1,500-calorie menu to follow on these days (optional).

How the Military Diet Plan Works

The military diet plan is separated into two parts: Days 1-3 and days 4-7. Across the first three days you follow a set eating plan that restricts your daily calorie intake to anywhere from 1,100-1,400 calories.

You’ll have three main meals during the day and are required to avoid any snacking between meals. You’re also limited to a selection of 16 foods that should be divided between breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

The military diet plan may look something like the following:

Meal Day 1 Day 2 Day 3
Breakfast
  • 1/2 grapefruit
  • 1 slice of toast
  • 2 tablespoons of peanut butter
  • 1 cup of coffee or caffeinated tea
  • 1 egg
  • 1 slice of toast
  • 1/2 banana
  • 5 saltine crackers
  • 1 slice of cheddar cheese
  • 1 small apple
Lunch
  • 1/2 cup of tuna
  • 1 slice of toast
  • 1 cup of coffee or caffeinated tea
  • 1 cup of cottage cheese
  • 1 hard-boiled egg
  • 5 saltine crackers
  • 1 hard-boiled egg (or cooked to your preference)
  • 1 slice of toast
Dinner
  • 1/2 cup of tuna
  • 1 slice of toast
  • 1 cup of coffee or caffeinated tea
  • 2 hot dogs (without bun)
  • 1 cup of broccoli
  • 1/2 cup of carrots
  • 1/2 banana
  • 1/2 cup of vanilla ice cream
  • 1 cup of tuna
  • 1/2 banana
  • 1 cup of vanilla ice cream

The only seasonings allowed are salt, pepper, Mrs. Dash, lemon juice, and very minimal amounts of low-calorie condiments such as Frank’s hot sauce. And of course, alcohol is a no-go during the first three days but is okay on the last four.

What’s important to note is that this diet plan falls well below the 2020–2025 United States Dietary Guidelines’ recommended calorie intake for adults which is 1,600–1,800 for women and 2,200–2,400 for men between the ages of 18–60.

Are Substitutions Allowed?

Although the meal plans are pre-set, if you’re a vegetarian or vegan, you can still participate in the diet. For example, instead of hot dogs, you can have tofu or substitute vegan ice cream to avoid dairy.

Any other substitutions should match the item’s calories and not the portion size. This means that if you’re switching out Saltine crackers for gluten-free ones, you’d make sure the number of crackers adds up to the same amount of calories as the Saltines instead of the portion size. 

the Military Diet plan
Example of the military diet plan. (Source: The Military Diet)

Is Exercise a Part of the Program?

Like most diets, incorporating some level of physical activity is recommended on the military diet. However, because individuals are on such a low-calorie diet, the plan only encourages 30 minutes a day of walking for at least five days.

Though you can continue your regular routine (weightlifting, cardio, HIIT), they note that if your workout starts to make you feel dizzy or weak, you should stop your normal regimen during the three days of restricted eating or switch it up with a low-intensity activity. 

Research on the Military Diet Plan

Unfortunately, there isn’t any research on the effectiveness, potential health outcomes, and the safety of the military diet. Further, its long-term success rates haven’t been studied when it comes to weight loss maintenance.

The plan’s website does boast that its method doesn’t slow down your metabolism, but again, this has yet to be scientifically proven. The one aspect of the military diet plan that has been studied is weight loss in a calorie deficit.

Typically, a calorie deficit works to promote weight loss, but this diet doesn’t take into account any coexisting health conditions or how certain medications may be affected by such a low-calorie diet.

Additionally, regularly eating processed foods (e.g., hot dogs, ice cream) may also cause metabolic issues which can increase a person’s risk of chronic diseases. Research shows that consuming minimally processed and whole foods are the key to a healthy eating pattern.

Is the Military Diet Plan Safe? 

In general, the military diet's rapid weight loss goal and extremely low calorie diet is an unbalanced and unsafe plan. Though you will likely lose weight, what you are seeing on the scale is water loss and not actual weight loss. 

The Military Diet is Not Recommended Long-Term

This type of highly restrictive diet is often unsustainable in the long-term and leads to an unhealthy yo-yo effect of weight gain and weight loss. 

Evidence shows that you can lose just as much weight with moderate and continuous calorie restriction, such as this diet which is a form of intermittent fasting. That means you don’t need to starve yourself to obtain your goal weight.

Once you begin to eat regularly or return to your normal eating patterns, those pounds will quickly return.

Because the military diet is unbalanced, when repeated often, it can lead to nutrient deficiencies and other health-related issues. Similar to intermittent fasting, crash diets such as this one may also affect an individual’s relationship with food or exacerbate current eating disorders.

Healthy weight loss considers a person’s specific needs and culture; therefore, no single eating pattern works for everyone. Weight loss strategies should be tailored for optimal success, yet the military diet touts a one-size-fits-all meal plan.

Lastly, sufficient evidence supports slow and steady weight loss is best to support long-term maintenance of your fitness goals. Currently, there is also insufficient evidence to support low-fat diets over other higher-fat dietary interventions when it comes to loss and maintenance. 

How to Lose Weight Safely 

To lose weight safely, the optimal diet plan should be realistic and tailored to each individual. It should be safe, healthy, nutritionally adequate, economically affordable, culturally acceptable, and efficacious. It should also be easy to follow long-term.

the military diet plan

Individuals should also pursue a balanced dietary plan that maintains adequate nutrient intake while gradually lowering their daily calories and increasing physical activity.

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