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The military diet is a tough plan to follow, but it will achieve short-term results.
The military diet is a 3-day eating plan with a strict food list. It is then followed by 4 days of eating a low calorie diet of your choice. Nutritional therapist Aneequa Godart (opens in new tab) says: “Also known as the 3-day diet, the military diet is a quick weight loss plan based on set low-calorie, high protein meals that claim to help you lose up to 10lb in one week. However, whilst you may lose weight, it is worth bearing in mind that 'crash' diets are not sustainable in the long-term. Plus, losing water weight in the military diet is what usually gives people quick and noticeable results.”
If you're looking for a diet that works (opens in new tab) fast, this could be considered a quick fix - but, be warned it's an extreme diet (opens in new tab) and very restrictive. It's not a good or healthy long-term plan.
It should also be noted that, despite the name, the military diet was not created by US forces and it's not linked to any other credible dietary authorities. And, there are no scientific studies to back up the suggestion that the Military diet could actually lead to 10lbs of weight loss in seven days.
What is the military diet plan?
The military diet plan requires following three days of a strictly prescribed diet. This is then followed by four days of eating whatever you like, as long as it is below 1,500 calories. It suggests completing the cycle as many times as you want.
Despite its name, the military diet has nothing to do with the armed forces. It's believed it earnt this name, as it's a tough plan to follow and requires a lot of discipline.
During the first three days of the diet, followers are advised to gradually reduce their daily calorie intake - beginning with 1,400, then 1,200, and finally 1,100 calories.
Overall, this diet is high in protein and low in fat and carbohydrates.
How does the military diet work?
The military diet works as a result of three factors: it is low in calories, it is a form of intermittent fasting and the combination of foods on the plan have been put together to optimise weight loss. Each of these elements in isolation would help to burn fat and boost your metabolism, but together they speed up the process.
While there are currently no specific studies available about the military diet, research has been carried out into its various claims:
It's a low calorie plan - Followers of the military diet experience an extreme calorie deficit because they are eating far fewer calories than the number of calories they're burning each day (opens in new tab). With the average person burning over 1,800 calories each day, for example:
Day one: 1,400 calories (400 calorie deficit) Day two: 1,200 calories (600 calorie deficit) Day three: 1,100 calories (700 calorie deficit)
Followers of any extreme diet like this will notice a rapid weight loss at first, but this is hard to maintain - and could lead to weight gain (opens in new tab) further down the line. Nutritional therapist Aneequa Godart explains, “During an initial couple of weeks after starting a low calorie diet you will lose weight fast. If you are consuming less calories than the body is burning, it will start to dip into its energy store of glycogen and deplete this before turning to fat. It may look as though the pounds are coming off easily as glycogen is bound to water, which is released when the glycogen is used, hence the term 'water weight'. After the glycogen stores are depleted, the weight loss will stabilise and appear slower.”
Aneequa Godart also cautions that low calorie diets should be seen as short-term solutions for weight loss. She told us: “Restricting calories can lead to metabolic changes in the body which can increase hunger hormones such as ghrelin and cortisol. This can lead to a greater chance of regaining the weight, which can become a cycle and be detrimental to a person's mental health too.”
Involves intermittent fasting - The second reason the military diet works is because it is a form of intermittent fasting, as participants are consuming a very low number of calories for the first three days. Research (opens in new tab) has shown that intermittent fasting - going for longer periods without food - can be an effective way to lose weight. This is because it allows the body the chance to process the nutrients stored in foods and burns away calories.
It should be noted, however, that other popular intermittent fasting diets do not require followers to go without food - or a minimal amount of calories - for such a lengthy period of time. Rather than the three days outlined in this plan followers of the 5.2 diet (opens in new tab) for example only restrict their diet for one day at a time. And, the 16:8 diet (opens in new tab) requires people to refrain from eating for 16 hours. Fasting for a much longer period of time can have the opposite effect on desired weight loss.
Aneequa Godart explains: “There is evidence to show that intermittent fasting can boost your metabolism in the short term by decreasing insulin levels and increasing the hormone norepinephrine. This can help you burn fat and therefore lose weight, however fasting for longer periods will have the opposite effect on your metabolism.”
The combination of foods - According to the military diet website, 'the foods in the military diet plan kick start your metabolism and promote fat burning'. It gives examples such as caffeine from coffee raising the metabolism slightly, helping the body to burn fat. Meanwhile, grapefruit kick starts the liver into fat burning mode. Plus, high protein foods like peanut butter, eggs and tuna require more energy from the body to process, so they burn more fat to digest. It also says apples are high in pectin, so it limits the amount of fat your cells can absorb.
However, while we know that some of these claims are true. For example, researchers have found that caffeine does increase metabolism and studies have discovered that diets high in protein can help with weight loss, there is currently no research to suggest that eating these particular foods together are beneficial.
Aneequa Godart argues there is still not enough research into these specific claims. She told us: “Overall, there is some truth to these claims. However, there is not enough research to fully support their connection with fat loss. Whilst it is true that caffeine can increase your metabolic rate and fat burning, your body can become used to the effect and it will stop working.
“Grapefruit has a variety of benefits, but more research is needed to support its connection with weight loss. It's also worth bearing in mind that this fruit can interact with a number of medications.
"Similarly, pectin found in apples can delay stomach emptying which keeps you fuller for longer and may aid weight loss. But stronger evidence is required to back up any claims of apples as a fat busting food.”
The military diet meal plan and shopping list
Here is the meal plan and shopping list for the first three days of the military diet:
Breakfast 1/2 grapefruit 1 slice of toast 2 tablespoons of peanut butter 1 cup coffee or tea (with caffeine)
1/2 cup of tuna 1 slice of toast 1 cup coffee or tea (with caffeine)
3 ounces of any type of meat 1 cup of green beans 1/2 banana 1 small apple 1 cup of vanilla ice cream
Breakfast 1 egg 1 slice of toast 1/2 banana
Lunch 1 cup of cottage cheese 1 hard boiled egg (or cooked however you like) 5 saltine crackers/rice cakes
Dinner 2 hot dogs (without bun) 1 cup of broccoli 1/2 cup of carrots 1/2 banana 1/2 cup of vanilla ice cream
5 saltine crackers/rice cakes 1 slice of cheddar cheese 1 small apple
Lunch 1 hard boiled egg (or cooked however you like) 1 slice of toast
Dinner 1 cup of tuna 1/2 banana 1 cup of vanilla ice cream
Coffee or tea 1 grapefruit 2 bananas 2 apples Bread - whole wheat Peanut butter Eggs 3 cans tuna Hot dogs Small piece of meat, your choice Green beans: frozen, canned or fresh Small head of broccoli Carrots Saltine crackers/Rice cakes Cottage cheese Small amount of cheddar cheese Vanilla ice cream
Military diet cons and pros
✅ Helps to lose weight quickly
The combined factors of a low calorie diet, with intermittent fasting and fat-burning foods, help people on the military diet to lose weight quickly. But, as outlined above, a lot of this is probably water weight - and followers will struggle to keep it off when they return to eating normally.
Aneequa Godart also offers a word of caution about using strict intermittent fasting techniques in the long term. She told us, "This type of restrictive eating can lead to disordered eating patterns which may cause the individual to binge-eat on their days off leading to weight gain. Skipping meals can also cause headaches and nausea. I would always recommend my clients to stick to a balanced, healthy diet to ensure they are getting all of their nutrients and have a healthy relationship with food, and again use intermittent fasting as a short-term and occasional fast if desired.”
✅ Straight-forward shopping list
One of the things that many people struggle with when starting a new diet is buying and preparing all of the required food.
In contrast, the military diet is straight-forward to follow and has an easy shopping list. All of the food required for the first three days can be bought in any high street supermarket.
Aneequa Godart says: “The Military diet is easy to follow as set meal plans are provided and require minimal preparation with affordable, everyday foods.”
Participants also do not have to spend a long time preparing meals.
✅ A flexible, healthy diet on the four days off
During the four days off participants are given more freedom to eat what they like. However, the plan recommends sticking to 1500 calories a day in order to continue your weight loss.
While 1500 calories is still lower than the recommended daily allowance, there are still plenty of healthy meals you can make, such as these low calorie lunch ideas (opens in new tab).
❌ Can be difficult to stick to
The military diet is believed to have been given its name because of the discipline needed to stick to it.
Very restrictive diet plans can often be difficult to keep up with, as they can lead to hunger and unpleasant side effects.
The lack of variety and small portion sizes in the military diet could easily lead to boredom or frustration.
This study (opens in new tab) into the physiological, psychological and behavioural outcomes of caloric restriction in humans found that it is a challenge for most individuals to stick to because of the food-focused environment we live in.
❌ A lack of nutrients
The food list for the 3-day military plan is quite limited and doesn’t include a great variety of nutrients.
For example, the NHS recommends that you eat a minimum of five portions of fruit and vegetables a day.
The military diet also includes processed foods, such as hot dogs and others that are high in salt, such as saltine crackers.
So while it may help you to lose weight, it is not necessarily healthy.
❌. Side effects
Eating a very low calorie diet can be difficult, especially if you are an active person who burns lots of calories in your day-to-day activities.
Some participants on the military diet have reported feeling tired or nauseous.
Aneequa Godart also warns that these kinds of diets can have more serious consequences if followed long-term.
She says: “After 4-12 weeks you might notice side effects such as fatigue, constipation and nausea.
“But more serious effects of following this diet for over 12 weeks can include gall stones, nutrient deficiencies and a weakened immune system. Plus it can have a negative impact on your metabolism and fertility in the long run too.”
Is the military diet safe?
While the military diet is considered to be safe to follow short term, it should not be seen as a long-term solution to weight loss. It should therefore just be used as a quick fix diet or in order to kickstart a more long-term healthy eating plan.
Aneequa Godart says: “This diet is not likely to do harm in the short-term, but you may be lacking in nutrients so it requires careful planning if you choose to undertake it.
“There is a lack of fresh fruit and vegetables included, meaning that vital micronutrients in the form of vitamins and minerals will be missing.
"Many of the recommended foods are also highly processed, such as crackers or hot dogs. Processed foods have been linked to chronic illness and heart disease, so it is best to keep these to a minimum.”
The military diet: a nutritionist's verdict?
Nutritional therapist Aneequa Godart says:
“As a nutritionist, I personally would not recommend the military diet as it is not scientifically backed and there is evidence to show that crash diets can lead to an unhealthy relationship with food and binge eating.
“This diet is restrictive and an unrealistic way of eating in the long term. As well as nutritional deficiencies and the promotion of processed foods which can lead to chronic disease, this diet can result in an unhealthy relationship with food and disordered eating.
“It might sound like a good idea to combine a number of foods which have individual benefits to weight loss, but there are essential nutrients missing from the military diet. A healthy diet requires a balance of carbs, protein, healthy fats plus fresh fruits and vegetables for antioxidants.
“The best way to long-term and consistent weight loss is a well-balanced diet including lean protein, healthy fats, complex carbohydrates plus fruit and vegetables for those all important vitamins and minerals.
“Reducing sugar and alcohol, and adding movement to your daily routine will also help you achieve long-term results.”
What can I drink on the 3 day military diet?
On the 3 day military diet you can drink water, coffee and decaffeinated herbal teas. As the NHS (opens in new tab) advises, you should always aim for 6 to 8 glasses of water a day. Coffee, which is proven (opens in new tab) to speed up your metabolism, should be drunk black if possible, with no artificial sweeteners. You can also drink as much decaffeinated herbal tea as you like.
What can I eat on my four days off?
For the last four days of the military diet, you can eat whatever you want, as long as it is below 1,500 calories. As the first 3 days of the diet does not provide a wide variety of nutrients, you should make sure that you are getting a good balance of protein, healthy carbohydrates and vitamins.
You might also like:
- Low calorie breakfasts (opens in new tab)
- Low calorie lunches (opens in new tab)
- Low calorie meals (opens in new tab)
- Low calorie vegetarian meals (opens in new tab)
- Low calorie filling foods (opens in new tab)
- Low calorie snacks (opens in new tab)
- Low calorie fruits (opens in new tab)
- Low calorie alcoholic drinks (opens in new tab)
- Low calorie wines (opens in new tab)
- Low calories beers (opens in new tab)
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Emily-Ann Elliott is an experienced online and print journalist, with a focus on health, travel, and parenting. After beginning her career as a health journalist at The Basingstoke Gazette, she worked at a number of regional newspapers before moving to BBC News online. She later worked as a journalist for Comic Relief, covering stories about health and international development, as well as The Independent, The i, The Guardian, and The Telegraph. Following the birth of her son with neonatal meningitis, Emily-Ann has a particular interest in neonatal health and parental support. Emily-Ann has a degree in English literature from the University of Newcastle and has NCTJ and NCE qualifications in newspaper journalism.
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