The Military Diet: Does It Work to Lose Weight Fast?

Some claim that the military diet helps to lose weight quickly and without restrictions. Is this really true? We'll tell you the answer here.
The Military Diet: Does It Work to Lose Weight Fast?
Maria Patricia Pinero Corredor

Reviewed and approved by the nutritionist Maria Patricia Pinero Corredor.

Written by Editorial Team

Last update: 30 June, 2023

The military diet is one of the diet programs that are currently quite popular due to its diffusion through social networks and various media. It’s promoted as an ideal eating model to lose weight quickly, with fewer restrictions and without cutting out food groups.

However, claims about its benefits are being questioned, especially because it has led many users to believe that it’s a sure way to reach the desired weight in just a few weeks. What is there to know about it? Below, we’ll discuss its pros and cons in detail.

What is the military diet?

Also known as the “three-day diet”, the military diet is a diet program that proposes three days of calorie-restricted meals, followed by four days of unrestricted rest. It’s considered an intermittent fasting diet.

Intermittent energy restriction diets alternate periods of reduced caloric intake with periods of unrestricted eating. They range from 60% to 70% energy restrictions or encompass full fasting days.

Those who follow this model are recommended to implement this weekly cycle for up to one month to achieve significant weight loss. This is intended to kick-start the metabolism to achieve a decrease of up to 4.5 kilograms (more than 10 pounds) per week. The latter depends on what is ingested on the days off.

In this regard, it’s worth mentioning that during the first three days, the total energy intake varies between 1100 and 1400 calories per day. After this period, the intake of more balanced meals is encouraged, but not exceeding the energy content. In fact, it’s recommended not to exceed 1600 calories per day.

Despite its name, this diet has nothing to do with any particular army. Popular literature says that it was created by nutritionists of the U.S. Army to get its soldiers in shape in record time. However, there is no evidence to support this claim.

On the contrary, the U.S. Department of Defense made it clear that it does not endorse any meal plan outside of what is set forth in its Warfighter Nutrition Plan, developed specifically to meet the needs of its service members.

We think you may be interested in reading this, too: 4 Formerly Popular Diets that Aren’t Recommended Today

Sample military diet menu

The menus supported by the military diet are usually based on just 16 foods. These are divided between breakfast, lunch, and dinner; moreover, they can be varied in each weekly cycle. However, it’s recommended to reduce the number of calories allowed per day.

That is, if on day 1 the maximum of 1400 calories was chosen, day 3 should be just 1100 calories (the minimum). Water and beverages such as herbal teas should be prioritized over other liquids. Still, coffee is allowed, but without added sweeteners.

Day 1

  • Breakfast: a slice of toast + two tablespoons of peanut butter + half a grapefruit + a cup of tea or coffee (optional).
  • Lunch: a slice of toast + a small portion of tuna (100 grams) + a cup of coffee or tea (also optional).
  • Dinner: a small portion of meat (85 grams) with green beans garnish + a small apple + half a banana + a small cup of vanilla ice cream.

Day 2

  • Breakfast: a slice of toast with a boiled egg + half a banana + a cup of coffee or tea (optional).
  • Lunch: one boiled egg + a small portion of fresh cheese + five crackers + a cup of coffee or tea (optional).
  • Dinner: a small portion of chicken breast (85 grams) with carrots and broccoli garnish + half a banana + half a small cup of vanilla ice cream.

Day 3

  • Breakfast: a 30-gram slice of cheddar cheese + five crackers + a small apple + a cup of coffee or tea (optional).
  • Lunch: a slice of toast + an egg cooked to taste + a cup of coffee or tea (optional).
  • Dinner: a portion of tuna (85 grams) + a portion of broccoli + a glass of apple smoothie.
turkey, tofu, legumes, pineapple, cauliflower, and nuts.Other foods that can be considered in these meals are

What to eat in the remaining 4 days

After the three days of energy restriction, four “free” days follow, when you can vary your diet more. But if the objective is to achieve significant weight loss, it’s recommended that the menus do not exceed 1600 calories per day.

Snacks between the main meals are possible, as long as they do not considerably increase the total energy intake. In addition, meals with little nutritional value should be avoided. Let’s see some recommended ones.

Permitted foods

  • Legumes (beans, lentils, chickpeas, etc.)
  • Milk and dairy products (yogurt, cheese, desserts)
  • Lean meats (beef, chicken, turkey, pork)
  • Vegetables and fruits of any variety
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Fish and seafood
  • Whole grains

Prohibited foods

  • Fried foods
  • Sauces and dressings
  • Sweets and candies
  • Processed meats
  • Sugary drinks
  • Alcoholic beverages
  • Baked goods

Does the military diet work? Here’s what we know about its effects

To date, no research has been done on the military diet. The reason it aids in rapid weight loss is because it involves implementing a fairly calorie-restrictive eating program.

As a study shared in Journal of Obesity & Metabolic Syndrome explains, energy deficit is one of the key components of weight loss diets. The latter is usually based on a daily intake of between 1000 and 1500 calories per day (the military diet is a clear example).

Effective deficits are usually between 500 and 750 calories per day. The downside? These dietary patterns often restrict food groups (such as fats and carbohydrates) and are difficult to maintain over time.

In fact, as discussed in an article shared in Hospital Nutrition, these diets cause more harm than good, as they are based on weight loss rather than fat loss. Therefore, they also induce dehydration and decreased muscle mass.

In the particular case of the military diet, the U.S.-based corporation WebMD warns that its low energy content can also lead to increased feelings of hunger, tiredness, and moodiness.

The military diet is not sustainable

At first, the implementation of the military diet may seem simple for some people, since it’s performed only for a few days. However, it’s still a restrictive plan that cannot be sustained in the long term because it does not promote positive changes in eating behaviors, but quite the opposite.

That said, after the implementation period, the person will quickly regain the lost weight by returning to his or her usual eating pattern. In addition, if you repeat the cycles several times, you may develop health problems that are the product of nutritional deficiencies.

Does this diet help to lose 10 pounds in a week?

Regarding the claims that it helps to lose up to 10 pounds in a week, there are several considerations to be made. The first is that each body is different, so it’s very likely that it will not generate the same impact on everyone.

Often, those who manage to lose that amount of weight in such a short time do so because they maintain a strict caloric deficit, even on the “unrestricted days”. On the other hand, much of the weight lost corresponds to fluids, which are usually regained when the usual diet is resumed.

What happens is that energy restriction leads to a decrease in glycogen stores. Under normal conditions, the body reserves three grams of water for every gram of glycogen stored. Therefore, as its reserves drop, fluid is also lost.

Glycogen is the body’s main source of energy. It’s stored in the liver and muscles, and comes from carbohydrate consumption.

This explains why there is a risk of dehydration when implementing this type of diet plan. That, not to mention its negative effects on muscle mass and health.

We think you may be interested in reading this, too: Beyoncé’s Diet and Workout to Maintain her Figure at 41 Years Old

It doesn’t encourage the practice of physical exercise

One of the guidelines of the military diet – which is actually attractive to some users – is that it eliminates the practice of physical exercise. It’s recommended that physical activity be avoided during the three days when energy intake is minimal.

If anything, exercise should be of minimal impact, such as walking or a short bike ride. The reason? Energy and nutrient restriction lead to weakness. Incorporating exercise thus entails more risks.

Of course, any eating pattern that is not complemented by exercise brings with it health problems in the medium and long term. The practice of this habit is determinant both to lose weight and to maintain it over time. In addition, as cited in a research study shared in Cold Spring Harbor Perspectives in Medicine is key to delaying the onset of more than 40 chronic diseases.

Improving lifestyle and setting realistic goals make successful weight loss possible

The idea of achieving rapid weight loss without much effort is appealing, but unrealistic. As cited in a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention publication, “people who lose weight gradually and steadily (1 to 2 pounds a week) do better at keeping it off.”

Evidence suggests that setting achievable goals, as well as adopting a healthy lifestyle, are key to achieving – and especially maintaining – a healthy weight. In this sense, following extreme diets has no place.

On the contrary, implementing a healthy and balanced dietary pattern, which is not restrictive and ensures an optimal nutrient intake, is essential. In this regard, it should be noted that there is no single program for weight control. The key is to adapt it to individual needs.

Anyway, some strategies have shown benefits for weight loss and weight maintenance at a general level. These are detailed below:

  • Exercise.
  • Eating more slowly.
  • Plan out your meals.
  • Rest and sleep well.
  • Practice relaxation techniques.
  • Avoid drinking alcoholic beverages.
  • Avoid sugar and ultra-processed foods.
  • Prioritize the consumption of water over other beverages.
  • Prioritize the consumption of low glycemic index foods.
  • Seek psychological help if there are difficulties in maintaining healthy eating behaviors.
  • Choose healthy foods, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, protein sources, nuts, canola, and olive oil.

What is there to remember about the military diet?

These days, the military diet is promoted in various media as a “fast track” to lose weight and get a summer body. Since it promises results in a very short time, it appeals to many. However, it’s a restrictive diet whose implementation tends to cause more risks than benefits.

It should be kept in mind that abrupt changes in eating patterns, although they make short-term weight loss possible, are not sustainable over time. Since they’re very restrictive, they can cause nutritional deficiencies, weakness, and loss of muscle mass, among other negative effects.

It’s essential to understand that weight loss requires a multidisciplinary and individualized approach, as it occurs in different ways in each body. Healthy eating and physical exercise are two determinants in this equation. However, these must become a lifestyle and not just a program to be implemented while achieving a goal.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.