What is the military diet and does it really work?

When you hear the term “military diet,” you probably imagine it to be a diet that replicates the meal plan or eating habits of those in the armed forces. However, military diet is not actually associated with the military; rather, it’s a fad diet popularized on social media.

The military diet is designed to be a quick fix for weight loss, a way to quickly lose a significant amount of weight. As such, there are real concerns about the safety and sustainability of the military diet.

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Whether you’ve seen the viral social media posts of people touting their weight loss successes on the military diet or you want to lose weight fast (we caution you against this) and want to learn more on the military diet, keep reading for our guide to the military diet, including what the diet involves and whether the military diet is actually safe and effective.

What is the military diet?

Slice of ruby ​​red grapefruit.
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The military diet is a fad diet that’s supposed to help you lose weight fast — up to 10 pounds (4.5 kg) in a week and 30 pounds in a month — by restricting calories and speeding up your metabolism.

The military diet is high in protein and low in total calories, fat and complex carbohydrates. The metabolic increase is said to come from eating certain combinations of foods prescribed in the meal plan.

The military diet is all about changing what you eat and drink. It’s a free program and there are no supplements to take or specific products to buy.

How to follow the military diet?

The military diet is a version of an emergency diet as well as a macro version of intermittent fasting. It involves following a low-calorie diet for three days followed by four days of free meals. That said, the four-day “eat free” phase still has a set meal plan, but it’s less restrictive than the first three days.

Participants are encouraged to follow this weekly pattern for a full month (three days of restricted eating followed by four days off).

During the restricted three-day phases of the diet, your food intake is limited to three meals (breakfast, lunch, and dinner) with no snacks between meals. The total daily caloric intake amounts to approximately 1,100 to 1,400 calories (1,400 calories on the first day, 1,200 calories on the second day, and 1,100 calories on the third day), which classifies the military diet as a low-calorie diet . Note that any diet that limits daily caloric intake to 800-1,200 calories is classified as a low calorie diet.

Additionally, there is a recommended meal plan for “free days,” but it still only provides 1,500 calories per day.

What can you eat on the military diet?

Bowl of raw broccoli.
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The military diet consists of two phases: a restricted three-day meal plan followed by four less restrictive days.

During the restricted phase, you can only eat 16 foods. In other words, your three meals are limited to the same choices of 16 potential foods, and you can select what you want to eat from those foods.

Foods allowed on the military diet include:

  • whole wheat bread
  • Savory biscuits
  • Grapefruit
  • Apples
  • Bananas
  • Eggs
  • Peanut Butter
  • cheddar cheese
  • cottage cheese
  • canned tuna
  • Green beans
  • Carrots
  • Broccoli
  • Hot dogs (no bread)
  • Small piece of meat
  • Small amount of vanilla ice cream

What can you drink on the military diet?

The military diet encourages drinking water or herbal tea. You are also allowed to drink caffeinated tea or coffee up to twice a day, but you cannot add creamers, sugars or other sweeteners.

Cup of herbal tea.
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military diet

There is some flexibility in terms of what you eat, but if you follow the recommendations, here’s what the military diet meal plan looks like:

Day 1

Breakfast

  • 1/2 grapefruit, unsweetened
  • 1 slice of whole wheat bread
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted peanut butter with no added sugar
  • 1 cup caffeinated black coffee or tea

Lunch

  • 1/2 cup canned tuna in water
  • 1 slice of whole wheat bread
  • 1 cup caffeinated black coffee or tea

Having dinner

  • 3 ounces of any meat
  • 1 cup green beans
  • 1 small apple
  • 1/2 banana
  • 1 cup vanilla ice cream

Day 2

Breakfast

  • 1 egg, poached, hard-boiled or scrambled with nothing added
  • 1 slice of whole wheat bread
  • 1/2 banana

Lunch

  • 1 hard-boiled egg
  • 1 cup cottage cheese
  • 5 saltine crackers

Having dinner

  • 2 hot dogs without the buns
  • 1 cup broccoli
  • 1/2 cup carrots
  • 1/2 banana
  • 1/2 cup vanilla ice cream

Day 3

Breakfast

  • 5 saltine crackers
  • 1 ounce slice of cheddar cheese
  • 1 small apple

Lunch

  • 1 hard-boiled egg
  • 1 slice of whole wheat bread

Having dinner

  • 1 cup canned tuna in water
  • 1/2 banana
  • 1 cup vanilla ice cream

For those who follow a plant-based diet (vegans and vegetarians, for example), the three-day meal plan for the military diet consists of the following elements:

Half avocado in a bowl.
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Day 1

Breakfast

  • 1/2 natural grapefruit
  • 1 slice of whole wheat bread
  • 2 tablespoons peanut butter
  • 1 cup caffeinated black coffee or tea

Lunch

  • 1/2 avocado
  • 2 tablespoons of hummus
  • 1 slice of whole wheat bread
  • 1 cup caffeinated black coffee or tea

Having dinner

  • 1 cup tofu (up to 300 calories)
  • 1 cup green beans
  • 1/2 banana
  • 1 small apple
  • 1 cup vegan vanilla ice cream

Day 2

Breakfast

  • 1/2 cup baked beans
  • 1 slice of whole wheat bread
  • 1/2 banana

Lunch

  • 1 cup unsweetened soy, hemp, or almond milk
  • 1/2 avocado
  • 2 tablespoons of hummus
  • 5 saltine crackers

Having dinner

  • 2 vegan hot dogs without the buns
  • 1 cup broccoli
  • 1/2 cup carrots
  • 1/2 banana
  • 1/2 cup vegan vanilla ice cream

Day 3

Breakfast

  • 15–20 almonds
  • 5 saltine crackers
  • 1 small apple

Lunch

  • 1/2 avocado
  • 1 tablespoon of hummus
  • 1 slice of whole wheat bread

Having dinner

  • 1/2 cup canned chickpeas
  • 1/2 banana
  • 1 cup vegan vanilla ice cream

After the three-day restricted phase on the omnivorous or plant-based military diet, you can theoretically eat whatever you want as long as you follow a healthy diet. That said, there is a suggested 1,500 calorie diet to follow.

Does the military diet work?

Weight loss scale.
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To date, there are no research studies demonstrating the effectiveness of the military diet. However, a calorie deficit is necessary for weight loss, so theoretically it is possible to lose weight on the military diet provided your metabolic needs exceed the number of calories you consume (1,100 to 1,400 per day).

However, the military diet claims participants can lose up to 10 pounds in a week. It is important to note that this is neither healthy fat loss nor true fat loss.

Although some people lose maybe 10 pounds depending on the scale, a lot of that is just water weight rather than fat loss. To lose one pound of body fat, you need to create a 3,500 calorie deficit, which basically means you need to eat 3,500 fewer calories than you burn. Therefore, to lose 10 pounds of fat, you must create a deficit of 35,000 calories per week. That equates to 5,000 calories a day, which frankly is next to impossible. You should exercise intensely for most of the day and consume almost nothing, which would not be sustainable, advised or healthy at all. So while you can lose weight and lose fat on the military diet, much of the downward movement you see on the scale is water loss from eating less salt, sugar, alcohol, processed foods and overall food mass.

Is the military diet healthy?

As mentioned, the military diet is a calorie-restricted diet because it limits caloric intake to around 1,200 calories per day. This intake is well below the recommended daily caloric intake for adults according to the USA Dietary Guidelines 2020-2025. According to these recommendations, adult men should aim for a minimum of 2,200 to 2,400 calories while adult women should aim for 1,600 to 1,800 calories per day.

The military diet also includes highly processed foods like hot dogs and foods with very low nutritional value, such as salty and vanilla ice cream, and is very low in fiber.

How can I lose weight without the military diet?

Workout equipment like shoes, mat, and weights.
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A more sensible and sustainable approach to weight loss is to follow a low-calorie diet with a moderate calorie deficit created by reducing calorie intake and exercise. For example, to lose one pound of fat per week, you need to create a daily calorie deficit of 500 calories, which can be accomplished by increasing your physical activity to expend an additional 250 calories and reducing your current calorie intake by 250 calories. When it comes to your diet, focus on nutritious, whole, unprocessed foods like vegetables, fruits, lean proteins, eggs, low-fat dairy products, nuts, seeds, and healthy oils .

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Maria D. Ervin