What Is the Military Diet—And Is it Safe?
The Military Diet promises rapid weight loss, but our nutritionist isn’t sold on it. Here’s why.
The Military Diet promises up to a 10-pound weight loss in just one week—and includes foods like hot dogs and ice cream on its eating plan. Advocates suggest that the Military Diet’s approach was created by the United States military as a way to get quick results (hence the name). This is a pretty good marketing technique since characteristics many associate with members of the armed forces—discipline, efficiency, and effectiveness—are also desirable qualities for weight loss.
However, there’s little documentation that this internet-based diet originated in the U.S. military, or if it even has ties to it. There are plenty of established diet plans that promise quick weight loss—like the HMR diet—but is the Military Diet one of them? And is it actually a healthy or safe eating plan to follow? I took a hard look at the Military Diet to find out whether this seemingly faddish diet is really worth your time.
How Does the Military Diet Work?
The Military 3-Day Diet plan is one of the most regimented diets that I’ve ever reviewed for Cooking Light. It’s free to sign up, and participants can download the plan directly from militarydiet.com. The plan is a weekly cycle that includes a three-day meal plan, followed by 4 days off. You can repeat this cycle as many times as you need until your weight loss goal is met.
The three-day menu outlines specifically what foods to eat and how much of them. With offerings like ice cream and hot dogs, the menu items are a bit outside the norm of what you might expect, and individuals are deterred from making substitutions. See below for the Military Diet’s 3-day meal plan, plus the total nutrient intakes for each day.
1025 cal, 38g fat, 14g sat fat, 115g carb, 14g fiber, 65g protein
- Breakfast: ½ grapefruit, 1 slice of toast, 2 tablespoons peanut butter
- Lunch: ½ cup tuna , 1 slice toast
- Dinner: 3 ounces any type of meat, 1 cup green beans, ½ banana, 1 small apple, 1 cup vanilla ice cream
1280 cal, 85g fat, 30g sat fat, 112g carb, 9g fiber, 64g protein
- Breakfast: 1 egg, 1 slice of toast, ½ banana
- Lunch: 1 cup cottage cheese, 1 hard-boiled egg, 5 saltine crackers
- Dinner: 2 hot dogs (without bun), 1 cup broccoli, ½ cup carrots, ½ banana, ½ cup vanilla ice cream
870 cal, 34g fat, 17g sat fat, 91g carb, 8g fiber, 54g protein
- Breakfast: 5 saltine crackers, 1 slice of cheddar cheese, 1 small apple
- Lunch: 1 hard-boiled egg, 1 slice toast
- Dinner: 1 cup tuna, ½ banana, 1 cup vanilla ice cream
*ESHA’s Food Processor analysis software used to generate nutrient analysis for each day.
The 4 days off in the Military Diet (days four to seven) offer a little more flexibility, as individuals can choose their own foods, as long as their daily calorie intake is between 1300 and 1500 calories. During these four days, the plan encourages dieters to eat lean proteins, vegetables, and limited carbohydrates. In addition, one cup of caffeinated coffee or tea is recommended with all breakfasts and lunches.
Is the Military Diet Healthy?
As a self-described “nutrition nerd,” I couldn’t help but analyze the first three days of menus provided using my nutrient analysis software. You’ll see the daily totals at the bottom of each day, and while I can’t describe the intake as “good”, “ideal” or “healthy,” the data was slightly better than I expected. (Or perhaps, I really wasn’t sure what to expect from this very odd combination of foods!)
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However, the average nutrient intake on the three-day plan was below the USDA’s current health recommendations (45-65% of daily calories from carbs, 20-35% from fat, and 15-25% from protein). The Military Diet’s average contributions were 38% from carbohydrates, 39% from fat, 23% from protein.
Total calories are low on all three days of the plan, but extremely low and not capable of meeting energy needs for an adult on at least two of these days. In addition, numerous other nutrients were below the USDA’s recommendations. When you look at daily average intake provided, these include getting only 10g fiber, 10% DV for Vitamin D, 37% DV for calcium, 42% DV for iron, and 40% DV for potassium.
Military Diet Pros
I try to take an objective look when I first approach any diet by looking at the food guidelines, calories, and nutrient facts first rather than jumping on my gut instincts as a dietitian. But finding anything positive regarding the Military Diet ended up being my biggest challenge in diet review yet.
Perhaps the one potential positive that a consumer might find is the diet’s specific prescription for what to eat. While there’s no magical combination of foods that enhance weight loss, I’ve found that many clients do like very defined meal plans—or at least for a few days.
Military Diet Cons
While I struggled to find any positives attributes, I also had to work hard to condense the Military Diet’s negative aspects. Below are what I consider to be the biggest concerns of this diet.
Poor Quality Food Choices
The food prescribed in the three-day menu are unusual and not nutrient-dense choices. Foods associated with disease prevention and overall health—such as produce, beans, whole grains, and healthy oils—are greatly lacking or missing completely, yet foods that are associated with increased health risks—like processed meats (hot dogs) and added sugars (a cup of ice cream every night)—are included.
Lack of Scientific Backing
Who actually created this diet? I can’t find any data on its development, much less any studies on its effectiveness or healthfulness. All of this supports my initial gut instinct that this diet has zero backing in science and health. Also, this diet appears to masquerade under several different names, the Cardiac Diet being one. Search both Cardiac and Military diets, and you’ll find the exact same three-day menu and protocol, although the Cardiac Diet is suggested to be a diet that physicians prescribe to obese patients for quick weight loss.
False Perception of Food Combinations
Because the Military Diet discourages substitutions, some may be led to believe that specific food choices have a “magical” effect to enhance weight loss. The truth is, there’s nothing special or unique about the combination of these foods over the three-day period. In fact, choosing different foods with similar macronutrient profiles would provide the exact results.
Questionable Techniques for Weight Loss
According to its website, the Military Diet works due to its combination of putting the body into a starvation state while consuming fat-burning foods. In fact, the site suggests that the extremely low level of calories is a form of fasting. Research on forms of intermittent fasting has suggested some potential health benefits, but the Military Diet doesn’t follow the same protocol that most research studies have used (going 16 hours without eating or alternating extremely low and moderate calories days, as well as emphasizing nutrient-dense choices when food is consumed).
The diet also suggests that the use of caffeine and fat-burning foods enhances weight loss. While some foods may slightly impact metabolic rate, the effect is extremely minimal—so minimal that it has no real impact on calorie-burning and weight loss.
Final Verdict: Fad Diet or Legitimate Weight Loss Plan?
Here’s the hard truth—the Military Diet is the quintessential definition of a “fad diet,” and it’s an eating plan that I would not recommend or advise anyone to follow. Not only does it provide inadequate nutrients, but the diet’s food choices and food group servings do not follow the guidelines that research suggests to maintain health and prevent disease.
Lastly, does the Military Diet really work? While you may lose weight on this eating plan, a quick drop on the scale is likely a high proportion of water loss, not fat loss. Here’s the final verdict—the Military Diet (and the Cardiac Diet) is definitely one to skip!