Does the Military Diet Really Work?

By: Laurie Herr  |  EatingWell.com, November 2016

Find out what you would eat on Military Diet and if you should try it.

Find out what you would eat on Military Diet and if you should try it.

The Military Diet sounds like a weight-loss dream come true: lose up to 10 pounds in three days, eating non-diet-y things like hot dogs and ice cream. No wonder the Military Diet—aka the 3-Day Diet Plan—has been getting lots of buzz these days. But can it really help you lose weight for good, or even drop a few pounds fast for a big day? And is it safe? We took a closer look at the popular diet.
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"Because it's only three days and the calorie levels aren't extremely low, it's probably not going to cause long-term harm," says Jennifer McDaniel, M.S., R.D.N., a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Still, she has serious concerns about the Military Diet's approach (which, despite its name, has no actual military ties). Here's what you need to know.

How the Military Diet Works

Stick to the diet's low-calorie meal plan (around 1,100 to 1,400 calories a day) for three days. Then eat a regular healthy diet the rest of the week. If you want to lose more, hop back on the plan—but never for more than three days in a row. Keep repeating and you can lose up to a whopping 30 pounds in a month, according to the diet's website, which is where you also access the plan.

What You Can Eat

The diet boasts "low-calorie, chemically compatible foods designed to work together and jump-start your weight loss." While it's not clear what that means or if there's science backing this, you do get a fairly balanced mix of fruits, veggies, grains and protein. For instance, Day One breakfast calls for half a grapefruit, toast, peanut butter and coffee or tea. Lunch has more coffee and toast, and ½ cup of canned tuna. For dinner, you get 3 ounces of meat, green beans, an apple, half a banana and a cup of vanilla ice cream. Days Two and Three change things up a little, but you get the idea.

What You Can Drink

The diet encourages drinking lots of water, to help you feel full and stave off hunger. You can also have all the caffeine-free herbal tea you want. Black coffee is fine, but they ask that you swap out the handful of calories (there's a negligible 2 calories per cup) if you want extra. And nix the artificial sweeteners (the diet recommends using stevia).

Required Exercise

None, although the website does give a tip that walking 30 minutes a day will increase your weight loss. However, it also notes that you may feel dizzy, or too weak to exercise.

Pros of the Military Diet

The diet lasts only three days, so you don't feel deprived very long. It's also prescriptive—they tell you exactly what to eat for breakfast, lunch and dinner, so you don't have to think about it. And there are no special meals or shakes to buy, so it's inexpensive and easy to start.
Nutrition-wise, it's OK, McDaniel says. "While the foods aren't necessarily nutrition superstars, there is some variety. It includes foods you might look forward to eating, like ice cream and peanut butter. And each meal contains protein, important for maintaining muscle when you're on a low-calorie diet."

Cons of the Military Diet

First, there's the flashy "10 pounds in three days" promise. "If you're losing that quickly, what you're losing is water weight," McDaniel says. "You can't lose 10 pounds of fat in three days. It's not physiologically possible."
Then there's the menu. "I feel like if my toddlers were to create a meal plan, it might look something like this—only minus the broccoli," McDaniel laughs. "Hot dogs, ice cream, saltine crackers and bananas." And that claim about the "chemically compatible" food combos? All hooey. "Food combining has been a popular concept for weight loss for years, but there's little to no evidence that pairing a hot dog with ice cream topped with bananas is going to boost metabolism," she says. In fact, there's no evidence to suggest that specific food combinations will either help or hurt weight loss. "Our bodies are built to consume nutrients in combination," she adds.
There's also no exercise component. "I do find it interesting that a diet with the title 'military' wouldn't at least recommend strength training," McDaniel says. Along with other well-known benefits of exercise—like boosting your mood and heart health—strength-training can help maintain muscle mass when you're on a low-calorie diet.
But the real problem with the Military Diet? "It's mentally deceiving," McDaniel says. "There's nothing in terms of guidance here," she explains. "If you had a poor diet before, then in four days you'll go back to your poor eating habits, ready to reward yourself." That kind of restrict/reward cycle only sets you up for failure, says McDaniel. "It's an approach that leads to unhealthy relationships—with yourself and with food."

Bottom Line

Pass. This is just another hyped-up diet that's not based on lasting, healthy habits and doesn't have any science to support the food combinations. Would McDaniel recommend it to a friend? Nope. Fad diets, especially ones that last 3 days, may provide short-term results but don't help people lose weight sustainably.
Need a healthy weight-loss plan? Try one of EatingWell's meal plans, developed by culinary and nutrition experts:
1,200-Calorie 7-Day Meal Plan to Lose Weight
1,500-Calorie 7-Day Meal Plan to Lose Weight
1,200-Calorie Clean-Eating Meal Plan