The military diet is a restrictive intermittent fasting eating plan that may promote short-term weight loss. But it may be difficult and potentially unsafe to sustain.

The military diet, also called the 3-day diet, is a short-term diet that claims to help you lose up to 10 pounds (lbs) (4.5 kilograms) in 1 week. Despite its name, this diet is not associated with the military.

The diet plan involves a 3-day, calorie-restricted meal plan followed by 4 days off. You can then repeat the cycle for up to 1 month, or until you reach your weight loss goal.

However, no research supports its claimed benefits and severe calorie restrictions may pose health problems.

Keep reading to learn more about the military diet, a sample 3-day meal plan, and the potential benefits and risks.

The 3-day military diet is split into two phases over 7 days.

During the first phase of 3 days, the total calorie intake is roughly 1,100–1,400 calories per day. This makes it a low calorie diet, defined as a dietary pattern that provides 800–1,200 calories per day.

For the remaining 4 days of the week, the military diet simply encourages people to follow a 1,500-calorie diet.

It’s important to note that this kind of calorie restriction falls below the recommended daily calorie intakes of 2,200–2,400 for adult males and 1,600–1,800 for adult females, as outlined in the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2020–2025.

Before making any drastic calorie restrictions, it’s important to speak with a healthcare professional. Not consuming enough calories may lead to a wide range of symptoms and health issues.

The military diet provides a set meal plan for breakfast, lunch, and dinner for the first 3 days, without snacks between meals. Here’s a brief review of what a week on this diet looks like.

The 3-day meal plan

The 3-day meal plan on the military diet consists of 16 foods to be divided between breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

The table below outlines the suggested military diet 3-day meal.

Day 1Day 2Day 3
Breakfast• 1/2 grapefruit
• 1 toast
• 2 tbsp peanut butter
• 1 egg
• 1 toast
• 1/2 banana
• 5 saltine crackers
• 1 slice cheddar cheese
• 1 apple
Lunch• 1/2 cup tuna
• 1 toast
• 1 cup cottage cheese
• 1 hard-boiled egg
• 5 saltine crackers
• 1 egg
• 1 toast
Dinner• 3 oz meat
• 1 cup green beans
• 1/2 banana
• 1 apple
• 1 cup vanilla ice cream
• 2 hot dogs (no bun)
• 1 cup broccoli
• 1/2 cup carrots
• 1/2 banana
• 1/2 cup vanilla ice cream
• 1 cup tuna
• 1/2 banana
• 1 cup vanilla ice cream

The recommended amounts of these 16 foods decrease day by day. Your total calorie intake starts at 1,400 calories on the first day and falls to 1,100 calories on the third day.

The diet permits drinking water, herbal teas, and caffeinated coffee or tea twice per day with no sugar or creamers.

The remaining 4 days

There are no rules for the remaining 4 days of the diet aside from following a healthy eating pattern.

However, a 1,500-calorie menu is provided for those who hope to speed up their weight loss even further. For instance, snacks are permitted during these days, but you’re encouraged to limit your portion sizes.

Keep in mind that eating 1,500 calories per day is still a calorie restriction that may not fit everybody’s energy needs. This is especially true if you lead an active lifestyle, which translates into increased energy expenditure and higher calorie needs.

Additional permitted and ‘forbidden’ foods

The military diet allows substitutions during the 3-day phase, as long as portions match the calorie count. These substitutions may be:

The military diet emphasizes not substituting grapefruits for oranges. Instead, it advises replacing grapefruit with a glass of water with 1/2 teaspoon of baking soda. This is purported to help alkalinize your body and reduce body fat.

However, research shows that while some foods increase your body’s acid load, your kidneys can excrete the excess acid through urine. Thus, your dietary choices have little effect on your body’s acidity or alkalinity levels.

What’s more, animal-based protein foods such as the ones permitted in the diet are the type of foods that tend to increase your body’s acidic load, making this recommendation a bit contradictory.

Furthermore, there’s no evidence supporting the use of baking soda to reduce body fat.

There are currently no studies on the military diet.

Although a calorie deficit is generally required to achieve weight loss, the military diet doesn’t consider other factors that could affect weight loss, such as:

  • lifestyle habits
  • underlying health conditions
  • taking certain medications
  • genetics
  • sleeping habits

A 2018 review suggests that a calorie deficit of 500–600 calories is a sustainable way to lose 0.5 kilograms (kg) (1.1 lbs) per week. For adults, this is around 1,500–1,800 daily calories for males and 1,200–1,500 for females.

These moderate calorie restrictions are the opposite of the military diet’s heavy restrictions.

What’s more, a 2017 review found that moderate and continuous calorie restriction is just as effective for weight loss as intermittent extreme energy restrictions, such as 3 days on and 4 days off. This means you shouldn’t starve yourself to lose weight.

Lastly, proponents of the military diet claim that the specific food combinations in the meal plan increase your metabolism and burn fat. However, there’s no research to support these claims.

Caffeine may be the one component of the military diet that could help promote body weight and fat loss.

The military diet is unbalanced. Repeating the cycle multiple times could lead to health issues, such as nutrient deficiencies.

A 2014 review also suggests that dramatic calorie reductions — even for short periods, such as in the case of the military diet — may create or worsen unhealthy eating patterns, poor relationships with food, or disordered eating.

What’s more, regularly eating processed foods like hot dogs, crackers, and ice cream has been associated with several health conditions, such as:

A healthy eating pattern should include whole and minimally processed foods, such as:

The military diet doesn’t promote positive, long-term habit changes. That means any weight that’s lost can be quickly regained once you return to your habitual eating pattern.

Setting realistic weight loss goals and aiming for lifestyle changes rather than short-term fad diets is essential for successful weight loss, weight maintenance, and the prevention of weight regain.

The military diet became popular because proponents claimed that it could help you lose 10 lbs in 1 week.

However, most of the weight loss you experience will be due to the loss of water. That’s because severe calorie restrictions lead to a decline in the body’s glycogen stores — your body’s energy reserve.

When you eat sufficient calories, fluid accumulates easily because around 3 grams (g) of water are stored for every 1 g of stored glycogen. Consequently, when your glycogen stores are depleted, the related stored water is lost as well.

Once you return to your normal diet, you can easily regain any lost weight because your glycogen stores will get replenished again.

If you intend to lose weight, remember that weight management consists of achieving weight loss and maintaining it. Best practices advise aiming for a weight loss rate of 1–2 lbs (0.5–1 kg) weekly to ensure fat loss rather than the loss of fluid or muscle mass.

It’s important to note that rapid weight loss may pose potential risks, especially if the weight loss is lean body mass. Some complications may include malnutrition, fatigue, loss of strength, and slower basal metabolic rate.

How much weight can you lose on a 3-day military diet?

The amount of weight you lose on a 3-day military diet will vary for each person. The proponents of the diet claim you can lose up to 10 lbs. However, it’s important to note that this is likely to be mostly water weight, rather than fat.

What foods can you not eat on the military diet?

The military diet doesn’t explicitly mention foods to avoid. However, it provides a specific shopping list of foods to buy.

The military diet is a low calorie diet that promotes weight loss. However, it’s an unbalanced and unsafe diet.

Since most of the weight you’d lose would be water weight, you’re likely to regain the weight quickly once you return to your habitual eating pattern.

If you’re looking for long-lasting results, focus on making healthy and sustainable dietary changes instead of resorting to fad diets like the military diet, which can harm your health.

Just one thing

Check this article on evidence-based weight loss strategies if you’re thinking about losing weight — and most importantly, keeping it off. Be sure to talk with a medical professional before making any major dietary changes.

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