Everything You Need To Know About The Military Diet, According To A Nutritionist
Despite its name, the Military Diet is by no means designed by or for the United States military, nor is it designed by or for any armed forces, anywhere. In fact, the name refers to "the kind of discipline you’ll need to get through it," per the official website.
The main claim to fame is that by following this regimented plan for one full week, you’ll lose up to 10 pounds. The problem: That weight will come back almost instantly afterward, and the diet itself can prove dangerous and damaging in the long term.
What is the Military Diet?
The site claims that this eating style is a "bootcamp for your body," splitting up your week into three days of extremely restrictive calorie intake (1,000-1,200 calories per day) followed by four days of still astoundingly low calorie intake (1,300-1,500 calories per day). Hence the other nickname: the 3-day diet.
The first half of the week requires following a specific menu and only making approved (yet completely arbitrary) substitutions. Here’s what a sample meal plan looks like:
- Breakfast: 1/2 grapefruit; 1 slice of toast; 2 tablespoons peanut butter; 1 cup coffee or tea
- Lunch: 1/2 cup tuna; 1 slice of toast; 1 cup coffee or tea
- Dinner: 3 ounces meat; 1 cup green beans; 1/2 banana; 1 small apple; 1 cup vanilla ice cream
During days 4-7, the diet calls for avoiding sneaky sources of added sugar, like cereals and beverages, and other foods that are easy to eat lots of, like potato chips, French fries, beer, and pizza.
Does it work?
You may not lose 10 pounds in a week, but you’ll certainly lose some based on the calorie deficit created by taking less in than you're burning. But that doesn’t mean it’s worth your while. In fact, I’d strongly urge you to avoid it.
Not only will the weight almost certainly come back, this old-school restrictive plan divorces us from the realities of our everyday lives. If you want to lose weight and keep it off, you have to learn how to eat, not just what to eat, in ways that work for you.
And despite the fact that all weight-loss diets rely on the calories in, calories out principle, the Military Diet claims it's also a form of "intermittent fasting," and the foods in the plan will "kickstart your metabolism."
Let’s clarify those for just a sec:
Intermittent fasting: The idea is to give all vital organs, hormones, and metabolic functions a break to help them perform better, but there’s no real science to back up this commonly dispelled theory. Your vital organs, unless you’re in a medically compromised state, don’t need time off! Plus, the military diet doesn't even set limits on when you can and cannot eat during the day — an universal tenant of actual intermittent fasting plans.
Kickstarting your metabolism: Yes, foods and beverages with caffeine or certain antioxidants and spices can elevate your metabolism — but the effects last about 30 minutes and raise it only a teensy little amount. Since the results are negligible, that’s not why you’ll lose weight on this very low-calorie diet, and it's simply propagating an age-old myth that specific foods cause a greater calorie burn than others.
FACT: The only real, lasting way to enhance your metabolism is to build lean body mass, like with weight-bearing exercises.
Those aren't the only questionable aspects. Here's what else gives me pause:
- The meal plan is arbitrary: Just look at the portion sizes. You can have only 3 ounces of lean beef, but dessert on this "low-sugar" diet is a full cup of ice cream — double the standard serving size.
- The “substitutions” are meaningless: If you don’t like toast, you’re allowed half of a protein bar, which is royally illogical. The calorie difference depends on the size of the bread, not to mention the fact that one is a whole grain, while the other is a synthetic protein source!
- Specific recommendations are dangerous: Another suggested food swap? Trading your half grapefruit for water with baking soda, which is completely futile for weight loss (at best) and cause gastrointestinal side effects and possible medication interactions at worst.
Plus, the diet places strict limits on total calories, even from nutrient-dense sources like veggies and fruit. But we consistently have bigger, better evidence to show that weight loss over time is more about the nutritional quality of the food (veggies, fruit, lean protein sources, whole grains, and healthy fats) versus counting a specific number of calories, which, while effective temporarily, can lead to weight cycling over time.
Even if you drop a few pounds quickly, gaining it back and staying in this cycle of "binge-restrict-lose weight-binge-restrict some more" is linked to obesity, depression, chronic disease risk, and sets up your metabolism for long-term health complications. Ultimately, the plan talks a big game about how well it "works," without realizing that anything you can’t sustain for longer than three days to one week is bad news for weight loss.
Is it so bad if I just do it for a week?
Check with your doctor before starting something like this, because yes, it can be dangerous depending on who you are, your current lifestyle, and any medications you’re taking. But it’s dangerous for two other reasons affecting long-term health and weight management.
- It’s too restrictive to meet nutritional needs: For most of adults, limiting calories to 1,000 per day is far too few to do so in a safe and consistent way over time, and puts you at risk for micronutrient deficiencies.
- You have to do other things in your life besides "diet." It’s not feasible for many of us to simply set arbitrary limitations that keep us from enjoying and living our most fulfilled lives.
The Bottom Line
Eating 1,000 calories per day can backfire, in large part because it confuses your metabolism and can cause weight cycling when you practice extreme restriction followed by (eventual) binging. FYI: I don’t mean the 1,500 calories, 4 days a week "binging" — I mean the type when you finally say, "ENOUGH!" and stop this diet loop. That’s what makes the risks outweigh the temporary benefits. Weight cycling is linked to long-term risk of chronic disease, depression, and potentially permanent damage to your metabolic function — placing an additional barrier to any weight loss or weight maintenance efforts over time.
For most of us: 1,000 calories per day is survival, not sustenance.