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how does the military diet work

The Military Diet: Pros, Cons, and Foods

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If you’re looking to lose weight fast, you may have come across the military diet. People claim to have lost up to 10 pounds in a week! But is it all too good to be true?

In this definitive guide, we’ll take you through exactly how the military diet works, what the meal plan looks like, the pros and cons, whether it is right for your goals and even a shopping list to get you started. 

We’ll break down the science of weight loss to see whether the military diet is really worth the hype, and cover the following topics:

Before you jump in, learning about nutrition and health is a highly effective way at improving your fitness and maintaining healthy weight loss so take a look at OriGym’s level 4 advanced sports nutrition course.

Download our FREE course prospectus to find out everything you need to know about our courses and packages!

What Is The Military Diet?

how does the military diet work

Also known as the 3-day diet or the military crash diet, it is a quick weight loss programme based on set low-calorie meals. It requires you to follow 3 days of a set meal plan, followed by 4 days of less restrictive but still low-calorie meals. 

You can continue repeating this weekly structure until you reach your weight loss goal.

The 3-day military diet is based on food that is low in calories and high in protein. There are no snacks in the military diet, and you can only drink coffee, herbal tea or water. 

Fortunately, green tea has a whole host of health benefits so it’s definitely worth drinking regularly!

There are substitutions for everything on the menu, so you can adapt it to a vegetarian, vegan or gluten-free diet.

The programme is based on principles of portion control, calorie deficit and calorie counting. It is an intense weight loss regime, so there are several side effects of the military diet to consider before starting the programme, which will be discussed later in this article.

Despite the name, the military weight loss diet does not actually refer to how people in the army eat! Many say that it originated from the diet that the British Military used to implement to get soldiers to quickly lose weight. 

But there is no evidence for this, and it is not affiliated with or endorsed by any branch of the army. The word ‘military’ likely just refers to the discipline and motivation required to follow it!

Tracking your food with OriGym's FREE food diary will help your weight loss journey!

How Does The Military Diet Work?

military diet results

The military diet is made up of two parts: 3 days of a strict meal plan, followed by 4 days ‘off’. You are encouraged to follow the military diet food plan accurately to get the best results.

You may be wondering: how many calories are allowed in the military diet? 

During the first 3 days, you follow a low-calorie meal plan of around 1100-1400 calories per day. As the diet is based on calorie counting, the 3-day military diet menu is very strict in the quantity that you can eat, with specific measurements given for each meal. There are three meals per day (breakfast, lunch, and dinner) and no snacks in the military diet.

Many people also wonder whether you can drink water on the military diet. The answer is yes, of course! Apart from that, you can only drink black coffee (unsweetened or with Stevia only) or herbal tea.

On the remaining 4 days of the week, you do not have to follow a set meal plan. However, you are encouraged to still keep your daily calories to under 1500 during this time to maintain the results from the previous 3 days.

The military diet claims to help you lose weight on the basis that calorie restriction will lead to weight loss. Although being in a calorie deficit (consuming fewer calories than you are expending) does indeed promote weight loss, the weight you lose in the military diet is usually just water weight, rather than fat loss. 

Read up on the different types of fat to better understand how to lose fat properly.

This is not sustainable in the long-term, but losing water weight in the military diet is what gives people quick and noticeable results.  

The particular choice foods on the military diet menu are also claimed to be designed to work together to speed up your metabolism and kick start weight loss. However, this theory has not been scientifically proven! 

We will be discussing the research and science behind the diet’s claims later in this article.

What Foods Are Acceptable In The Military Diet?

military diet calories

There is only a set amount of foods that you can eat in the first 3-days of the military diet. They are:

  • Meat
  • Bananas
  • Vanilla ice cream
  • Hot dogs
  • Eggs - there are a lot of health benefits of eating eggs!
  • Saltines
  • Cottage and cheddar cheese
  • Bread
  • Broccoli
  • Apple
  • Tuna
  • Grapefruit
  • Green beans
  • Black coffee or herbal tea

You cannot drink alcohol, or have milk and sugar in your hot drinks. In the military diet, there are no snacks permitted in-between meals.

You can make substitutions for all of the foods in the military diet plan if you follow a vegetarian, vegan or gluten-free diet. Some suggested 3-day military diet plan substitutions include:

  • Swapping meat products for tofu
  • Swapping vanilla ice cream for dairy-free ice cream
  • Swapping saltines for gluten-free crackers

During the remaining 4 days of the week, you do not have to follow a set meal plan. You can have snacks and any kind of drink. However, you are encouraged to still keep your total daily calories to under 1500 by tracking your meals and their ingredients. You can do this manually, or on apps such as My Fitness Pal.

As you will notice from the meal plan below, not all of the foods are what you may consider being ‘healthy’. You may be used to diets that focus on ‘superfoods’ and ‘wholefood’ ingredients such as quinoa, seeds and avocado.

But the military diet includes ‘junk food’ such as ice cream and hot dogs! This is one of the most appealing aspects of the diet for many people.

Find out which are the healthiest ice creams from our recent blog post to further aid your weight loss journey! 

What Does A Military Diet Food Plan Look Like?

The military diet is based around a weekly structure. To make it easier to follow, you could start the diet on a Monday. Plus, then you will have your days ‘off’ during the weekend!

Here is what the 3-day military diet meal plan looks like:

Day 1

Total calories for day 1: 1,400 calories.

Breakfast:

military diet plan substitutions

  • 1 slice of toast with 2 tablespoons of peanut butter.
  • Half a grapefruit.
  • A cup of black coffee or tea (optional).

Lunch:

  • A slice of toast.
  • Half a cup of tuna.
  • A cup of black coffee or tea (optional).

Dinner:

  • A 3-oz (85 grams) serving of meat with a cup of green beans.
  • A small apple.
  • Half a banana.
  • One cup of vanilla ice cream.

Day 2

Total calories for day 2: 1,200 calories.

Breakfast:

  • A slice of toast.
  • One hard-boiled egg.
  • Half a banana.
  • A cup of black coffee or tea (optional).

Lunch:

military diet food plan

  • One hard-boiled egg.
  • A cup of cottage cheese.
  • 5 saltine crackers.
  • A cup of black coffee or tea (optional).

Dinner:

  • Two hot dogs, without a bun.
  • Half a cup of carrots and half a cup of broccoli.
  • Half a banana.
  • Half a cup of vanilla ice cream.

Day 3

Total calories for day 3: 1,100 calories.

Breakfast:

  • A 1-ounce slice of cheddar cheese.
  • 5 saltine crackers.
  • A small apple.
  • A cup of black coffee or tea (optional).

Lunch:

  • A slice of toast.
  • One egg, cooked however you like.
  • A cup of black coffee or tea (optional).

Dinner:

the military diet reviews

  • A cup of tuna.
  • Half a banana.
  • 1 cup of vanilla ice cream.

If you are vegetarian or vegan, here is what a vegetarian or vegan military diet would consist of. It gives alternatives and substitutions for all of the items on the standard plan.

Day 1 

Breakfast:

  • 1/2 Grapefruit
  • 1 Slice of Toast
  • 2 Tablespoons of Peanut Butter
  • 1 cup black coffee or Tea (with caffeine)

Lunch:

military diet for weight loss

  • 1/2 an avocado
  • 2 tablespoons of hummus
  • 1 slice of whole-wheat toast
  • 1 cup black coffee or Tea (with caffeine)

Dinner:

  • Tofu (prepared any style but not more than 300 calories)
  • 1 cup of green beans
  • 1/2 banana
  • 1 small apple
  • 1 cup of vanilla ice cream (for vegans, use dairy-free ice cream)

Day 2 

Breakfast:

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

Lunch:

military diet snacks

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

Dinner:

  • 2 veggie hot dogs (without bun)
  • 1 cup of broccoli
  • 1/2 cup of carrots
  • 1/2 banana
  • 1/2 cup of vanilla ice cream (for vegans, use dairy-free ice cream)

Day 3 

Breakfast:

the military diet plan

  • 1 slice cheddar cheese (for vegans, about 15-20 almonds, which are some of the healthiest nuts to eat)
  • 5 saltine crackers (or 1/2 cup couscous or quinoa)
  • 1 small apple

Lunch:

  • 1/2 avocado and 1 tablespoon hummus
  • 1 slice whole-wheat bread

Dinner:

  • 1/2 cup canned chickpeas
  • 1/2 banana
  • 1 cup of vanilla ice cream (for vegans, dairy-free ice cream)

OriGym have some other helpful nutrition guides that can help you make better food choices:

4-day ‘off Menu’ Plan

If you still want some guidance on the remaining 4 days of the diet, here is an example 4-day off-menu meal plan.  

To get the best results from the military diet, it is suggested that you still track your calories on these days and keep your daily total to 1500.

3-Day Military Diet Shopping List

3 day military diet menu

Here is a shopping list featuring all of the military diet ingredients you will need. They can be found in most supermarkets in the UK, making it an easy diet to prepare for.

  • Caffeinated coffee or tea
  • One grapefruit
  • 2 bananas
  • 2 apples
  • Whole-wheat bread
  • Peanut butter
  • Eggs
  • 3 cans of tuna
  • Hot dogs
  • A small piece of meat
  • Green beans (fresh, frozen, or canned)
  • Small head of broccoli
  • Carrots
  • Saltine crackers
  • Cottage cheese
  • A small block of cheddar cheese
  • Vanilla ice cream

Use OriGym's FREE food diary to help stay on track!

What Are The Benefits Of The Military Diet?

#1 It helps you lose weight fast

how many calories in the military diet

The main benefit of the military diet is the speed at which it can help you lose weight. Many military diet reviews claim that you can lose up to 10 pounds in a week, or even up to 30 pounds in one month! For example, many people use the diet if they want to lose weight quickly for a special occasion such as a wedding.

Other ways to support weight loss include incorporating some of the best herbs for weight loss into your diet.

That said, there are potential side effects to losing a large amount of weight in such a short space of time such as low energy levels and malnutrition. We will discuss the potential health risks of extreme weight loss later in this article. 

It is also important to remember that everyone’s body is different, and the results of the military diet may not be the same for everyone.

#2 It is easy to follow

military diet alternatives

A huge benefit of the military weight loss diet is that it is very easy to follow. Every meal is precisely planned out, so you don’t have to think about anything! 

You could even prepare and portion out all your meals for the week in advance if you have a busy lifestyle. The ingredients are all accessible and easy to cook; you don’t have to be a skilled chef to follow this diet!

#3 It is cost-effective

vegan military diet

The military diet is perhaps one of the cheapest health and fitness diets out there. Many programmes such as Weight Watchers require a membership, a joining fee and meetings. But the military diet does not require any form of membership or any special resources.

The food itself is also cheap to buy. You can easily find them in most general supermarkets in the UK. You won’t need to splash out on confusing superfoods - although OriGym’s handy guide on superfruits can make things clearer - or expensive supplements!

#4 It is easy to stay motivated

military diet results image

Due to its quick results, it is easy to stay motivated with the military diet. Whereas some diets can take several months or even a year to see physical results in your body, with the 3-day military diet, you could see visible weight loss in just a week!

Taking progress photos is a good way to see whether you are achieving results on a diet or any fitness journey. This is when you take a ‘before’ photo of yourself before starting a diet.

You can then compare this to other photos at different stages of your weight loss journey. The fact that the results of the military diet can be seen quickly, means that you are more likely to stay on track as you see that all of your efforts are paying off!

#5 You can adapt it to your dietary requirements

uk military diet

Even if you are vegetarian, vegan or gluten-free, you can follow this diet. There are easy alternatives for all of the ingredients on the 3-day military diet menu. Simply see our vegetarian or vegan military diet plan above!

Check out our article on vegan and vegetarian protein sources for some practical inspiration! 

Is The Military Diet Safe? What Are The Risks?

As with any fitness programme, there are pros and cons of the military diet. Whilst the fact that the 3-day diet promotes speedy weight loss can be a good thing, such a sudden change in the body can have side effects. Despite all its benefits, there are some things to consider before you decide if the military diet is safe for you.

#1 You may have very low energy levels

military weight loss diet

The military diet is often labelled a ‘crash’ diet, due to the extremely low number of calories consumed in a day. Read up on the risks of fad diets here.

According to the NHS, the daily recommended calorie intake for men is 2500 and 2000 for women. This can vary according to your weight, height and activity level. However, the military diet daily calorie intake ranges from just 1100 to 1400 and it does not consider other factors that vary from person to person. 

Whilst a calorie deficit can indeed lead to weight loss, it is important to remember that calories are our body’s source of energy to fuel our activities and all of our bodily functions.

Eating such a small number of calories can cause headaches, fatigue, irritability and dizziness as you may not have enough energy from food to sustain you throughout the day. This lack of energy can affect your work and productivity, as you may not be able to concentrate. Being irritable and grumpy can have a negative impact on your relationships with family and friends. 

Fatigue can also make exercise impossible, as you may simply not have the energy to do it. In many ways, the military diet is therefore not easy to implement into a busy lifestyle.

#2 It lacks key nutrients

pros and cons of military diet

By looking at the shopping list, we can see that the military diet ingredients are lacking in many key nutrients. By being focused on calories, the foods in the plan are not very nutrient-dense. 

Followers of the 3-day diet often do not get enough of the fibre, vitamins and minerals that are essential for energy, metabolism, and general good health. The USA dietary guidelines for a balanced diet state that we need vegetables, fruits, grains, lean meats, beans, legumes, nuts, seeds, dairy and oil.

For example, saltine crackers, peanut butter, bread, hot dogs and cheese are all processed foods that are high in salt. It is recommended by the FDA that we eat no more than 2300mg of sodium per day. 

Too much sodium can lead to high blood pressure (hypertension), which can increase the risk of heart attack, strokes and other health conditions.

The hot dogs are full of processed meat that is also high in salt as well as saturated fat. The vanilla ice cream is also very high in fat and sugar. Although a diet that includes hot dogs and ice cream may seem appealing, it is not the sign of a nutritionally balanced lifestyle!

By focusing on calories rather than the quality of the food, the military diet does not advocate a healthy balanced lifestyle which is essential for long-term good health. After finishing the diet, people are not left with a knowledge of nutrients, meal planning or other important healthy lifestyle skills to help them maintain weight loss.

Keeping track of your diet in a fitness journal can be more effective in the long term!

#3 You lose water weight, not fat!

military fitness diet

It is widely acknowledged that quick ‘fad’ or ‘crash’ diets such as the military diet, do not work in the long-term because they do not promote sustainable fat loss. Instead, they simply promote ‘water weight’ loss. Water weight is the water stored in the cells of the body that are connected to glycogen molecules (a form of glucose). 

During a low-calorie, low-carb diet such as the military diet, your body uses its glycogen stores quickly. This is what leads to quick and noticeable weight loss. Water weight is also very easy to put back on again once you finish the diet, making it unsustainable in the long-term.

#4 It does not include exercise

can you drink water on the military diet

It is common knowledge that exercise is an essential part of a healthy lifestyle, especially if your goal is weight loss. But there is no mention of physical activity in the military diet. 

It therefore does not advocate a balanced, healthy lifestyle. This means that it can be hard to maintain in the long run, as people are left with no knowledge of how to maintain weight loss through exercise as well as nutrition.

What’s more, if you have little energy due to not consuming enough calories, it is likely that you won’t be able to exercise much anyway! 

It is generally recommended that you limit activity such as running or lifting weights during the 3-day military diet, as you will not have the strength to do it. As such, whilst the diet can promote weight loss, it can actually set you back on your fitness goals by limiting your ability to do things like strength training and cardio.

#5 It can affect your mental health

military diet for men

The restrictive nature of the military diet can have mental as well as physical side effects. Tracking calories so intensely on the military diet can lead to people developing an unhealthy relationship with food and even risk leading to eating disorders.

Instead of encouraging people to listen to internal hunger cues and eat intuitively, it promotes the idea that food is simply fuel, rather than something to be enjoyed! This can also impact your social and personal life; due to the limited food options on the military diet menu, eating out in restaurants can become an issue.

Learn about healthy eating habits to make sure your weight loss is sustainable.

Who Is The Military Diet Suitable For?

military diet uk

In general, the military diet is suitable for men and women of all backgrounds. But before starting any diet, you should consult a nutritionist or dietician if you are unsure whether it is right for you. If you have certain health conditions such as diabetes, for example, this diet may not be recommended.

Aside from health conditions, there are some other factors that could make you unsuitable for any kind of quick-fix diet. For example:

  • If you are currently underweight (have a BMI under 18.5)
  • If you are pregnant or breastfeeding
  • If you are under 18

It is important to think about your goals, too. If your goal is quick, short-term weight loss, then this could indeed be the diet for you. 

However, if you are looking for a longer-term and more sustainable diet to have a healthier lifestyle in general, the military diet may not be your best choice. Instead, a diet that teaches you about nutrients, exercise and what makes a balanced diet will be more effective.

You should also think about whether the diet will fit into your lifestyle and routine at the moment. Are you able to implement such a strict meal plan? If you are a busy person, have kids or work varied shift patterns, adhering to the military diet may simply not be feasible. 

The military diet is most effective when followed as accurately as possible, so you have to be able to commit to it!

What Does The Research Say About The Military Diet?

vegetarian military diet

Whilst many military diet reviews claim that you can lose up to 10 pounds (4.5kg) in just a week, there is no scientific evidence to prove this; it is only an anecdotal claim. There have been no scientific studies to back up the claims of the military diet. 

But studies into similar quick low-calorie diets have found that rapid weight loss is not an effective way to maintain weight loss in the long-term. So, as with many diets, success stories often have to be taken with a pinch of salt!

The inclusion of caffeinated drinks in the military meal plan also has some scientific weight behind it. Studies have shown that coffee and herbal tea do indeed increase metabolism, which in turn helps you lose weight. The same can be said for the high protein content of the foods in the military diet as high protein foods have been seen to also boost metabolism.

Our recent nutrition guide has more information on the top metabolism-boosting foods.

Before you go!

So, the 3-day military diet makes a lot of big claims about helping you lose weight quickly. But as we have found, it also comes with its fair share of side effects to consider.

It is clear that if you’re looking to achieve long-term and sustainable weight loss, the 3-day diet may not be the answer. It is a very strict, restrictive and structured diet plan that is certainly not for the faint-hearted!

However, if you are looking to lose weight fast and feel that you can manage the potential short-term side effects on your energy levels, mood and nutrient intake, then the military diet could indeed be for you.

One of the best ways to lose weight is to arm yourself with the right knowledge and abilities: OriGym’s personal training courses and packages provide the right tools to do this, and you can impart your knowledge onto others too!

For all the information about our products download our latest course prospectus.

References:

1. The Military Diet (n.d.). Military Diet | 3 Day Diet. [online] The Military Diet. Available at: https://themilitarydiet.com/ [Accessed 24 Mar. 2021].

2. USDA MyPlate (n.d.). MyPlate | U.S. Department of Agriculture. [online] www.myplate.gov. Available at: https://www.myplate.gov/.

3. Nutrition, C. for F.S. and A. (2020). Sodium in Your Diet. FDA. [online] Available at: .

 4. Dulloo AG, Geissler CA, Horton T, Collins A, Miller DS. Normal caffeine consumption: influence on thermogenesis and daily energy expenditure in lean and postobese human volunteers. Am J Clin Nutr. 1989 Jan;49(1):44-50. doi: 10.1093/ajcn/49.1.44. PMID: 2912010.

5. Nair KS, Halliday D, Garrow JS. Thermic response to isoenergetic protein, carbohydrate or fat meals in lean and obese subjects. Clin Sci (Lond). 1983 Sep;65(3):307-12. doi: 10.1042/cs0650307. PMID: 6347500.

6. Strychar I. Diet in the management of weight loss. CMAJ. 2006;174(1):56-63. doi:10.1503/cmaj.045037

Written by Alice Williams

Content Writer & Fitness Enthusiast

Alice is a freelance content writer at OriGym. With a first-class degree in French and Linguistics, she loves all things language, fitness and culture. As part of her degree, she spent a year living in France where she worked for a lifestyle blog, gaining professional experience in both translation and content writing. 

When she’s not writing, you can usually find Alice practicing yoga and she hopes to one day become a yoga instructor herself. She also loves running, tennis and cooking up a vegan storm in the kitchen! It was this passion for health and fitness, combined with her love for writing, that brought Alice to OriGym.

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