The Military Diet? Why Quick Fix Crash Diets Fail

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Picture of a young woman doing the military dietMany people look for quick-fix crash diets to lose weight.

One of the most popular of these diet plans is the Military Diet, and I’m always being asked if it works.

This particular diet claims to help you lose 10 pounds in a week.

But is that possible?

And if it is, then is this style of diet healthy and sustainable in the longer term?

This article takes a look at the military diet and a few other diets that claim to help with weight loss.

What is the Military Diet?

The 3-day military diet is a crash plan that works by both calorie restriction as well as moderating carbohydrate.

Dieters eat a calorie-restricted menu of three extremely small meals per day. Over three days, people following the diet eat a total of 3700 calories.

After these three days, the Military Diet suggests that you keep calories below 1500kcal per day for the rest of the week.

It’s wildly popular, and you can often see it in the media, with lots of success stories and before and after transformations.

And the truth is: it does work. For those who follow it correctly, the military diet results in weight loss.

But it’s important to realize: short-term weight loss is very different to losing weight sustainably.

So, while claims of losing 10 pounds in 3 days sound great, maintaining a healthy weight in the long-term is most important.

Key Point: The Military Diet is a 3-day crash plan that promises quick weight loss – and delivers. But short-term weight loss is very different to sustaining a healthy weight.

The Military Diet Plan

Picture of a young man doing the military diet

Like many other meal plans to lose weight, the military diet focuses on calorie restriction.

Here is the official menu for the three days:

Day One

Breakfast

  • A slice of toast with two tablespoons of peanut butter
  • Cup of coffee
  • Half a grapefruit

Lunch

  • A slice of bread
  • Half a can of tuna
  • One cup of coffee

Dinner

  • Three ounces meat of your choice
  • A cup of green beans
  • Half a banana
  • One small sized apple
  • One cup of vanilla ice cream

Day 1 is a total of 1400 calories, moderately low in carbohydrate, and extremely lacking in protein and dietary fat. 

Day Two

Breakfast

  • One slice of toast
  • One egg
  • Half a banana

Lunch

  • One cup of cottage cheese
  • An egg
  • Five crackers

Dinner

  • Two hot dogs (without the bun)
  • One cup of broccoli
  • Half a cup of carrots
  • Half a cup of vanilla ice cream
  • Just half of a banana

Day 2 is a total of 1200 calories and is moderately low in all macronutrients. Regarding health, foods such as bread, hot dogs, ice cream, and crackers are poor choices.

Day Three

Breakfast

  • Five crackers
  • One slice of cheddar cheese
  • A small-sized apple

Lunch

  • One slice of bread
  • One egg

Dinner

  • One can of tuna
  • Half a banana
  • A cup of vanilla ice cream

Day 3 is a total of 1100 calories, moderately low in carbohydrate and protein, and has minimal amounts of dietary fat. Once more, crackers and ice cream are not ideal for health.

Is the Military Diet Healthy?

Picture of a girl wearing military clothesIf you look at the sample menu above, you’ll see a diet plan that’s extremely low in calories and dietary fat.

Specifically, there is an average of 1233 calories per day over three days. Carbohydrate and protein are present in moderate amounts.

As previously mentioned, eating such a small amount of food while also decreasing carbohydrate and fat is sure to cause weight loss. Especially due to losing water weight.

However, it’s far from healthy.

A shopping list that includes ice-cream, hot dogs, crackers, and bread isn’t something we associate with optimal health!

Also, the diet is lacking in meat, fish and animal products. As a result, it provides very low amounts of B vitamins, omega-3, and fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K.

The diet is also very beige in color, low in polyphenol-rich foods and contains refined carbohydrates and simple sugars.

Key Point: The Military Diet meal plans are designed for quick weight loss, and not to be supportive of good health.

Does the Military Diet Work?

Picture of a girl holding some scalesSo, even though the Military Diet isn’t particularly healthy – the question is “does it work?”

Well, the answer isn’t straightforward.

Although following the meal plan is very likely to cause weight loss, it’s doubtful that losing this weight will be sustainable.

Also, the Military Diet promises results of roughly 10 pounds weight loss in 3 days. But the thing is, most of that “loss” will be water weight rather than actual body fat.

This loss happens because when we lower our carbohydrate levels, our glycogen stores (energy reserves in muscles) quickly drop (1, 2, 3).

Each gram of glycogen is stored together with at least 3 grams of water, so we lose a significant amount of water weight (4).

Overall, the message that you can drop 10 pounds of fat is deceptive in this regard.

Nevertheless, the Military Diet is likely to result in at least some degree of fat loss.

But…

Sustaining a large calorie deficit for three days, alongside a minimal amount of dietary fat will be difficult.

Key Point: Low in both calories and fat, and relatively low in carbohydrate – it’s almost sure that the Military Diet will result in weight loss. But, only in the short term.

Quick Fix Crash Diets Are Not Sustainable

Picture of an unhappy woman - crash diets unsustainable theme

Given it promises large amounts of weight loss in three days, I think it’s fair to call the Military Diet a crash diet.

And, as mentioned, sticking to a large calorie deficit alongside a very low amount of dietary fat is not sustainable in the long-term.

The diet is also somewhat low in protein, which promotes satiety more than any other macronutrient (5).

Even if the Military Diet were sustainable, long-term adherence would be detrimental to health:

  • Following such a restrictive diet will lead to nutrient deficiencies developing.

So, if the military diet is a short-term “quick fix,” what happens after finishing the 3-day plan?

The Problem With the Military Diet

Picture of a man eating bread rolls - unhealthy eating themeDespite potentially losing some weight, once people finish the three days they will go back to their former way of eating.

And this previous diet is what caused the need for them to try a 3-day crash diet in the first place.

Once they re-introduce a higher amount of carbohydrate, the water weight will come back.

And once they start eating the diet they always have, they will gain weight once more.

This fixation with quickly losing extreme amounts of weight is why “yo-yo dieting” is so prevalent.

Many people are always trying new diets that do work, but they just aren’t sustainable (6, 7).

As well as not being actionable in the long-term, yo-yo dieting is potentially very dangerous.

Key Point: Constantly battling with hunger is not a healthy way to eat, and it can only result in weight loss for a limited time.

Military Diet Substitutes: Healthier Ways To Lose Weight

Picture of a ketogenic style diet - healthier military diet substitutes

So, if using a crash diet isn’t sustainable, then the question is ‘what is?’

And the answer is a way of eating that does not cause hunger due to restriction, and one which is full of nutrient-dense foods.

There are several well-formulated diets out there that meet these criteria.

Some of these include:

The Ketogenic Diet

The ketogenic diet is an extremely low carb way of eating that emphasizes nutritious, healthy foods from:

In short, this diet restricts the amount of digestible carbohydrate and shuns industrial foods processed in a factory.

However, aside from those restrictions, you can eat pretty much whatever you want. The great thing about this is that it makes the ketogenic diet sustainable, and rich in nutritious food.

For example, a typical meal plan might look like this:

Breakfast

High in protein, healthy fats, vitamins, minerals, and fiber.

Lunch

  • Tin of sardines
  • Leafy green salad with olive oil and balsamic vinegar
  • Cup of green tea

This meal is also high in many beneficial nutrients.

Dinner

In contrast to the military diet, there is no severe calorie restriction, and there are ample amounts of protein, dietary fat, and nutrients.

If you’re interested in finding out more, there’s a nice resource available here.

The LCHF (Low Carb, Healthy Fat) Diet

Picture of the LCHF (low carb, healthy fat) diet signLCHF is very similar to the ketogenic diet, but it is less strict regarding carbohydrate consumption.

Whereas the ketogenic diet typically restricts carbohydrate to approximately 30g, anything up to 100g can be considered as ‘low carb’ on LCHF.

This diet is also full of nutrient-dense foods, and it’s sustainable because protein and fat encourage satiety. You can eat these foods until you feel full with no restriction (8, 9).

For further information, here’s a guide to getting started with low-carb.

The Wild Diet

The Wild Diet is a kind of paleo-style diet that primarily encourages whole natural foods.

There is less emphasis on carbohydrate restriction, but the diet discourages industrially processed foods and is also full of nutrients.

This diet is also a little less strict and allows for occasional ‘cheats’, which some people enjoy.

Key Point: Different from the military diet, none of these diets require calorie restriction which makes them sustainable for the long-term. Additionally, they all promote satiety and health-promoting foods.

Final Thoughts

If you want quick weight loss that’s unlikely to be long-term, then the Military Diet may work for that.

But a diet that promotes junk food and calorie restriction is neither healthy nor sustainable.

And rather than short-term crash diets, the aim should be an eating plan that you can stick to and enjoy.

Anyone can lose weight over a few days, but the key is being able to build on that.

And in my view, the replacement diets listed above offer a much higher likelihood of healthy weight loss in the long-term.

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