Hungry for a new weight loss diet? We’re not surprised. The internet is littered with them — from the carnivore plan, to juice diets, IIFYM, ‘dirty’ keto, the Mediterranean diet, low-carb, paleo and so much more — which leaves you entirely blameless for being a little lost when it comes to following a sustainable fat-loss plan.
Another one that you may have stumbled across is the so-called ‘military diet’, or the ‘3-day diet’. Having garnered headlines around the world, the diet claims you can shift up to 10lbs (4.5kg) of fat in a week. Impressive enough if your goal is to lose as much weight as can be done without exercising.
But, what’s the verdict on the Military Diet? Should you enlist, is it healthy, is it safe, is it even possible? Below, we join the ranks on one of the most polarising diets out there. Here’s everything you need to know about the military diet.
According to TheMilitaryDiet.com, the military diet is “A rapid weight loss plan, enabling you to lose up to 10 pounds in one week, without strenuous exercise or prescriptions”. It’s even free. The military diet is also known as the ‘3-day diet’, as it follows three days on, four days off approach. Followed for a month, you can lose up to 30lbs (13kg).
Apparently designed for would-be army recruits to lose weight before selection, there have been no direct ties between the military diet and any military group. Regardless, the military diet requires followers to eat very specific foods for breakfast, lunch, and dinner over the three days. For the remaining four days, it relaxes — albeit only slightly, as you can eat up to 1500kcal. For reference, most active men need 2200-2600kcal daily. This is what 500kcal looks like.
The military diet is suitable for vegetarians and vegans. There is a version of the diet for each, but without any room for protein supplementation, the regular version seems the most approachable. The good news? You don’t have to shirk your coffee habit, but the only drinks they endorse are water and caffeine-free herbal tea.
The military diet food on the four ‘off days’ — where you’re allowed to eat 1500kcal or lower — is slightly more generous. You’re able to choose between dishes like cinnamon porridge, walnut waffles, smoothie, and omelets, but the portions are likely to be a little Spartan. And we’re not talking 300.
According to the website, the military diet is great for “weight loss emergencies” — an uncomfortable phrase in itself — such as, fitting “into a wedding dress pronto…or [if] your ex is coming to town and you won’t make them drool”. As with most things nutrition and fitness, it doesn’t discriminate according to gender, although the military diet is extremely calorie-restrictive — which can affect women’s fertility and hormone levels. For men, symptoms like nausea, migraines and extreme mood fluctuations are likely to occur.
A diet as restrictive as this is unlikely to result in a strict following for more than four weeks or so. In fact, it’s likely to be less as eating just over 1000kcal a day will leave you hungry, irritable and most likely will cause headaches, fatigue and dizziness, especially when partnered with exercise.
“The military diet has ‘fad diet’ written all over it, claiming special food combinations can help you lose weight and allowing for unhealthy fake foods, like hot dogs and one cup of ice cream,” said registered dietitian Kristen Kizer to Men’s Health. “A feast-or-famine cycle can have negative long-term effects on your metabolism,” she continues. As with exercise, different people will draw different results from the military diet, as losing weight is completely dependent on genetics, individual weight and age.
As with most calories-in versus calories-out diets, your weight will begin to drop as you consume fewer calories than you’re burning daily. It could be possible to lose 10lbs on the military diet, although in the time-frame of a week it seems largely unlikely.
There is a surprising benefit, however. With the list below, you’ll notice that there is an adequate effort to balance protein, carbohydrates, and fats — the three major food groups. Unlike the Keto diet — which eliminates carbohydrates, a major food group — the military diet does place an emphasis on each muscle-building macronutrient. That said, the same ingredients list is far too general. What type of toast? Should you avoid fatty proteins like salmon or steak? Why a cup of ice cream, but not a full banana? Simply put, it seems too vague to be followed even slightly religiously.
Firstly, it’s important to know that the military diet isn’t backed by any military organization or military research centers. Instead, the diet uses processed foods — it’s impossible to imagine special forces units swearing by hot-dogs and ice creams— to tempt people into trying the plan. “The issue with exercising during the diet is that you are cutting a large number of calories (your body’s source of energy) out of your diet,” said New York Sports Science Lab’s Mike Millen to Insider, “which may make you feel less energetic and a little more sluggish than your typical self.”
Similarly, speaking to Women’s Health, Katie Ferraro M.P.H. R.D. said of the military diet, “The problem with cutting calories this low is that it sends your body into starvation mode,” meaning that your metabolism slows down considerably during the three dieting days. On days four to seven, when you’re eating a slightly more normal amount of food, your body goes into ‘starvation mode’ storing food as fat — possibly leading to a rebound in weight gain.
Inevitably, there is bad news when it comes to the military diet. While a calorie deficit puts you on the correct track for weight loss, a deficit of around 1000kcal could be doing more harm than good. By regularly eating fewer calories than your body actually needs, your metabolism could slow down as much as 23 per cent, especially when the diet isn’t partnered with exercise, as the diet advocates.
Similarly, you’ll be deliberately depriving yourself of essential vitamins and minerals. To cut a very long story short, a lack of muscle-building protein will cause muscle loss, and you’ll be weakening your immune system by not eating enough vitamin A and vitamin B.