Benefits, Risks, Shopping List, Substitutions

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You’ve probably heard by now that when it comes to weight loss, slow and steady is the best way to drop pounds and keep them off. But it’s also understandable to want results fast. So, when you stumble across something like the military diet plan—which promises to help you lose weight quickly while still enjoying yummy treats like coffee, ice cream, and hot dogs—it might sound promising. But is the military diet plan legit?

Despite its name, the military diet doesn’t appear to be associated with the military (or how folks in the military eat). It involves following a low-calorie meal plan for three days out of the week, followed by whatever you want on the other four days, per TheMilitaryDiet.com. While the plan involves calorie restriction, it also allows for tasty foods that aren’t usually included in diets, like coffee and dessert.

Although aspects of the military diet mimic intermittent fasting, there is little science backing up its overall efficacy. The experts we spoke to say that the diet’s restrictive nature and food recommendations pose potential risks (more on that soon). Still, there are many testimonials from people who swear by the meal plan, claiming to lose anywhere from two to 10 pounds in a week.

So, is the military diet plan for weight loss a good (or safe) idea? Ahead, dietitians break down the benefits, potential risks, and a sample meal plan to try.

Meet the experts: Jessica Cording, RD, is a dietitian and the author of The Little Book of Game-Changers. Vanessa Rissetto, RD, is a dietitian and the CEO and co-founder of Culina Health. Scott Keatley, RD, is a dietitian and the co-owner of Keatley Medical Nutrition Therapy.

What is the military diet?

The diet plan involves a three-day weight loss plan that claims to help followers lose 10 pounds in a week. People are encouraged to stick to 1,400 calories on day one, 1,200 calories on day two, and 1,100 calories on day three, per the website, which also states that folks can follow the plan until they reach their weight loss goal. The military diet also has very specific information on what to eat on each day.

After completing the three days, you can take the other four days “off” and have whatever you want, per the website—but they recommend 1,500 calories or less on your “off” days if your main goal is to lose weight. The website also recommends that followers drink plenty of water and have coffee without creamer and sugar if possible. Artificial sweeteners are discouraged in the military diet, although Stevia can work for coffee, per the website.

Sample Military Diet Meal Plan

The website recommends that followers eat these specific foods over three days:

Day One

Breakfast:

  • 1/2 grapefruit
  • 1 slice of toast
  • 2 tablespoons of peanut butter
  • 1 cup coffee or tea

Lunch:

  • 1/2 cup of tuna
  • 1 slice of toast
  • 1 cup coffee or tea

Dinner:

  • 3 ounces of any type of meat
  • 1 cup of green beans
  • 1/2 banana
  • 1 small apple
  • 1 cup of vanilla ice cream

Day Two

Breakfast:

  • 1 egg
  • 1 slice of toast
  • 1/2 banana

Lunch:

Dinner:

  • 2 hot dogs (without the bun)
  • 1 cup of broccoli
  • 1/2 cup of carrots
  • 1/2 banana
  • 1/2 cup of vanilla ice cream

Day Three

Breakfast:

  • 5 saltine crackers
  • 1 slice (1 ounce) of cheddar cheese
  • 1 small apple

Lunch:

  • 1 hard-boiled egg (or cooked however you like)
  • 1 slice of toast

Dinner:

  • 1 cup of tuna
  • 1/2 banana
  • 1 cup of vanilla ice cream

Military Diet Shopping List

Here’s exactly what to buy, per the military diet website:

If you have food allergies, intolerances, or simply don’t love the above options, there are military diet substitutes to accommodate food preferences. For example:

  • Lean meats, fish, cottage cheese, avocado, hummus, or almonds for tuna
  • Green or herbal tea for coffee
  • Plain Greek yogurt, ricotta cheese, cheddar cheese, eggs, or ham for cottage cheese

Risks Of The Military Diet

The dietitians we spoke to have concerns about this diet. “It’s a very restrictive plan,” says Jessica Cording, RD, author of The Little Book of Game-Changers. Although being in a calorie deficit can sometimes work for weight loss, repeated restriction can cause issues later on, and may even hinder your goals. “When someone stops a plan like this, it’s very common to see rapid weight regain and sometimes even more weight on top of that,” Cording says.

The overall calorie count for the military diet is low, and the sources of calories aren’t the healthiest, says Vanessa Rissetto, RD, CEO and co-founder of Culina Health. “Many of the calories are mostly from fat which has its own slew of issues,” she says.

And although the diet appears to help you drop pounds quickly, this isn’t necessarily good if you’re trying to build and maintain muscle. “Rapid weight loss can also lead to muscle loss, not just fat loss, which can decrease metabolic rate over time,” says Scott Keatley, RD, co-owner of Keatley Medical Nutrition Therapy. Meaning, doing the military diet consistently might actually cause your metabolism to slow down, making it harder to lose weight and keep it off in the long run.

“The diet’s highly restrictive phase might also lead to binge eating during the less restrictive days, creating an unhealthy relationship with food,” Keatley says.

Finally, the military diet doesn’t seem to teach healthy, sustainable eating habits, Rissetto says, so it shouldn’t be your go-to.

Benefits Of The Military Diet

There isn’t much science available to support the military diet plan for weight loss, but there are potential benefits to following the diet short-term. The military diet menu allows for some yummy foods on the three “diet” days followed by flexible food options on the “off” days, so ideally, you can still enjoy certain foods you know and love. The recommended substitutions can also be helpful for people with food allergies or intolerances.

Following an alternate-day-fasting (ADF) diet may be effective for weight loss, according to some research. The combination of alternate-day calorie restriction and exercise may also help with reducing body weight, waist circumference, and body fat percentage, per a small study. That said, the military diet isn’t technically an ADF diet or intermittent fasting due to its recommended calorie intake being too high—so, ultimately, more research is needed to confirm the specific benefits of the method.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is the military diet safe?

While the military diet isn’t recommended, it might be safe if you do it for just a week, Cording says. If you plan to follow it over the long-term, though, safety is questionable—especially since the recommended foods aren’t necessarily the best. “Processed meat, for example, has been associated with an increased risk of many types of health issues like cancer, heart disease, and diabetes, to name a few,” Cording says. Other foods might give you better nutritional value to support your weight loss goals, like lean protein, she adds.

Who is the military diet *not* appropriate for?

People with cardiac issues should steer clear of the military diet, given the diet’s recommendation to eat processed meats like hot dogs, says Rissetto. People with a history of disordered eating should also avoid the military diet plan given its restrictive nature, Cording says.

Overall, this really isn’t a good eating plan for anyone to follow, Keatley says. “There is no real science to these recommendations,” he says. “Don’t do it.”

Does the military diet plan work for weight loss?

Calorie restriction is a big reason why you might lose weight on the military diet, Rissetto says. “It’s pretty restrictive,” she adds. People who follow the diet may be more mindful of what they’re eating, too, which can contribute to weight loss, Cording says. However, keep in mind that any weight loss will probably be short-term.

Can the military diet be done in a healthy way?

Dietitians stress that the method isn’t based on science and doesn’t make the best food recommendations. “Swapping hot dogs for less-processed protein and choosing high-fiber carbohydrate sources as opposed to saltines and bread may help,” Cording says. Substituting berries into your meal plan instead of bananas, for example, can help you get more fiber.

The bottom line? Experts say the extreme calorie restriction simply isn’t healthy. “It creates a feast or famine mindset,” Cording says, which won’t help with long-term, sustainable weight loss.

Headshot of Korin Miller

Korin Miller is a freelance writer specializing in general wellness, sexual health and relationships, and lifestyle trends, with work appearing in Men’s Health, Women’s Health, Self, Glamour, and more. She has a master’s degree from American University, lives by the beach, and hopes to own a teacup pig and taco truck one day.

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