Military diet alternative

The military diet requires people to follow a low-calorie diet for 3 days and then return to regular eating for 4 days. Across the first 3 days, the diet restricts daily calorie intake to 1,400, 1,200, and 1,100 calories.

The diet is high in protein and low in fat, carbohydrate, and calories. It also includes specific food combinations to try to boost metabolism and burn fat. Despite its name, this diet does not relate to how people in the military eat.

Information about the military diet suggests that people could lose up to 10 pounds (lb) in 1 week and as many as 30 lbs in 1 month if they continue to follow the diet.

In this article, we take a look at whether this diet works, its potential problems and benefits, and what to eat to follow the plan.

Is the military diet effective?

Woman with a shopping list for the military diet
The military diet is high in protein and low in fat.

A review article in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition examines very-low-calorie diets (VLCDs) and suggests that they can be effective in helping people lose weight in the short term.

A VLCD allows a maximum of 800 calories per day. People with obesity may need to adopt a VLCD to achieve rapid weight loss before bariatric surgery.

Low-calorie diets are those that allow fewer than 1,000 calories per day.

It is impossible to predict how much weight an individual will lose on a restrictive 1-week diet as everyone is different.

However, people often experience rapid weight gain after stopping one of these short-term diets unless they have put a plan in place to maintain the weight loss.

Meal plan and shopping list

Below is a 3-day meal plan that features on a website supporting the military diet. There is also a comprehensive shopping list for people looking to follow this diet.

People can drink water throughout the day, as well as 1–2 cups of black coffee or tea.

Day 1

Breakfast

  • half a grapefruit
  • one slice of toast
  • 2 tablespoons (tbsp) of peanut butter, ideally a salt-free and sugar-free brand
  • 1 cup of caffeinated coffee or tea

Lunch

  • half a cup of tuna
  • one slice of toast
  • 1 cup of caffeinated coffee or tea

Dinner

  • 3 ounces of any meat
  • 1 cup of green beans
  • half a banana
  • one small apple
  • 1 cup of vanilla ice cream

Day 2

Breakfast

  • one egg
  • one slice of toast
  • half a banana

Lunch

  • one hard-boiled egg
  • 1 cup of cottage cheese
  • five saltine crackers

Dinner

  • two hot dogs without the buns
  • 1 cup of broccoli
  • half a cup of carrots
  • half a banana
  • half a cup of vanilla ice cream

Day 3

Breakfast

  • five saltine crackers
  • one slice of cheddar cheese
  • one small apple

Lunch

  • one hard-boiled egg
  • one slice of toast

Dinner

  • 1 cup of tuna
  • half a banana
  • 1 cup of vanilla ice cream

Vegetarian meal plan

A vegetarian and vegan meal plan is also available:

Day 1

Breakfast

  • half a grapefruit
  • one slice of toast
  • 2 tbsp peanut butter
  • 1 cup of caffeinated coffee or tea

Lunch

  • half an avocado
  • 2 tbsp hummus
  • one slice of whole-wheat toast
  • 1 cup of caffeinated coffee or tea

Dinner

  • tofu (up to 300 calories)
  • 1 cup of green beans
  • half a banana
  • one small apple
  • 1 cup of vanilla ice cream (vegans can use dairy-free ice cream)

Day 2

Breakfast

  • half a cup of baked beans
  • one slice of whole-wheat toast
  • half a banana

Lunch

  • 1 cup of unsweetened soy, hemp, or almond milk
  • half an avocado
  • 2 tbsp hummus
  • five saltine crackers

Dinner

  • two veggie hot dogs without the buns
  • 1 cup of broccoli
  • half a cup of carrots
  • half a banana
  • half a cup of vanilla ice cream (can be dairy-free)

Day 3

Breakfast

  • one slice of cheddar cheese (for vegans, about 15–20 almonds)
  • five saltine crackers or half a cup of couscous or quinoa
  • one small apple

Lunch

  • half an avocado
  • 1 tbsp hummus
  • one slice of whole-wheat bread

Dinner

  • half a cup of canned chickpeas
  • half a banana
  • 1 cup of vanilla ice cream (or dairy-free ice cream)

Shopping list

Peanut butter in a jar and whole wheat bread
The military diet shopping list should include peanut butter and whole-wheat bread.

The following list contains the items of food that people will need to buy for the first 3 days of a week on the military diet:

  • caffeinated coffee or tea
  • one grapefruit
  • two bananas
  • two apples
  • whole-wheat bread
  • peanut butter
  • eggs
  • three 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 amount of cheddar cheese
  • vanilla ice cream

Disadvantages

Following a 3-day military diet plan can cause several potential problems.

Some of the issues below relate specifically to the suggested meal plans.

Limited nutrient intake

The poor variety on the diet days means that people will struggle to eat enough fiber, vitamins, and minerals. These nutrients are essential for good health, energy production, detoxification, and efficient metabolism.

High in added salt, sugar, and saturated fat

Between the saltine crackers, peanut butter, bread, hot dogs, and cheese, the diet is quite high in processed foods that contain salt.

People should check nutrition labels to make sure that they are not eating more sodium than the recommended 2,300 milligrams a day limit. Where possible, it is best to buy food brands that are low in sodium or contain no added salt.

The hot dogs that the diet recommends eating consist of processed meat. They contain high levels of saturated fat and sodium.

Each day’s meal plan also includes vanilla ice cream, which can be high in added sugar. People could substitute the ice cream for 300 calories of healthful fruit, vegetables, or whole grains, which the plan currently lacks.

A diet that emphasizes high-calorie, dense foods may not feel very satisfying because portion sizes must remain small to keep meals within the daily calorie budget. This approach may not be sustainable.

Calories too low to exercise?

Senior man tired from running
Some people may find exercise challenging on diet days.

Eating fewer than 1,400 calories on diet days may make it challenging to do exercise, especially any high-intensity activities.

Eating enough calories on the 4 days off will allow people to exercise more easily. However, proponents of the diet recommend sticking to fewer than 1,500 calories on these days too.

One small study looking at alternate day calorie restriction (ADCR), also called intermittent fasting, found that combining ADCR with exercise led to greater weight changes than either dieting or exercise alone.

Following a VLCD can prevent people from exercising at all.

Confusing science

The military diet suggests that people who dislike or cannot eat grapefruit swap it for a glass of water with baking soda in it to continue to promote an alkaline environment.

It is true that foods can change pH from acid to alkaline. However, this primarily affects the acidity or alkalinity of a person’s urine. The pH of foods in the diet does not affect a person’s blood or metabolism enough to significantly influence weight gain or loss, although it may affect other aspects of health.

All fruit produces alkaline byproducts in the body. As a result, swapping one fruit with another fruit should be fine.

The high-protein aspect of the diet will make urine more acidic. As a result, it is not suitable for someone experiencing kidney problems or gout.

Advantages

In the short term, the military diet could be beneficial for weight loss.

It is easy to follow because it includes limited foods with simple measurements and cooking methods.

The recommended meal plan for the 4 days off allows for a wide variety of vegetables and fruits, and it also includes whole grains, legumes, and different meal choices.

The plan provides the calorie targets for each food and suggests substitutions for people with food intolerance and other dietary considerations.

The diet focuses on protein, which increases the feeling of fullness, maintains muscle mass, and provides energy for day-to-day activities. It is important to maintain muscle tissue as it contributes directly to a person’s metabolism.

A small 2018 study looked at the effects of following a diet with calorie restrictions on alternate days. The researchers compared the results of the diet with those of exercise in obese and overweight people.

In the participants who were both following the diet and exercising, body weight, waist circumference, and body fat percentage all decreased.

A 2016 review compared a VLCD with an alternate-day-fasting (ADF) diet. The researchers found that ADF was more effective for fat loss and preserving fat-free mass, including muscle.

Due to the military diet’s recommended daily calorie intake of 1,000 to 1,400 calories on the first 3 days, it is not possible to classify it as either a VLCD or an ADF program. Research on VLCD and ADF regimens only looks at diets providing fewer than 800 calories per day.

Although calorie intake on the military diet is too high to count as fasting, the approach of eating normally on the 4 days off mimics the practice of intermittent fasting. Therefore, people may achieve better long-term results by following this diet rather than a low-calorie diet.

Further research is necessary to confirm any specific benefits of the military diet.

Conclusion

The military diet involves restricting calorie consumption on 3 days and then eating a regular diet for the next 4 days. To optimize their weight loss, people may wish to try reducing calories on the 4 rest days too.

Following the military diet may be effective and harmless in the short term, but long-term adherence has associated risks. These include regaining the lost weight afterward, especially if people are reducing their calorie intake on all days of the week.

The diet is very limited in choice and includes some foods that are high in saturated fat, salt, and sugar. It also promotes eating unhealthful processed meats and under emphasizes vegetable consumption.

Adopting healthy eating habits every day is a more sustainable approach to losing weight and maintaining weight loss.

Q:

What is the safest way to lose weight quickly?

A:

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to weight loss. However, overconsuming carbohydrates in the form of sugar is one of the main culprits of weight gain, particularly if a person’s exercise regimen does not match their carbohydrate intake. One cup of sugar provides 774 calories. A person could eat 12 cups of grapes for the same calories, and these have a lot more nutrients and provide more satiety.

To lose weight safely, remove all added sugars from your diet. Scan the pantry, refrigerator, and freezer and remove or avoid products containing any form of added sugar on the ingredient list. These products will include sodas, sweet beverages, cereals, most yogurts, baked goods, and more.

Although it may significantly narrow down a person’s food choices, removing added sugar (and most packaged and processed items in the process) will lower their calorie intake and give them a better understanding of what constitutes real, nourishing food.

Exercise can become habit

Make exercise a habit today. Once you’ve fallen out of the habit of exercising on a daily or weekly basis, getting back into the routine can be brutal. Even when you know working out would lead to more energy and a toned beach body, it can be hard to make yourself get off the couch and head back to the gym or yoga studio.  Sometimes you just need a little inspiration to take that first step in the right direction. Reminding yourself of the many health benefits of exercise, setting weight-loss goals, or picturing how you want to look in your wedding dress or tuxedo can help get you in the right mindset. Then it’s all about finding time to fit in workouts and sticking to that schedule as much as possible to build new habits.

How to get there

Here is a great example of how to make exercise a habit that needs to be understood by those reading this post.  I have a friend who within two years went from 240 pounds to 180 – a net loss of 60 pounds! How did he do it? He made drastic changes to his lifestyle, both in diet and exercise.  He did not kill himself in the gym, merely got on the treadmill and power walked his way slowly until he was able to do 50 minutes at a 12-degree incline, peaking at 4.2 miles per hour. He religiously did this three times a week. It became such a habit that he was able to incorporate it into his weekly routine and it became second nature.  He stopped drinking beer and all sugary beverages.  He adopted a diet that was more agreeable to his body.

Hurricanes can make one exercise without knowing it

Then, a category five hurricane hit and the gym closed for a month.  All of the dietary sacrifices went out the window!  Due to food shortages at supermarkets, he was forced to now eat processed meats, canned goods, and other foods which had been given up long ago.  Bananas, apples, oranges, nuts, vegetables, lean meats and other essential food groups were in short supply.   The days were extremely hot and humid, temperatures peaking at 106 degrees due to the deforestation caused by the hurricane.  Potable and drinking water was also a precious commodity.

So how did he stay in shape? There was plenty of manual work to do during the recovery after the hurricane!  There was plenty of debris to collect and carry away. Gasoline and diesel containers had to be negotiated every day, sometimes several times per day.  The work was intense and sweating profuse.  His place of work was flooded and he spent many hours bailing out water, throwing away more debris until mountains of trash accumulated outside his workplace. When he was able to work out, he followed these simple exercises which did not require his trusted treadmill.  The family organized itself and cooked on a small gas stove.  Small generators were obtained to keep refrigerators running a few hours per day.

When all was said and done, he had actually lost more weight due to the unintended exercise.  Perhaps the anxiety of a bad situation and the survival mode one had to go into was a factor. But this is just an extreme situation, which shows that it can be done!

Make a deal with yourself to start todexerciseay. Go on a short run or a long walk, sign up for a weekly kickboxing or yoga class, or turn on a brief fitness video. Carving out a few minutes per day is the perfect way to ease yourself into a regular routine again. Before you know it, you’ll be pushing yourself to work out a few minutes longer or run another mile farther. You may even find that you crave those workouts and the “me time” and chance to clear your mind that they provide.  Even in times of distress, our bodies will continue to try to accommodate routines that benefit our overall well-being.