Editor & Fact Checker
There are now so many diets you can follow to try and lose weight it’s amazing to think that more and more seem to be appearing every single year. The Military diet, also known as ‘the 3-day diet’ is one of the most searched-for weight loss methods of all time, and seems to have everybody singing its praises.
This diet plan is somewhat of an enigma - nobody really knows who the original author is, nobody owns the trademark, there's very little information on how long it's existed for, and it's unclear on whether or not the diet has been changed or altered over the years.
Although some people claim this diet has been around since the 1980’s and was used by the US military to help soldiers lose weight, there’s absolutely no evidence to suggest the diet was used by the military, or that it is anywhere near that old.
We can only imagine that it gets the name due to the military-like discipline the follower will need while sticking to the diet. After some research, we tracked the earliest written record of this diet to a book written in 2014 by John Salar. It seems that since it's first occurrence in 2014, numerous other spin-off versions have popped up, all written by different authors and all based on the premise of "losing 10 pounds in 3 days".
What Is The Military Diet?
In its modern day form, the Military Diet is an intense 7-day diet that involves followers sticking to a huge caloric deficit meal schedule for 3 consecutive days per week, and a less intensive caloric deficit meal schedule for the remaining 4 days of the week.
For the 3 consecutive days, the dieter must only eat the exact foods on the meal plan. Once these days have been completed the dieter will move onto the remaining 4 days, which allows them around 500 more calories per day, and multiple food options to choose from.
As is implied in the tagline that's made the diet so popular (lose 10lbs in 3 days) the diet has been designed to cause rapid weight loss. This is achieved simply by massive caloric deprivation, rather than inducing ketosis like many other diets aim to do.
When averaged out, each day of the week the follower will only be consuming around 800-1000 calories, which is considerably less than the average man or woman requires to maintain weight.
How Does The Military Diet Work?
The concept behind the diet is very simple; it restricts your calorie intake to such an extent that your body has no choice but to turn to your fat reserves to provide your body with the energy it needs to get through the day (this is what's medically known as a very low calorie diet, VLCD). With careful sustained usage, followers will ultimately see quick weight loss results, at least to begin with.
Over the course of a week, you adopt the meal plan for 3 consecutive days and then take 4 days off, reverting to a regular 1500 calories-per-day diet plan. The diet instructs followers to simply repeat this process for as long as they need to reach a healthy BMI range.
The 3-Day Meal Plan
- Breakfast: 1/2 Grapefruit, 1 Slice of Toast, 2 Tablespoons of Peanut Butter, 1 cup Coffee or Tea (with caffeine).
- Lunch: 1/2 Cup of Tuna, 1 Slice of Toast, 1 cup Coffee or Tea (with caffeine).
- 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.
- Breakfast: 1 egg, 1 slice of toast, 1/2 banana.
- Lunch: 1 cup of cottage cheese, 1 hard boiled egg, 5 saltine crackers
- Dinner: 2 hot dogs (without a bun), 1 cup of broccoli, 1/2 cup of carrots, 1/2 banana, 1/2 cup of vanilla ice cream.
- Breakfast: 5 saltine crackers, 1 slice of cheddar cheese, 1 small apple.
- Lunch: 1 egg (cooked however you'd like), 1 slice of toast.
- Dinner: 1 cup of tuna, 1/2 banana, 1 cup of vanilla ice cream.
Directions For Days 4-7
Days 4, 5, 6 and 7 are significantly easier and allow you to pick certain foods from a pre-approved list. While the plan refers to these four days as the "four days off", they're absolutely not a free pass to revert back to your old eating patterns - you'll still need to ensure you're not exceeding 1500 calories consumed per day (which the pre-approved foods list makes relatively easy).
The official directions state that for the four days off you'll need to pick breakfast, lunch, dinner and two snacks from the following pre-approved list:
Four Days Off Pre-Approved Foods List
Breakfast selection (ensure this meal does not exceed 300 calories):
- Eggs with toast.
- Bagel with deli meat.
- Waffles with fruit.
- Eggs Benedict.
- Toast with spread.
- Fruit Smoothie.
Lunch selection (ensure this meal does not exceed 500 calories):
- Tuna pita.
- Egg salad.
- Vegetable soup.
- Vegetable quesadilla.
- Tuna salad.
- Turkey sandwich.
- Chicken salad.
Dinner selection (ensure this meal does not exceed 500 calories):
- Black bean burger.
- Shrimp pasta.
- Chicken wraps.
- Chicken fajitas.
- Black bean and zucchini quesadilla.
- Shrimp fried rice.
- Cheese and artichoke pizza.
- Sausage pasta.
- Chicken and rice.
Snacks (ensure the two snacks combined don't exceed 200 calories):
- Chips with dip.
- Crackers and cheese.
- Yogurt (with or without added fruit).
Is The Military Diet Effective For Weight Loss?
As we've already established, this is simply just a caloric-deficit diet that tells you exactly what you need to eat on each day of the week - it removes all the guesswork, but there's really nothing groundbreaking about it, per se.
If you've got the self-discipline to follow the directions exactly as described then you'll undoubtably see weight loss results if you sustain it over a period of time.
As with any standard caloric deficit diet, it will cause your body to burn stored body fat for energy, however the idea that followers can lose 10lbs in 3 days is very misleading.
Nobody who follows this program for 3 days will shed 10lbs of pure body fat; a big chunk of that weight will be water weight, which will eventually return.
Don't Be Too Surprised If You Regain Weight
While the diet itself will almost guarantee weight loss results for those who follow it, the program has been heavily criticized for failing to teach its followers proper nutrition.
Rather than arming followers with the knowledge to totally overhaul the foods they choose to eat going forwards, it simply drops them off at their target bodyweight and leaves them to it - as you can probably guess, it's very likely that followers will regain the weight they've lost when they inevitably return to their normal eating patterns.
Once You Reach Your Target Weight, Find A Weight Maintenance Program You Can Sustain Indefinitely
As you can't sustain this crash diet forever (because you'll end up malnourished and dangerously underweight), you will need to find a diet that is sustainable. We recommend that once you hit a bodyweight you're happy with, you move onto a diet such as intermittent fasting, the paleo diet, or the mediterranean diet - this will help you maintain a healthy bodyweight indefinitely.
Is The Military Diet Healthy?
As you've probably already guessed by now, this is not a "diet for life"; it's a crash-diet that's only meant to be followed until you reach a target weight - sustaining the diet over the long term will inevitably cause health problems.
The main concern with this type of crash diet program is that it lacks many of the vital vitamins and minerals that the human body needs to function properly - this can impact on your energy levels, your immune system and brain function. The diet is also extremely low in amino acids and macronutrients, meaning recovery times could take longer (which may not be ideal for those who are regularly working out in the gym).
For those who are sticking to the diet, we highly recommend supplementing a comprehensive daily multivitamin & mineral tablet to ensure you're reaching all your recommended daily amounts.
This diet could potentially have some adverse side effects on followers due to the calorie restriction it imposes. The UK's National Health Service has made the following statement on such diets:
Apart from feeling hungry and low on energy, other side effects can include:
- dry mouth
- constipation or diarrhea
- hair thinning
Source: Very low calorie diets @ NHS.uk
How To Start
This is one of those weight loss diets that requires no upfront monetary investment (if you don't count the foods you'll need) - you don't need an special diet book or any fancy supplements. All you'll need to do is buy the foods you need from the supermarket and make yourself a note of the 3-day meal plan and four days off approved foods (as we've detailed above).
While it certainly has its flaws, it's definitely a useful diet for shedding some weight over the short term (just keep in mind that a lot of it may be water weight initially).
As with any crash diet program, it's not sustainable over the long term as it simply doesn't provide you with enough calories, vitamins and minerals to remain healthy. It's only recommended that followers sustain the diet until they hit their target weight - after that they will need to move onto a proper weight maintenance diet, otherwise any weight lost may quickly return.
Critics of the diet state that the main concern is that followers won't be getting in enough vitamins and minerals to maintain healthy body function, but this can easily be countered with a good multivitamin and mineral supplement (but this still doesn't mean you should sustain the diet indefinitely).
These types of very low calorie diets can also have some negative side effects, though not everybody will experience them.
Ultimately it's a cheap diet to stick to as all the directions are freely available online, and it can be followed using foods bought from your local grocery store.