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The military diet is one of the many fad diet trends that has become popular in the past decade or so. It claims to help you lose weight fast and consistently. Proponents of the diet insist it’s easy to follow and doesn’t require any expensive supplements, foods, or books—but are these claims true?
This article covers how the military diet works, its effectiveness, and safety information.
What is the military diet?
Despite its various names, the military diet isn’t actually associated with any military or government organization. You may hear this diet called the Navy diet, the Army diet, or even the ice cream diet.
The 7-day military diet plan claims it can help you lose 10 pounds within the first week. It states the weight loss is repeatable with each cycle of the eating plan. There are two phases of the military diet, with three days of stricter eating followed by a second phase lasting four days.
How does the military diet work?
Phase 1 of the military diet consists of a strict, low-calorie meal plan. There are around 1,100 to 1,400 calories provided each day of the first phase.
The strict plan lasts for three days and is followed by four days off. During these “off” days, you’re encouraged to continue eating healthy foods and try to keep your calorie intake below 1,500 calories.
With this diet plan, you are encouraged to repeat the 7-day cycle until you reach your desired weight.
Military diet food plan
The military diet plan has strict 3-day diet plans for the first phase. Here are the daily meal plans for the military diet provided on their website:
There isn’t a specific meal plan for the last four days of the diet. There are no restricted food groups, and snacks are allowed on these days. They encourage you to keep your total calories for the day below 1,500 calories.
Foods and drinks allowed on the military diet
Here is a list of foods and beverages allowed on the military meal plan:
- Fruit—just apples and bananas
- Caffeinated coffee and tea
- Whole wheat bread
- Peanut butter (if you have an allergy, they recommend swapping this for almond butter)
- Non-starchy vegetables, like green beans, broccoli, carrots
- Cottage cheese
- Saltine crackers
- Hot dogs
- Cheddar cheese
- Vanilla ice cream
If you’re vegetarian, they suggest swapping out meat choices for nuts, like almonds.
Foods and drinks to avoid while following the military diet plan
Foods not allowed on this diet plan include:
- Artificial sweeteners
- Sugary foods (except for ice cream)
- Yogurt (except for greek yogurt)
- Processed foods
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Health benefits and risks of the military diet
If you follow the military meal plan, you may end up losing weight in the short term, as you could expect from any low-calorie diet. The question is whether this form of weight loss is safe and sustainable, and the truth is, we just don’t know. There are no studies on the military diet plan, so it’s hard to say whether the diet offers any benefits other than likely weight loss in the short term.
The risks of an extreme diet like this probably outweigh any potential benefits. Some of the risks this diet (and other extreme diets like it) may pose include:
Very low calorie and unsustainable weight loss
The recommendations of the military diet are considered a very low calorie restriction. The average adult needs about 2,000–2,500 calories daily to maintain their weight (depending on numerous factors, including biological sex, fitness level, and others) (Osilla, 2021).
Research suggests extreme weight loss plans can be dangerous if followed long-term and often result in weight gain once the diet is stopped (Joshi, 2018).
It takes time to lose weight in a healthy way. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend a slow and sustainable weight loss of 1–2 pounds per week (CDC, 2020).
With extreme diet plans, like the military diet, that rapid weight loss you experience in the beginning is often not excess body fat, but rather, mostly water weight and other fluids (Joshi, 2018).
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Vitamin and mineral deficiencies
The military diet is very limited in the types of foods it allows. Since it only allows some types of fruits, vegetables, and other foods while also being very low in calories, it could lead to deficiencies (Joshi, 2018).
Different foods provide a different variety of vitamins and minerals. That’s why it’s recommended to consume a wide range of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and healthy fats to ensure you’re getting everything your body needs.
Constipation and digestive changes
This diet is also low in fiber. Fiber is found in plant foods like beans, lettuce, and oats. One of the functions of fiber is to help keep your bowel movements regular. Eating a low-fiber diet can lead to constipation and other (unwelcome) changes in digestive health (Diaz, 2021).
Binge eating and overeating
Research suggests that restrictive eating and dieting may increase the reward sensitivity to food (Avena, 2013). This means your brain has an increased response when you do eat and can increase your drive for food.
Other research suggests that dieting attempts may increase the risk in vulnerable people of developing an eating disorder, such as binge eating disorder or bulimia nervosa (Memon, 2020). More research is needed to understand the effects of dieting and restrictive eating on mental health, but this is a risk that needs to be weighed.
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Is it doctor recommended?
There are no research studies specifically about the military diet, so it’s challenging to understand its effectiveness and risks.
Because it’s restrictive both in the types of food allowed and the number of calories, it’s likely not a sustainable diet long-term. Instead, many of the best diets focus on eating a balanced diet, including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein, and healthy fats. If you have questions, talk with your healthcare provider or a registered dietitian about the right meal plan for you.
- Avena, N. M., Murray, S., & Gold, M. S. (2013). Comparing the effects of food restriction and overeating on brain reward systems. Experimental Gerontology, 48(10), 1062–1067. doi: 10.1016/j.exger.2013.03.006. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4013785/
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). (2020). Losing weight. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/healthyweight/losing_weight/index.html
- Diaz, S., Bittar, K., & Mendez, M. D. (2021). Constipation. [Updated 2021, Jul 26]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Retrieved on Oct. 19, 2021 from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK513291/
- Joshi, S. & Mohan, V. (2018). Pros & cons of some popular extreme weight-loss diets. The Indian Journal Of Medical Research, 148(5), 642–647. doi: 10.4103/ijmr.IJMR_1793_18. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6366252/
- Memon, A. N., Gowda, A. S., Rallabhandi, B., Bidika, E., Fayyaz, H., Salib, M., et al. (2020). Have our attempts to curb obesity done more harm than good?. Cureus, 12(9), e10275. doi: 10.7759/cureus.10275. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7538029/
- Osilla, E. V., Safadi, A. O., & Sharma, S. (2021). Calories. [Updated 2021, Sep 15]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Retrieved on Oct. 19, 2021 from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK499909/
Dr. Steve Silvestro is a board-certified pediatrician and Senior Manager, Medical Content & Education at Ro.