What if someone told you that you could lose 10 pounds a week…while eating ice cream? Sounds too good to be true, right? That’s the alluring sell behind the Military Diet, a strict eating regimen that’s been sweeping the Internet over the past few months. The rules: Follow a rigid meal plan for three days, then do four days of maintenance and watch as the pounds “melt away” by the end of the week.
Pinners, bloggers and YouTube vlogs are driving this trend forward with viral before-and-after pictures showcasing impressive (and often hard to believe) changes. Devotees of the diet consume 1,100 to 1,400 calories a day in the form of so-called “fat-burning” food combinations like hot dogs and bananas, and tuna and toast. (Yes, we said hot dogs.) It’s a one-size-fits-all plan, so athletic men and women are going to dine on the same grub as their more sedentary peers. But is this really a healthy way to lose weight? We got to the bottom of this much-talked-about plan.
What the Military Diet Is All About
No shocker here: It turns out that the Military Diet isn’t quite the unique weight loss solution it’s made out to be. “This [diet concept] has been dressed up differently and brought out to dance before,” says Kimberly Gomer, R.D., director of nutrition at Pritikin Longevity Center. In other words, a restrictive three-day plan is nothing new in the health industry.
Plus, the diet’s affiliation with the actual U.S. Army seems to be just a gimmick. (Fun fact: The Cleveland Clinic Diet, British Heart Foundation Diet, Mayo Clinic Diet and Navy Diet aren’t linked to those institutions, either.) So don’t judge a book — or a diet — by its cover.
According to websites dedicated to the meal plan, the three-day Military Diet prescribes the following meal plan.
Military Diet: Day One
To get started, you’ll prep a half grapefruit, slice of toast, scoop of peanut butter and some coffee for breakfast. And for lunch, it’s tuna, toast and more coffee (or caffeinated tea). On the dinner menu: three ounces of meat, a cup of green beans, half a banana, a small apple and, yup, a cup of vanilla ice cream.
Military Diet: Day Two
This is where things get especially…interesting. For breakfast you’ll have an egg, a slice of toast and half a banana. For lunch, another hard-boiled egg, some saltines and a cup of cottage cheese. Then for dinner, have those hot dogs handy. You’ll eat two mystery tubes plus some fruits and veggies, finished off with more vanilla ice cream.
Military Diet: Day Three
On the last day of the diet, you’ll cut calories down to approximately 1,100 in the following breakdown. For breakfast, five saltines, an ounce of cheddar cheese and a small apple. Up next, just one egg and slice of toast for lunch. Then for the grand finale, a cup of tuna, half of a banana and one last cup of vanilla ice cream.
Once you complete the three-day diet, you’re supposed to eat and exercise normally for the next four days. “What I found interesting is that this diet allows for almost 1,500 calories, which is a pretty normal weight management diet,” says Gomer. “It’s not a crazy 800-calorie crash diet.” But its promises aren’t all they appear to be.
Three-Day Diet: Crazy or Legit?
One of the central claims of the Military Diet is that your meals are arranged in “fat-burning” food combinations. However, “There’s no science behind it,” says Gomer. You may still lose weight if the calories you’re consuming are less than the calories you’re burning off throughout your day. But nothing about pairing grapefruit with peanut butter toast will necessarily help you slim your waistline more than another combination of similarly caloric foods, Gomer says.
The Military Diet’s focus on small quantities of high-fat food might leave you feeling hungry, too. “This is allowing a very little bit of rich food,” explains Gomer, noting that you’ll still feel hungry despite indulging in ice cream each night. “It makes me frustrated because I could give people six times the amount of food [for the same amount of calories],” says Gomer.
You’d be better off focusing on filling, low-density foods such as fruits and vegetables, which have a lot of water and fiber, Gomer notes. Plus, the diet is also lacking in whole grains, which can reduce your risk of many chronic diseases (like diabetes and heart disease) and help with weight maintenance.
So we hate to break it to you, but devouring hot dogs and ice cream probably won’t be your ticket to sustainable and healthy weight loss. “The idea that there’s something magical in a certain diet, that’s the American dream,” says Gomer. The Military Diet isn’t sustainable, she says. “You’ll get hungry and grouchy and you break your diet and [then] you’re looking for the next miracle.”
It might be time to get off the diet rollercoaster and leave the miracles to Disney.
Originally published October 2015. Updated January 2017.