Does the 3-Day Military Diet Actually Work for Weight Loss?

Vanilla ice cream is a featured food in the 3-Day Military Diet.
Image Credit: ac_bnphotos/iStock/GettyImages

The 3-Day Military Diet is a short-term diet plan that promises quick weight loss. While the diet wasn't created by the Army or the Navy, it is fairly restrictive and takes planning and discipline to execute — hence the name.

While the 3-Day Military Diet may help you lose a few pounds initially, it's not a sound plan for sustainable weight loss, nor is it an eating regimen most experts would recommend. Here's everything you need to know about the meal plan.

What Is the 3-Day Military Diet?

As its name implies, this diet is meant to be followed for three consecutive days. The remaining four days of the week, you eat "normally" (though the diet recommends capping your calories at 1,500 per day for those four days for the best results). You then repeat this diet cycle — three days on, four days off — until you reach your goal weight.

Despite its name, it's unclear if the diet was developed by someone in the military, or even what the diet's origins are. It was named "The Military Diet" because "it takes discipline and stamina to achieve results, just like in the Military," according to the diet's website.

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What You Can Eat on the 3-Day Military Diet

Foods

The three-day menu is strict (see more in the specific meal plan below). It centers around some healthy foods, like:

  • Lean proteins
  • Peanut butter
  • Some fruits and vegetables

But it also encourages foods that aren't exactly brimming with good-for-you nutrients. For instance, according to the three-day menu, you're supposed to eat at least one slice of white toast each day and sometimes a few saltines.

The menu also features highly processed foods, including hot dogs and ice cream. And while, yes, we believe in everything in moderation, when your total daily calories are so limited (the three-day average is 1,200 calories) it's important to choose as many vitamin-, mineral- and other nutrient-packed foods as possible so you can maximize your nutrition.

Drinks

As for beverages, people following the 3-Day Military Diet are encouraged to drink only the following:

  • Water
  • Black coffee and tea (but they can only be sweetened with Stevia)

Alcohol is off the menu for the three days you're following the strict meal plan, while it is technically permitted the other four days.

Condiments

The diet permits zero-calorie seasonings only, as well as condiments that are free of added sugar and soybean oil.

Substitutions

While very strict, the 3-Day Military Diet offers a fairly robust substitutions menu and, in fact, some of those swaps are more nutritious than the original menu.

For example, instead of that slice of white toast, you're permitted to sub in one of the following:

  • 1/8 cup of sunflower seeds
  • 1/2 cup of whole-grain cereal
  • Half of a high-protein bar
  • 1/4 cup of yogurt with 1/2 teaspoon of flax seeds

Another substitution: Swap your saltine crackers out for the calorie equivalent of quinoa.

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The 3-Day Military Diet Sample Menu

Grapefruit is included in the 3-Day Military Diet, but many other fruits and veggies are not.
Image Credit: joannatkaczuk/iStock/GettyImages

Day 1

  • Breakfast:​ 1/2 grapefruit, 1 slice toast, 2 tablespoons peanut butter, 1 cup caffeinated coffee or tea
  • Lunch:​ 1/2 cup tuna, 1 slice toast, 1 cup caffeinated coffee or tea
  • Dinner:​ 3 ounces of any type of meat, 1 cup green beans, 1/2 banana, 1 small apple, 1 cup vanilla ice cream

Day 2

  • Breakfast:​ 1 egg, 1 slice toast, 1/2 banana, 1 cup caffeinated coffee or tea
  • Lunch:​ 1 cup cottage cheese, 1 hard-boiled egg, 5 saltine crackers, 1 cup caffeinated coffee or tea
  • Dinner:​ 2 hot dogs, 1 cup broccoli, 1/2 cup carrots, 1/2 banana, 1/2 cup vanilla ice cream

Day 3

  • Breakfast:​ 5 saltine crackers, 1 slice cheddar cheese, 1 small apple, 1 cup caffeinated coffee or tea
  • Lunch:​ 1 hard-boiled egg, 1 slice toast, 1 cup caffeinated coffee or tea
  • Dinner:​ 1 cup tuna, 1/2 banana, 1 cup vanilla ice cream

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Can You Lose Weight on the 3-Day Military Diet?

Proponents of the diet claim you can lose as many as 10 pounds in a single week on this plan. The calorie count for day one is 1,400 calories; for day two it's 1,200 calories and day three is 1,100 calories. Many people report temporarily losing weight when they heed the diet plan's restrictions.

That said, if you compensate for the three-day deficit during your four "free" days, any weight lost will reappear. If you're able to stick to the 1,500-calorie cap on your four off days, however, you'll likely continue to lose weight.

Still, losing a lot of weight quickly can be challenging to maintain, per a study published November 2012 in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. The ideal rate for successful, sustained weight loss is 1 to 2 pounds per week, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Risks of the 3-Day Military Diet

1. Lacking in Overall Nutrition

The 3-Day Military Diet lacks in variety, nutrition and energy (calories). The three-day meal plan is not diverse and this is compounded by the fact that it's meant to be repeated each week until you reach your goal weight.

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend adults consume a diet that includes a variety of nutritious foods across all of the food groups in an effort to meet our nutrient needs and stay within our calorie goals.

2. Low in Fruits and Veggies

The 3-Day Military Diet contains very few fruits and vegetables, which are imperative for key nutrients like potassium, fiber and antioxidants.

Plus, eating adequate fruits and veggies could help you manage your weight, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

According to the Dietary Guidelines, three-quarters of Americans already fail to meet the daily recommendation for fruit and vegetable intake, so the fact that this diet may take a person further from this goal is troubling.

3. Doesn't Provide Other Key Nutrients

The 3-Day Military Diet also lacks in whole grains, which are a great source of fiber, a nutrient that helps promote satiety and maintain healthy waistlines.

While protein is also an important component of weight loss, the processed meats in the 3-Day Military Diet are not ideal, as regularly eating processed meats is associated with weight gain and an increased risk for cancer and stroke.

So, Should You Try It?

You'll likely experience some weight loss on the 3-Day Military Diet, as the meal plan is a a low- to very-low-calorie diet.

Still, for many reasons, this isn't a diet for people who want to healthfully lose and keep off weight. The 3-Day Military diet is not nutritionally robust, nor is it a viable way to sustain weight loss.

If you do choose to follow it, you should aim to include as many nutrient-dense fruits and veggies, whole grains, lean proteins and dairy or dairy substitutes into your diet as possible on those four "off" days to compensate for the lack of nutrition in the three "on" days.

If you're set on a plan that promises weight loss, consider the flexitarian diet or WW (Weight Watchers). These tied for first on U.S. News & World Report's list of Best Weight-Loss Diets.

But when it comes to the best diets for overall health — including managing your weight — the Mediterranean and DASH diets rank at #1 and #2, respectively, according to U.S. News & World Report, because they're easy to start and stick with for the long haul.

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