Military Diet : Why following a highly restrictive diet is a bad idea

Military diet

Last Updated June 11th, 2019

Military diet: The thin line between dieting and starving

Who amongst us is not guilty of searching these most shameful words in the search engine bar – “how to lose 10 pounds in one week”.

While a quick internet search for such a query will yield close to 78,300,000 search results, the one result that will grab your attention the most is “Military diet”.

Before getting deep into the details there are two things that should be made clear –

  • One is that it in no way is this diet endorsed by any military organization whatsoever.
  • Two, it is a highly restrictive diet so it should be tried out only after discussion with a doctor or nutritionist.

Now, let us understand what military diet is really.

The “Military Diet” has been formulated as a weight-loss diet and comprises of a diet that severely restricts an individual’s overall calorie intake. It claims to cause loss of weight (around 10 pounds) in a short duration of 3 to 7 days.

It is also prevalently known as the American Heart Association diet, Cleveland Clinic diet, Birmingham Hospital diet, the Mayo Clinic diet or the Kaiser diet.

Military Diet- Where did it come from?

Military dietThought the diet seems to be quite popular on the internet, there is more than one story that tells its origins.

  • The origin of the diet remains unknown. According to Patricia Deuster, a certified nutrition specialist, the diet has not been proposed by the military. Patricia Deuster is the author of the book- US Navy SEAL Nutrition Guide and a professor at the Uniformed Services University.
  • Bob Shepard- the public relations manager at the University of Alabama, Birmingham has clearly repudiated the link of the diet with the UAB hospital.
  • The director of the Mayo Clinic Healthy Living Program- Dr. Donald Hensrud has distinctly disowned the diet plan considering it as false and misleading. He has been functioning as the medical editor of the Mayo Clinic diet.
  • Similarly, the diet has been rejected by popular organizations like the American Heart Association, the Cleveland Clinic and the Kaiser Permanente (a healthcare company with its headquarters in California, United States). They consider it to be unhealthy and not matching the standards prescribed by them for a balanced diet.

The Diet Plan

The military diet typically consists of a three-day crash diet plan that restricts the calorie intake of an individual.

The three-day restrictive diet is followed by a four-day diet that is less inhibiting and allows consuming healthy foods with limitations of calorie consumption.

The diet plan is as follows:

Day 1

Military diet day 1Breakfast– the breakfast on the first day consists of the following:

A slice of toast along with two tablespoons of peanut butter.

Half a grapefruit.

A cup of caffeinated tea or coffee.

In case of peanut allergy, peanut butter can be swapped with almond butter keeping the calorie count same.

According to the US Department of Agriculture’s calorie-calculating tool, the total calorie intake comes to around 308 calories.

Lunch– the lunch on the first day consists of the following:

  • A half cup of tuna fish.
  • A slice of toast- preferably made of whole wheat.
  • A cup of tea or coffee.

In case of vegetarians, tuna fish can be swapped with almonds keeping the calorie count same.

It is a miniature meal and according to the US Department of Agriculture’s calorie-calculating tool, the total calorie intake comes to around 139 calories.

Dinner– the dinner on the first day consists of the following:

  • Military diet dinnerOne cup of green beans.
  • Half of a banana.
  • A small apple.
  • 3 ounces of any meat (It comes to approximately the size of a playing card).
  • One cup of vanilla ice cream.

According to the US Department of Agriculture’s calorie-calculating tool, the total calorie intake comes to around 619 calories including the cup of full-fat vanilla ice cream.

The total calorie intake for the first day is around 1,066 calories. The diet does not permit any in-between meal snacking.

Day 2

Breakfast– the breakfast on the second day consists of the following:

  • A dry piece of toast.
  • An egg cooked as per the liking of the individual.
  • Half of a banana.

According to the US Department of Agriculture’s calorie-calculating tool, the total calorie intake comes to around 223 calories even if the egg is fried in oil.

Lunch– the lunch on the second day consists of the following:

military diet day 2One hard-boiled egg.

A cup of cottage cheese.

Five saltine crackers.

According to the US Department of Agriculture’s calorie-calculating tool, the total calorie intake comes to around 340 calories even when full-fat cottage cheese is used.

Dinner- the dinner on the second day consists of the following:

  • A half cup of carrots.
  • Half of a banana.
  • One cup of broccoli.
  • Two hot dogs (without a bun).
  • Half a cup of vanilla ice cream.

According to the US Department of Agriculture’s calorie-calculating tool, the total calorie intake comes to around 630 calories.

The total calorie intake for the second day is around 1,193 calories in spite of opting for some high-fat choices in the diet.

Day 3

Breakfast– the breakfast on the third day consists of the following:

  • A slice of cheddar cheese
  • Five saltine crackers
  • A small apple

According to the US Department of Agriculture’s calorie-calculating tool, the total calorie intake comes to around 232 calories.

Lunch– the lunch on the third day consists of the following:

  • One dry slice of toast
  • An egg cooked as per the liking of the individual.

According to the US Department of Agriculture’s calorie-calculating tool, the total calorie intake comes to around 170 calories even if the egg is fried in oil.

Dinner– the dinner on the third day consists of the following:

  • Military diet lunchA cup of tuna fish
  • Half of a banana
  • A cup of vanilla ice cream

According to the US Department of Agriculture’s calorie-calculating tool, the total calorie intake comes to around 460 calories.

The third day of the diet is the most restrictive day in terms of the total calorie intake. The total calorie intake of the third day is around 862 calories.

For the rest of the week, the diet advocates consumption of fewer than 1500 calories in a day.  Individuals are also advised to consume plenty of fluids like hot lemon water but circumvent the consumption of artificially sweetened beverages.

Interestingly, the diet claims loss of weight without any exercise or physical activity.  

What eminent dieticians  have to say about the military diet

  • According to Elaine Magee- a registered dietician and the author of the book- “Tell Me What to Eat if I Have Diabetes”, the military diet is a crash diet that does not have a long-term sustainability. Since it allows the consumption of very less amount of carbohydrates, it causes dehydration and weight loss due to loss of water and muscle mass of the body.
  • Depletion of the glycogen stores of the body results from inadequate calorie intake. Eventually, the individual regains the lost weight as soon as he/she switches to the normal or the regular diet.
  • Lisa Drayer, a registered dietician highlights the ill effects of following the military diet. According to her, the diet restricts the calorie intake to a large extent if a person is used to the consumption of approximately 2500 calories per day on regular basis. A sudden drop in the calorie intake might lead to problems like lethargy, lack of concentration, and irritability. Additionally, an individual will experience hunger pangs and will be unable to continue his/her exercise regime.
  • According to Drayer, some of the ingredients of the diet (like hot dogs or processed meat) are unhealthy and are associated with the risk of causing cancer. 

Military Diet- Things You Should Know Before Opting

Since the diet is advised for a week, chronic ill effects on health are usually not observed. However, if the diet is continued for a very long duration, it might lead to chronic issues like:

  • Military diet fatigueIndividuals following the military diet are prone to deficiency of nutrients like iron, calcium, vitamin B12, vitamin A etc. These deficiencies can lead to grave complications like osteoporosis, anemia, impaired vision, neuropathies, and suppression of the immune response of the body. These conditions can cause secondary complications like the suppression of the immune response can further make the individual susceptible to infections, osteoporosis may lead to frequent bone fracture etc.
  • Consumption of hot dogs and processed meat exposes an individual to harmful pathogens like Listeria, C. difficile and E. coli.
  • Excessive consumption of processed meats or processed foods is linked to certain cancers like colon cancer as they have a high-fat content.
  • Hypercholesterolemia (dangerous levels of cholesterol) and certain cardiac issues might result from the consumption of the foods with high-fat content.
  • A diet lacking in the optimum amount of fruits and vegetables can lead to constipation, indigestion and other gastrointestinal issues.
  • Insufficient calorie consumption can lead to tiredness, inability to concentrate, and irritability. 

Military diet results – long-term solution or short-lived miracle

Though the diet results look attractive on the scale, they do not last for long. The results seem to be immediate but not sustainable.

  • As the weight loss is mainly due to depletion of glycogen reserves of the body and eventual loss of water, the person tends to regain weight when the regular diet is followed.
  • The diet does not advocate any sort of physical activity or exercise. Thus, it cannot contribute healthy weight loss in long-term.
  • Military diet day 2 dinnerThe diet inculcates certain processed foods which might trigger weight gain in the long term.
  • The diet largely cuts the calorie consumption which leads to slowing down of the metabolism (a defense mechanism of the body in order to protect it against starving). A slow metabolism can cause weight gain in the long-term.
  • Issues like low blood sugar levels and low blood pressure might pop up due to inadequate calorie consumption. This might deter an individual from continuing the diet making the weight loss short-lived.
  • Nutritional deficiencies and other such issues can lead to life-threatening complications making weight loss secondary.

Several kinds of researches have proven the role regular exercise or physical activity and a balanced diet in healthy weight loss and its maintenance at optimum levels. 

In a Nutshell

Military diet is considered unsafe when continued for the long term. It is advised to consult a registered dietician or nutritionist for all the diet-related advice.

Every individual has different dietary needs according to the body weight, metabolic rate, age, height, weight, and certain other parameters.

A diet customized and formulated by a registered dietician or nutritionist after analysis of these parameters is the safest and most beneficial.


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