Does The Military Diet Work? A Point by Point Review

Does military diet work
Angie Moore
Written by Angie Moore

Naturally, whenever someone wants to try a new diet, they want to know beforehand if it works or not. Otherwise, it may just turn out to be a waste of their time. The good thing about this diet is that it only lasts three days, so even if it doesn’t work as expected, you don’t have a lot to lose. Remember: one of the main reasons why diets don’t work is that you’re not doing them. Below we’ll take a look at its most important principles and try to answer this very ardent question: “Does the military diet work?”

Principle #1 – low calories

The military diet should work mainly because it’s low in calories. If you eat less than your TDEE (Total Daily Energy Expenditure), but enough to sustain, and you don’t have untreated hormonal imbalances, chances are that you will lose weight.

Each of the three days of this diet restricts you to an average of 1200 calories. You won’t go into the dreaded “starvation mode” – which is one of the nastiest myths about diets – because that is reached after months of eating below 1000 calories per day.

NOT like this with lot of calories

But the promise purported by the military diet is that you will get to lose 10 pounds in a week. Could that be just a marketing scheme, or can it actually happen? Just a quick online search could help you find a projected weight loss calculator. For a 25 year old woman who weighs 140 pound at 5ft6in, and wants to lose 10 pounds by eating 1200 calories EVERYDAY, the projected weight loss is about 6 weeks.

A few other problems should be taken into consideration as counter-arguments for the success promised by the military diet:

  • If you are shorter, you may need to eat even less; for a 4ft9in woman who weighs 130 pounds, the TDEE is 1392kcals and a deficit of just 190 calories per day isn’t very much. Consequently, the taller you are, the better this diet will work.
  • If you are thinner, the harder it will be for you to lose weight. The reason is that your body has to work less in order to sustain you. People who are overweight or obese burn calories faster, so the military diet will get them better results.

That being said, the military diet isn’t supposed to be like one of the other low-calorie diets, as it bases its strategy on certain chemical reactions that occur in your body when combining different types of foods. That combination is what can determine a 10 pound weight loss per week. Check out our guide to military diet food substitutions to give you more options.

Principle #2 – intermittent fasting

Another principle employed by the military diet is intermittent fasting. Apparently, this can help you lose weight faster, because it keeps your body guessing. It doesn’t allow it to get comfortable at a lower caloric intake and it keeps your metabolism running at high speeds. This is achieved by oscillating between low-calorie days and normal-calorie days.

Fasting helps regulate your hormones and decreases the levels on insulin in your body, thus making it more likely for you to reach your goal-weight rapidly.

Intermittent fasting

Conversely, the most frequent form of intermittent fasting is to have 2 days per week with a caloric intake of about 500-600 calories. Generally, these days shouldn’t be one after another, but should be followed/ preceded by normal-calorie days. This will definitely not let your body get too used to a certain type of menu, accelerating the metabolism.

It’s not very clear why the military diet doesn’t employ the alternate day fasting, but chooses to condense all three moderately-lower calorie days at the beginning of the weight-loss week. Nevertheless, the reason could lie in the combination of different foods and food groups, which allow more calories to be burnt. We’ll discuss them below.

Principle #3 – low in carbohydrates

So how does the military diet work? A first reason is that it’s very low in carbohydrates. As you can easily notice by taking a look at its standard menu, white bread, pasta and rice are completely absent from it. You do get some toast and saltine crackers, as well as a lot of low-carb fruit and vegetables.

Saltine crackers

But how do carbs influence weight gain? According to a number of recent studies, if your diet is packed with carbs, you:

  • Will be hungrier. Carbs aren’t very nourishing and that’s why your body needs foods it can take more time digesting. If the digestion process lasts longer, you will feel fuller in the meantime.
  • Will have more triglycerides in your blood. These are the fundamental particles found in your circulatory system that carry the fat around. That’s why you may also develop cholesterol-related problems if you don’t limit your carbohydrate level to a normal amount even when you’re not on a diet.
  • Your glycemic index will be higher. Having a lot of sugar in your blood will make your body store more fat, apart from the fact that it will put you at risk for diabetes and heart issues.

Consequently, the normal amount of carbs per day shouldn’t go over 300 grams. When you are trying to lose weight, carbs should be kept at a minimum of 130 grams/day.

Principle #4 – lots of proteins

Another reason why the 3 day military diet works is because it promotes a healthy consumption of proteins. You will get to eat eggs, fish, chicken, cheese – all high-protein foods that will ensure you keep your muscle mass and tonus at adequate levels.

Lots of proteins

When it comes to weight loss, the military diet states that proteins help increase the chances of rapid results. This is true because:

  • It takes longer to metabolize proteins, thus the body burns more calories. Apparently, the body uses up to 30% from the total caloric intake that comes from proteins to digest them. So if you eat one cup of tuna for dinner on day 3, you will have ingested 300 calories, but will have burnt 90 calories in the process just for digesting them.
  • Proteins will make you feel fuller. Scientists have proven that protein consumption lowers the appetite, because they take longer to be metabolized. In addition to this, other studies have argued that a combination between protein-rich and low-dense energy foods actually contributes even more to this feeling of satiety. And this is exactly what the military diet proposes for dinner on day 2: a combination between vegetables and fruit (which have a low caloric density) and two hot-dogs with no bun (high in protein). The reason why the menu includes vanilla ice-cream here could be disputed, but we’ll talk more about that later.
  • Muscle burns more calories than fat. Not losing muscle mass will help you lose more body-fat. It has been argued that 4.5 pounds of muscle burn an additional 50kcals per day. That doesn’t seem do be much, but if you were to lose a few of those pounds by following a regular crash or fad diet, you would definitely see the difference.

Apart from losing weight, a high-protein and low-carb diet will have other health benefits, such as:

  • Lower heart disease risk
  • Lower blood pressure
  • Lower cholesterol

Principle #5 – healthy fats

A constant reproach brought against this diet is that it promotes an unhealthy lifestyle, because people shouldn’t be told it is ok to eat ice-cream when they’re on a diet.

Ice-cream has a high caloric density and that is supposed to increase your appetite to the point where you can’t control your cravings. Even though it’s not a particularly nourishing food and not a very healthy snack, it can really help you lose weight faster when combined with other foods.

As such, your appetite will be decreased by the combination of high-protein foods and low-dense calorie foods, so you won’t have to worry that ice-cream won’t make you feel full. That’s the job of the other food items.

Vanilla Ice Cream Bowl

What vanilla ice-cream brings to the table (and for that matter cottage cheese and cheddar cheese too) is its low-carb content. Some specialists argue that if you were to choose a low-fat diet, which is probably high in carbs, your blood levels would spike, you would feel hungrier and generally suffer from all the disadvantages mentioned above.

On the other hand, different studies found that the low-fat – high-carb diet works better for women who are sensitive to insulin. That’s why it’s important to consult your GP before embarking on a new diet.

Principle #6 – calcium rich foods

Other research findings show more compelling data about how the military diet does work. Thus, calcium rich foods assist weight-loss, as well as dairy products. Mixing those two is what does the most magic, and test subjects who were on the high-calcium and dairy diet lost a whooping 70% more weight than test subjects who were following a regular diet.

As you can see, the military diet encourages a high calcium intake, that comes from dairy. It is important to notice that the afore mentioned calcium doesn’t come from pills or supplements, which aren’t deemed reliable in the 3 day military diet. That is significant, because quality is oftentimes more important than quantity, and the source of a vitamin matters as much as the vitamin itself.

Calcium can assist with weight-loss mainly because it’s involved in lipolysis. That means it has a key role in the breaking down of fats, which can be metabolized easier. Secondly, it has a weight-loss effect because it preserve thermogenesis, meaning that it stimulates the production of body heat by burning fat. Various enzymes and amino-acids found in dairy produce chemical reactions in combination with calcium, which increase these processes and leads to a more rapid weight loss.

Principle #7 – the miraculous grapefruit

Most people would agree about the benefits that grapefruits bring. This has been deemed as a miraculous fruit for some time now, and the 3 day military diet takes full advantages of its boons.

Its creators claim on their official website that grapefruits are great for fat loss because they help reduce the body’s pH levels and create an alkaline environment. They argue that fat burns faster like this than in acidic conditions, and grapefruits are the only fruit which can do that.

The miraculous grapefruit

That’s the main reason why they advise against substituting grapefruits with anything else, except a mix of baking soda and water or freshly squeezed grapefruit juice with a few drops of Stevia. You can’t even use oranges instead, if you don’t like how grapefruits taste like, since oranges create acid and slow fat burning.

Some studies support the idea that half a grapefruit per day aids weight loss. However, this cannot be said unless people are restricting their caloric intake – which is exactly what the military diet does. Anyway, it is unclear why the menu doesn’t include half a grapefruit everyday, if this fruit has indeed fat-loss properties. The 3 day diet is also followed by a 4 day break, so if you won’t continue to eat grapefruits on your “rest” days, chances are half of it per week won’t do you much good.

Principle #8 – no sugar or sweeteners

Everybody knows that too much sweets and sugar can prove quite perilous to your overall health, and can mess with your weight as well. Moreover, sugar is very addictive and can cause cravings – we all know someone who has “a sweet tooth”, or many sweet teeth, for that matter. Do check on our article on the sweeteners allowed in the diet.

But candies and sweets aren’t the only way you could be eating too much sugar. Low-fat products usually tend to have ridiculous amounts of sugar, which makes them really unhealthy. This is another reason why you don’t see these types of products in the military diet, which prefers to encourage the consumption of high-fat foods.

No Sugar

Some studies indicate why this is a valid strategy. For many years, specialists believed that fat is the actual culprit for the rise in obesity and therefore low-fat products appeared. However, even though the consumption of high-fat products has diminished, obesity is still on the rise. The reason appears to be clearer now: it’s all about the sugar. Besides, sugary foods rise the glycemic index, so instead of oxidizing more fat, the body has to oxidize more carbohydrates. In other words, you’re burning something else, and not fat.

More to this matter, the authors of this program say that their 3 day military diet does work especially because it doesn’t allow the use of sweeteners. Even if they have few calories, they still stimulate the production of insulin and raise the glycemic index. That’s why they have the same negative effect on your body as sugar does, and that’s why the only sweetener used in this diet is Stevia.

Principle #9 – healthy water consumption

Giving your body the proper amount of hydration will ensure first and foremost your health. More to the point, it is general knowledge that water helps with weight-loss and that statement is also backed by certain scientific evidence. To see the best drink for the diet, see our article on this important topic.

Slim young woman drinking water after training

But how does it work?

  • Water makes you feel fuller. If you crave a snack, just drink a glass of water instead and you will quench your need. Drinking water before meals helps you eat smaller amounts of food. You can also reduce portion sizes by drinking some water when you’re not sure you’ve had enough yet. If ten minutes pass, and you’re not hungry anymore, than your body is telling you you’re definitely done eating.
  • Water keeps your body running. You can’t expect to function if your cells are deprived of fuel. That means you have to make sure you give them plenty of water to keep them running.
  • Water accelerates your metabolism. A study published in 2003 discussed the effects water has on metabolism. After giving subject a 17oz glass of water to drink, scientists noticed that their metabolic rate was increased by 30% in the first ten minutes, reaching a maximum after approximately half an hour.  According to this, drinking the proper amount of water, which is 8 normal-sized glasses of water per day, can help you burn 400kj more energy, which translates into about 100 calories.

Principle #10 – no alcohol allowed

Alcohol is not permitted during the military diet. These are number of important reasons:

  • It has a lot of calories. According, to NHS alcoholic beverages have more calories than we might suspect. For example, a regular glass of wine has 126kcal, almost as much as a glass of liquor, while a pint of beer can have about 215kcal. Therefore, it is no wonder that a diet as restrictive as the 3 day military diet prohibits alcohol consumption. Many people also don’t limit themselves to only one drink, but tend to have at least a couple before calling it a day.
  • It stimulates appetite. Most of us tend to ignore the fact that alcohol has a significant number of calories and don’t limit our meal portions after a wild night out. Research also argues that we actually increase our food intake and that alcohol is one of the reasons we can guzzle down more. And the reality is that when you’re on the military diet (or any other kind of diet for that matter), you don’t need an increased appetite.
  • It dehydrates. We just talked about all the benefits water has for you, why would you give that up for a glass of wine? Alcohol is a known diuretic, and also causes hangover experiences. This is what your body feels like when it’s deprived of water, and that’s a no-no when it comes to dieting.

Principle #11 – exercise highly encouraged

It’s largely accepted that exercise will help you lose weight faster. Depending on your level of physical activity and the exercise routine you normally go for, you can help your body burn more calories. Another reason why the 3 day military diet works is because it encourages people to maintain an active lifestyle. Even going for a 30 minute moderately-paced walk can help you burn around 100-150 calories.

Exercise when on diet

Exercise is not just good for burning calories. The military diet promises the weight you lose won’t be just water weight, but fat-weight. Exercise, along with an accurate consumption of protein will help you burn more fat, while also keeping your muscle mass. See how exercise helps in the military diet by reading on our earlies piece.

If you don’t already have an exercise routine, and you really want to see a big change on the scale, consider doing more HIIT or cardio programs during this diet. On the other hand, if you care more about not losing muscle mass and losing centimeters instead of pounds, consider adding a few weight training sessions in your routine. The volume for a pound of muscle is lower than the volume for a pound of fat, so that’s a plus.

Principle #12 – your commitment

If you really want to give this 3 day military diet a shot, remember that it can only go so far and a lot of it will depend on you. Be prepared to experience some sort of hunger. Yes, it does employ a number of scientific principles to keep you as satiated as possible, but if you’re used to eating 2000 kcal per day, you’ll probably hear your stomach growl quite a bit.

Moreover, if you’ll just respect the menu during the first days and then eat however much you can during the last 4 days of the week, you won’t see much difference in your weight. Try to at least eat according to your TDEE, though a maximum of 1500kcal for those last few days is highly recommended.

Burn more calories

In conclusion, how does the military diet work? It employs some sound principles and scientific reasoning, especially when it comes to the mix of high-protein, high-fat, high-calcium, low-carb and low-dense energy foods. They suppress your hunger and accelerate your metabolism, just like a proper water intake, the grapefruit’s fat-burning properties and the intermittent fasting.

The only things you have to worry about regard your commitment to eat healthily and exercise everyday, as well as your starting height and weight. But what have you really got to lose except some fat-weight? It’s only a three day diet which could give you the desired results in no-time.

About the author
Angie Moore
Angie Moore

Angie brings a mix of knowledge and experience in diet creation and fitness best practices. With Kansas State University‘s bachelor’s degree in dietetics and over 7 years of experience working with thousands of clients to better their life, Angie is passionate about your health and well-being. She is also a well-known foodie, having published a few books about diets that work. For most of the time, you can find her in the gym working out with friends and clients, pushing them for top results and fulfilled life.