The Military Diet

Medically Reviewed by Christine Mikstas, RD, LD on March 27, 2024
12 min read

The military diet (which has no real link to the branches of the military) is a plan that advertises itself as a quick way to lose weight by following a very strict diet plan, with the claim that you’ll lose up to 10 pounds in 1 week. For the first 3 days (your “on” days), you follow a specific diet. Then for 4 days after that (your “off” days), the plan suggests you continue to restrict your calorie count.

The military diet only allows for 1,100 to 1,400 calories a day for “on” days. For “off” days, the plan recommends keeping your calories below 1,500. The FDA recommends adults eat an average of 1,600-3,000 calories a day, depending on age and activity levels. The military diet calorie counts fall well below that number. You need to take in the number of calories your body needs to work well for the long haul.

Military diet for a month

Certain people may choose to follow the military diet for longer terms (like repeating the diet with 4-days in between). But restricting your calories that drastically over a long period of time isn’t healthy. 


The military diet makes many claims, including the promise that you’ll lose 10 pounds in 1 week. But every body is different, and everyone loses weight in different ways and at different rates. Always talk to your doctor before trying any new diet, especially one that bans food groups or restricts calories to a small number. 

The plan is a very strict, low-calorie diet with some foods that seem healthy and others that don’t. There are set foods to eat for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, but that’s it. There are no snacks, and there’s no wiggle room about food choices based on your tastes.

Your calorie count starts at 1,400 on day 1 of your 3 “on” days. Day 2 ramps down to 1,200 calories, and then on day 3, your approved food list and amounts totals only 1,100 calories. The plan does allow 100 extra calories for men a day “preferably in the form of protein, not carbs.” 

The diet itself only lasts for 3 days. After that, the plan recommends switching to a normal diet but keeping your calories below 1,500 for the next 4 days. The plan also notes you can repeat the program as often as you’d like, if you’d like to lose more weight, as long as you take 4-day breaks every time after you do it.


Every morsel you’ll eat on this diet has been chosen for you ahead of time. You’ll need to follow the plan completely to get the best results.

Foods allowed on the military diet

On the list of approved foods you’ll find normal choices, like canned tuna, hard-boiled eggs, and cheddar cheese. At least one meal includes saltine crackers.

It doesn’t include superfoods like salmon, almonds, or quinoa. 

Foods to avoid on the military diet

You can drink water and black coffee or tea, but no soda, milk, juice, or alcohol. Stick to the menu as much as you can. You’re allowed to switch out some foods if you have food allergies or other dietary needs. But only make swaps that the diet approves. 

For example, you can have sunflower seed butter instead of peanut butter or a tofu dog instead of a hot dog. But don’t switch the vanilla ice cream to a scoop of mint chip or cookie dough.

Some foods are banned because they aren’t as effective as the specific foods on the plan. You can’t substitute orange for grapefruit, for example, because the grapefruit has a specific pH level and an orange would have the opposite effect. In fact, the plan says if you don’t want to eat grapefruit, you can simply drink 1/2 a teaspoon of baking soda in water for the same effect on your body’s pH levels. 

Military diet food list

The military diet plan gives you a list of allowed foods to buy at the store before your 3 “on” days. It includes:

  • Coffee or tea (caffeinated)
  • One grapefruit
  • Bananas (2)
  • Apples (2)
  • Whole-wheat bread
  • Peanut butter
  • Eggs
  • Cans of tuna (3)
  • Hot dogs
  • Small piece of meat (1)
  • Green beans (fresh, frozen, or canned)
  • Small head of broccoli
  • Carrots
  • Saltine crackers
  • Cottage cheese
  • Small container of cheddar cheese
  • Vanilla ice cream

There’s a 3-day menu to follow, with a total of nine different meals. For example:

One breakfast menu requires you to eat:

  • 1/2 grapefruit
  • 1 slice toast
  • 2 tablespoons peanut butter
  • 1 cup coffee or tea (no cream or sugar)

One dinner menu includes:

  • Two hot dogs without buns
  • 1 cup of broccoli
  • 1/2 cup of carrots
  • 1/2 banana
  • 1/2 cup of vanilla ice cream



Every diet has pros and cons. Some diets fit some lifestyles or body types better and some don’t. It’s important to pay attention to what works for you.

Military diet benefits

In the short term, you will likely lose weight. There’s no way to guarantee how much weight you will lose, but in general, restricting your calories does make you lose pounds temporarily.

Military diet side effects

When you do very strict “on” and “off” diets like the military diet, it can begin to warp your view of food. If you have to avoid certain foods altogether, or can only follow a very specific list, you’re at risk of developing disordered eating -- an unhealthy relationship with food.

Also, because a restrictive calorie diet isn’t sustainable, eventually you will go back to eating normally. And when your body has been in a “scarcity” mode, it will hang on to any energy it gets, leading to weight gain -- what you lost on the diet and often even more. 


There are no meetings to attend or packaged meals to buy. The food is easy to find in the grocery store, and there’s very little cooking or food prep needed. But you may feel very hungry on the diet, so you may need willpower to get through 3 days without cheating. You’ll only be eating about 1,500 calories daily, so you may feel more sluggish than usual. If you choose to exercise, it may make you even more tired.

The Military Diet doesn’t ask you to avoid carbs, dairy, or other food groups. You may not want to eat out when you’re on the program, though, because the food choices are very strict, and you probably won’t find them on a normal menu.

While it’s a good idea to exercise every day, don’t exert yourself by running or lifting heavy weights during the 3 days you’re on this low-calorie diet. Light exercise is best, like walking or gentle yoga.


With some tweaks, most adults can follow the diet:

Vegetarians and vegans. The plan lists easy swaps for the eggs, tuna, meat, and hot dogs: Have nuts, lentils, tofu, and soy/tofu dogs instead. Vegans can eat nut/tofu cheese instead of cheddar, plus soy ice cream, avocado, hummus, and vegan cottage cheese.

Gluten-free diet. When the menu calls for toast or crackers, choose gluten-free options.

Low-salt diet. You can get low-salt versions of all of the processed foods on the menu. Swap saltines for rice cakes or low-salt melba toast.

Caffeine-free. Some people can’t tolerate caffeine. Although the diet claims to work best with caffeine added to your daily menu, it does allow for herbal or green tea as a substitute.



After you complete your 3 “on” days, these recipes are recommended for “off” days:

Mediterranean plate. 1 piece of whole wheat pita bread stuffed with 1 ounce feta cheese, 1 cup of tomatoes, 6 olives, 1/4 cup hummus, and 1 cup raw spinach drizzled with 1 teaspoon of olive oil and 1 teaspoon of lemon juice.

Vegetarian quesadilla. 1 whole-wheat tortilla stuffed with 1/3 cup shredded Cheddar, 1/4 cup black beans, 1/4 cup each sliced peppers and mushrooms, sautéed in 1 teaspoon olive oil. Serve with 1/4 avocado, sliced.

Cajun chicken with rice. Sprinkle 1 teaspoon dried Cajun seasoning on 4 ounces of chicken breast. Bake or grill. Sauté 1 clove of garlic, 1/2 cup chopped onion, 1 bell pepper, in 2 teaspoons of olive oil. Add 2 tablespoons of tomato paste and a few sprinkles of Tabasco sauce. Add 3/4 cup of precooked brown rice. Serve the chicken on top of the rice.


While fast weight loss may be possible on the military diet, the promises of the diet aren't backed by research or recommended by nutritionists, says Kathleen Zelman, MPH, RD, LD, a registered dietitian nutritionist. “Fasting diets are probably OK in emergency situations when you're trying to drop weight quickly, but it's definitely not a plan recommended by registered dietitians and nutritionists," as the general recommendation is to lose only 2 pounds a week versus the “up to 10 pounds a week” that is proposed by the military diet plan.

And although the military diet can help you to lose weight quickly, it's not the type of weight that you want to lose. “It will absolutely lead to weight loss; however, it’s not necessarily the fat that you’re trying to burn,” Zelman says. “With these fad-type diets, there tends to be more of a loss of water weight and also lean muscle mass. ... So while you’ll see the numbers drop on the scale, you’re losing something that you actually want to protect,” which is your lean muscle mass. 

Studies show that if you lose lean muscle mass, which commonly happens when you follow a weight loss program with a strict diet, your muscle strength and resting metabolic rate (or, the amount of energy your body needs to work while its at rest) also decreases. This debunks the military diet claim that says the select foods allowed on the diet give you energy and control sugar. "You know what your body does if it thinks it's starving?" Zelman questions. "It thinks, 'OK, I need to turn things down here to compensate because I'm not getting enough calories,' and it slows down your basal metabolic rate." She notes that the impact on your metabolic rate is not positive, and it's a scientific fact.

Is the diet effective?

No, for a number of reasons, including:

It's not sustainable or suitable for long-term use. According to Zelman, trying the military diet for longer periods is something you’re probably not going to want to do.  “The reason it's a 1-week diet is because it isn't sustainable," Zelman says. “The 3-day diet is basically a fast followed by 4 days of a very low-calorie diet. You're not gonna want to come back and do this again and again because it's too hard.” The four "on-days," of the diet, where you're allowed more freedom in food choices and up to 1,500 calories daily, is a more attainable goal, Zelman says.

It doesn’t provide the nutrition you need. The military diet (and the specific foods allowed on the diet) “isn’t nutritionally complete, and even though multivitamin minerals can fill in nutritional gaps, you’re still not getting enough fiber in this dietary plan," Zelman says. “You don't get the phytochemicals and the kind of good matrix that's found in food. You can't replace that with vitamins or minerals."

It’s too restrictive. The expected calorie count is too low (the general recommendation is a minimum of 1,200 for women and 1,500 for men) and the foods are unhealthy and processed, which can lead to adverse side effects and gaining the weight back and then some in the long run, Zelman says, adding that the diet “defies the recommendations of the dietary guidelines," including restrictions on dairy, fruits, and vegetables. 

Is it good for certain conditions?

No, not necessarily, because the foods allowed on this diet are also usually connected with an unhealthy diet. “Processed foods like crackers and hot dogs might be associated with weight gain and is not part of a heart healthy diet," Zelman says. "Regularly eating processed foods might be associated with various conditions, like gaining weight or cardio ... and certainly heart healthy diets don't include these kinds of foods," Zelman says, adding, “If you are a person with diabetes, this is not necessarily the type of food that you would eat. So these kinds of foods are associated with some conditions and you don't want to provoke that."

Moreover, specific age groups should steer clear of diets like these. Studies show that the biggest risk of following a very-low calorie diet is possible muscle mass loss, which in turn can increase the risk of declining strength and function. Protecting yourself from this risk is especially important as you age, to decrease the risk of conditions like sarcopenia, which is age-related loss of muscle strength and mass.

The decreased muscle mass and strength that can come from this diet could also have an impact if you have underlying health conditions or are taking certain medications, including loss of strength and reduced energy level. “There aren't any conditions that would support this kind of approach,” Zelman says.

The final word

The military diet can end in weight loss, but it’s not the way to lose weight. “It's not tackling your lifestyle habits, and not providing a sustainable meal pattern or teaching you anything," Zelman says. "You're not making any kind of headway toward long-term success because anyone who wants to lose weight wants to keep it off, they don't want to gain it back on."

Further, being on the diet could actually promote unhealthy habits. "When you don't get enough calories ... the biggest risks are either binge eating, creating an eating disorder, or constipation," Zelman says. "There's just not enough food, period, and it doesn't promote positive long-term habit changes," Zelman says. "You're gonna lose it, you're gonna regain it ... so why bother?"

Instead, Zelman recommends that aiming for a weight loss rate of one to two pounds a week "is much more likely to ensure fat loss from fat not loss of fluid or muscle mass."

There are many variables that weigh into your calorie needs, including your age, your genetics, and your physical activity, Zelman says. "Before you do something this drastic, speak with your health care providers or consult a registered dietitian nutrition to make sure that it doesn't contradict what your particular health condition is at the time."

How much weight can you lose on a 3-day military diet? 

The plan states you can lose up to 10 pounds in 1 week; however, the general recommendation is losing up to 2 pounds in 1 week.

Can you drink alcohol on the 3-day military diet? 

No. The diet recommends drinking as much water as you can. You're also allowed to have caffeine-free herbal tea and coffee with no added creamer or sugar.

What happens if you do the military diet for a month? 

Trying the diet for a month doesn't seem to be the intent, says Zelman. In fact, "the reason it's a one-week diet is because it isn't sustainable," Zelman says. "Essentially it's a fast followed by a 4-day very low-calorie diet. You'll see the numbers on the scale move, but you're not gonna want to come back and do this again and again because it's too hard." 

How much does the plan cost?

There are no fees to pay or meetings to join. After you buy your food, you’re set.

Does the military diet offer support while you’re following it?

There are no meetings or official online support groups. Many books and websites focus on the diet, and some offer recipes or give advice about what to eat during the 4 “off” days.