The Military Diet 101 – A Detailed Guide with Meal Plans

In recent years the military diet has grown extremely popular, owing to the many bold claims it makes about weight loss.

However, the military diet shouldn’t be considered a sustainable lifestyle, but rather a short-term diet that can induce weight loss at critical intervals.

After reading this article to the end, you will learn all you need about a military diet, and figure out if it is something you would like to give a shot.

What Is the Military Diet?

The military diet, as the name may indicate, is a rigorous diet regimen that claims to be able to help you lose as much as 10 pounds over the course of a week.

Also known as the three day diet, at its core it’s a cyclical weekly diet, that repeats every seven days. Don’t be confused however – just because it’s called the military diet does it mean that is affiliated with the military. It also claims to have been designed by specialist nutritionists, even though evidence of it is scarce.

Some people also know it as the Army diet, Navy diet or even ice cream diet based on what is allowable.

Regardless, what draws people to the military diet is the fact that it requires no expensive training programs, equipment or expensive grocery shopping list, and thus is something that can be followed by everyone.

Principles Behind The Military Diet

The military diet basically consists of two phases, the first phase being the active three day restriction phase, during which calories are limited to approximately between 1100 and 1400 cal. This amount is lower than the number of maintenance calories needed by the average individual, but can explain why significant weight loss is seen.

The other four days of the week, calories are still lower than normal, but are closer to what you would normally consume. One cycle of this diet will result in weight loss, but many persons repeat this multiple times until they achieve their desired weight loss.


What are The Benefits Of The Military Diet?

 

1. Compliance

If you’ve ever tried adopting to a long-term dietary lifestyle, or a specific diet geared to weight loss, you have probably experienced demotivation that causes you to stop altogether or find it very difficult to stick to guidelines every single day.

Not so with the military diet. By just restricting the active dietary phase to three days per week, most persons are able to stick to this diet for a reasonable amount of time, especially if you have a hard time limiting what you eat.

In addition to this, the fact that you will be able to eat somewhat more freely during the second phase of each week, your body is basically tricked into thinking that calories are not scarce, and in return will not initiate the starvation reflex.

2. Weight loss

The first and foremost reason persons decide to follow the military diet is for its noticeable effects on weight loss. Over the course of one month, the diet claims it can help you lose as much as 30 pounds, and many times you can lose much more than this depending on how many cycles you are willing to repeat.

Even though the second phase of the diet is more forgiving with what you can eat, you still need to ensure that you make solid choices for continuous weight loss. The military diet is especially effective for persons that may be morbidly obese or have significant health risk factors and who cannot immediately start an exercise program.

3. Reduced Cravings

Cravings will initially hit you hard while following the military diet, especially if you are used to eating lots of junk on a typical day. While the military diet is not specifically carbohydrate restrictive, over the course of a week or more your cravings will naturally wean.

Thanks to the military diet’s staggered nutrition approach, over the course of the first three days each week your body will learn to tolerate cravings much more efficiently, and coupled with the smaller portion sizes, eventually diminished hunger signals will be sent to your brain.

4. Increased Metabolism

Increasing your metabolism while at the same time restricting the number of calories you consume is a tough task, but one that is achievable if you trick your body into doing so. For instance, the military diet still emphasizes higher protein foods, which are known to have the greatest thermic effect of all the macronutrients groups, contributing to increased calorie burn each day.

The inclusion of many calcium rich foods also help to stimulate metabolic rate, and foods that contain lots of fiber keep your appetite at bay. The key to sustainable weight loss is to prevent your body from hitting its starvation mode reflex, or your metabolic rate will plummet and weight loss will stall.

5. Increased Motivation

The number one reason many people quit diets just as fast as they start is because of slow to nonexistent progress. With the military diet, over the course of the first week you will have made significant progress, providing the perfect stimulus for continuous weight loss.

Even if you have no intention of following the military diet for a longer period of time, the initial weight loss can kick start your motivation and lead you to greater things.

6. Reduced Risk Of Diabetes

One of the best way of reducing your risk of diabetes is to support insulin’s function and avoid resistance from developing. From a nutritional standpoint, the best way to do this is to ensure that carbohydrates enter blood in a slow controlled manner, allowing insulin to properly fulfill its mandated functions.

During the low calorie three day period of the military diet, blood glucose and insulin levels will be low, while the body uses stored fat for energy. This is great for helping to maintain insulin sensitivity.

However, be very careful if you are already diabetic, as a low blood sugar phase can be troublesome to you. In such a case, be sure to consult a professional nutritionist or your physician first.

7. Enhanced Immune System Function

The immune system seems to benefit from a period of calorie restriction, since it has been observed that such a practice can assist with immune cell regeneration[R]; a process where stem cells are able to be recruited to fortify this important defense system.

Low-calorie diets appear to be associated with a lower incidence of cancer as well, as the improved cell recognition by the immune system means that defective cells are easily picked up and destroyed.

8. Improved Recuperative Ability

Strangely enough, the body appears to recover more efficiently while in a state of caloric deficit[R], and not a caloric surplus as common sense may lead you to believe. This is thought to have a strong immune system link, since as immune function is enhanced, so is healing and recovery.

Studies done on intermittent fasting athletes found that post workout protein synthesis is higher than normal, along with faster recovery and greater use of stored body fat for fuel.

9. Improved Cardiovascular Health

The military diet and intermittent fasting share many similarities, at least in terms of observed benefits. One such similarity is improved cardiovascular health[R], which according to specialists may be brought on by increased levels of adiponectin, a key protein involved in the metabolism of fats and carbohydrates.

By increasing the metabolism of these macronutrients, there is reduced incidence of coronary blockages due to atherosclerotic plaque deposition.

The only other variable that has been shown to elicit the same elevations to adiponectin is exercise, but with the military diet achieving improvements to cardiovascular health comparable to the much more dangerous bariatric surgery.

10. Anti-aging Effect

Even though we like to ensure our bodies are well fed, in a strange twist of fate, the body seems to perform better at a state of low energy maintenance. Think of this as the power saving function on your computer; while it is on, the computer works just fine, but not at its full efficiency.

In similar manner, when exposed to low calories the body seems to reduce the efficiency of its processes just enough to ensure that you live, but which paradoxically ends up benefiting you by extending your life[R].

Intense calorie restrictive diets have been associated with improved longevity and antiaging, which is one of the postulated ways to significantly expand lifespan. In Osaka, Japan, which has one of the world’s highest densities of centenarians, natives there consume a significantly hypo-caloric diet, and yet have very little adverse effects to show.


Groceries Needed On The Military Diet

In order to ensure that the diet goes off without issue, it is important that you ensure you have the following groceries on hand, or go shopping before you actually start applying the diet. You must have the following on hand:

Vegetables

You need 1 cup each of these vegetables:

Fruits

Meat

  • Tuna, two cans of steak tuna, not the flaked variety
  • Two sausages
  • Three ounces of lean meat – your preference

Other Food Items

  • Two large eggs
  • Cheddar cheese, 1 ounce
  • Ice cream, vanilla flavored 2 ½ cups
  • Saltine crackers
  • Bread, preferably whole-wheat to be used for toasting
  • Peanut butter

Military Diet Meal Plan

Your food options on the military diet are restricted, even though a few substitutions are permissible. In general, however, there is a basic dietary guideline that you should follow. The three day active calorie restriction phase looks like this:

On Day One (Approximately 1400 Cal)

Breakfast

  • One slice of toast with peanut butter, 2 tablespoons
  • 1 cup of tea or coffee, unsweetened
  • One half of a grapefruit

Lunch

  • One half can of tuna
  • 1 cup of tea or coffee
  • One slice of toast

Dinner

  • One small apple
  • One half banana
  • Three ounces meat with 1 cup of green beans
  • Vanilla ice cream, 1 cup

Day Two Meal Plan (Approximately 1200 Cal)

Break fast

  • One egg, hard-boiled
  • 1 cup of coffee or tea
  • One slice of toast
  • One half of a banana

Lunch

  • 1 cup of cottage cheese
  • One egg, hard-boiled
  • 1 cup of tea or coffee
  • Five crackers

Dinner

  • Two sausages (hot dog sized)
  • ½ cup carrots and ½ cup broccoli
  • One half banana
  • Vanilla ice cream, ½ cup

Day Three Meal Plan (Approximately 1100 Cal)

Breakfast

  • Five crackers
  • 1 ounce sized piece of cheddar cheese
  • One small apple
  • 1 cup of tea or coffee

Lunch

  • One egg, prepared as desired
  • One slice of toast
  • 1 cup of tea or coffee

Dinner

  • 1 cup tuna
  • One half banana
  • Vanilla ice cream, 1 cup

Miscellaneous

Water can be consumed as much as necessary.

Tea or coffee is optional, but can be consumed more if needed. Should be consumed unsweetened.

The Next Four Days (Phase 2)

The remainder of the week is not restricted, in the sense that you can consume whatever you like but limit daily calories to a maximum of 1500. Snacks are also allowed, but you need to make provisions for them.


Food Substitutions On The Military Diet

Even though you should follow the standard diet plan for the most part, it is understandable that some foods may be unsuitable for some persons, which is why there are a couple acceptable substitutions that you can make.

The most important consideration is to ensure that the substitute provides a nutritional equivalence, and more importantly roughly the same calories.

Commonly substituted foods tend to include:

Grapefruit

Even though grapefruit is very beneficial to weight loss, it has a slew of adverse drug interactions that can potentially be dangerous, and may make it unsuitable for consumption. Other reasons include the taste, which many persons find hard to tolerate.

Regardless, one of the primary functions of grapefruit in the military diet is to serve as an alkalizing food. These foods attempt to shift the body’s pH away from acidic, and towards a neutral alkaline balance.

Your best choice if you can’t tolerate grapefruit is to simply mix some baking soda in water and consume it. Baking soda is naturally one of the most alkaline substances, and can help achieve the same purpose. Even though baking soda can be considered calorie free, that is not much of a worry in this instance.

Whole-Wheat Bread

If you don’t like toast, or have gluten allergies that prevent its consumption, you can get away with substituting sunflower seeds in its place. To obtain a rough caloric equivalence, you can consume a one-eighth size cup of sunflower seeds along with ½ teaspoon of flaxseeds which would be equal to approximately one slice.

Alternatively, two rice cakes also share a rough caloric equivalent value to offer you additional variety.

Peanut Butter

In the event peanut Butter is unsuitable for consumption, you can swap it out for various other seed or nut butters, such as almond, cashew, pumpkin seeds or even hummus. These substitutes are all excellent options, and are fairly equivalent to the calories in peanut butter.

Tuna

One thing many people don’t realize about consuming tuna on the military diet is the fact that you should be eating it out of the can, and not preparing it in any particular matter. This taste is tough to deal with for some people, in which case lightly grilling it for a few minutes may be helpful.

If you prefer to replace fish altogether, choosing other lean proteins such as turkey or chicken are permissible. Vegan substitutions include avocado, hummus or even tofu.

All Types Of Meat

Meat is important on the military diet in order to help preserve metabolic rate, since without it a decline in the number of calories you burn is highly likely. However, if you’re vegan or vegetarian most of these foods are automatically off-limits.

In such an event, it is appropriate to replace meat with foods such as tofu, beans, lentils or even Portobello mushrooms.


Important Points to Note About The Military Diet

 

Nutritional Deficiencies Can Occur

If you only plan to follow the military diet for a cycle or two, you have nothing to fear in terms of nutritional deficiencies. However, some persons that follow it longer term may develop nutritional deficiencies since many foods contained in it are low calorie, and do not contain significant amounts of nutrients.

You need to at the minimum be consuming it with a complete multivitamin multimineral supplement to ensure your nutritional status is maintained.

Know Your Calories

This is far more important if you plan to make substitutions to the standard military diet plan. It is a common misconception to compare foods based on volume, which is a recipe for disaster. For instance, a handful of nuts are significantly more calorie dense than an equivalent sized piece of fruit. Always refer to an online nutritional tool if calorie information is not readily available on product labels.

Hunger

Hunger is one of the body’s natural mechanisms to indicate it wants fuel, often carbohydrates. The important thing is to not panic if you are hit by hunger early on the military diet.

After making it through the first three day phase, you’ll be much better equipped to deal with the next session.

Mental And Emotional Changes

In addition to hunger, it is common to notice irritability, grogginess or mental fatigue during your first cycle or two of the military diet.

One of the best ways to cope with this is to exercise. Why exercise? Exercise has been shown to elevate levels of endorphins – chemicals that boost mood and can have a nootropic effect on the brain. This is why after a workout you are primed for tough mental work, and feel great doing it.

Dehydration

Low-calorie and low-carb diets are notorious for causing dehydration, since as your body makes use of it stored glycogen, the body removes water bound to this molecule in the process. Dehydration can also be disguised as hunger, which is why drinking a lot of water is advised on this diet.

Feel free to drink water whenever necessary – it adds no calories to your daily bottom line, and can actually help make the military diet far easier on you.

You May Not Be Able To Follow The Military Diet

As previously alluded to, the military diet isn’t perfect for everyone. For instance, diabetics may find themselves experiencing hypoglycemic crisis if they decide to embark on it, as would be persons with hypertension or pre-existing heart disease.

While it isn’t strictly off-limits, should you indicate interest in the diet, it is mandatory that you first discuss it with your healthcare professional.

Eating Out Becomes Harder

While you can get away with the occasional restaurant low-calorie meal during the second half of each week, during active calorie restriction phases, eating out is strictly forbidden. Coupled with the fact that restaurant menus are notorious for having inaccurate calorie information, and the fact that you may be tempted to drink alcohol or a sugary beverage, it can make all your hard work go down the drain.

It is important that you pack meals from home to ensure compliance while on a military diet.

Conclusion

Is the military diet effective? Absolutely. Is it an advisable way to go about losing weight? Not exactly. Any diet will result in weight loss if calories are restricted enough, and even though there is no harm in short-term application of the military diet, following it for a longer period of time can open you up to serious nutritional deficiencies.

Added to the fact that if you consistently work out you will the burning an immense amount of calories, muscle wasting can occur. The military diet is best used as a short-term complement or as part a sensible overall diet and lifestyle plan.

Just be sure not to take advantage of its flexibility, or you are bound to gain back all the weight you lost on the calorie restriction phase.

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