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A 3-day-a-week diet? How the Military diet eating plan works

This diet restricts what you eat for three days and loosens up for four days. Here’s what you need to know — and what experts think about the eating plan.
Fresh food from all food groups
“Weight loss would likely be due to severe calorie restriction and water loss, and is very likely to be regained once the diet is no longer being followed,” said Jen Bruning.Preston Lyon / Getty Images
/ Source: TODAY

It’s tempting to think of trying to lose weight as a battle. We all want to “win” healthier habits, right? The trending Military diet capitalizes on that reasoning, but, despite the name, the Military diet actually has nothing to do with the military. “It is called the Military diet because it takes discipline and stamina to achieve results, just like in the military,” according to the Military diet website. In other words, the Military diet is intense and restrictive.

The Military diet is a three-days-on and four-days-off low-calorie eating plan. For three days, you follow a meal plan that includes so-called fat-burning foods and claims to combine foods in ways that will boost your metabolism. For the other four days, you can eat whatever you like. You’re encouraged to keep your calories under 1,500 on your Military days to maintain your progress and to repeat the cycle until you reach your goal weight.

What is the Military diet?

On the Military diet, you’re meant to follow a structured diet that provides 1,100 to 1,400 calories — men can have 100 more calories than women — per day for three days of the week. The foods you can eat include proteins, fat, dairy, eggs, grains, fruit, vegetables, vanilla ice cream, water and coffee. You can choose Military diet substitutions if you have dietary restrictions or prefer vegetarian or vegan options. You can eat whatever you want the other four days.

The Military diet purports to help you lose weight fast. Advocates say you can lose 10 pounds in three days and that it’s one of the best diets for rapid weight loss that doesn’t require weight-loss pills or supplements.

You might also see Military diets called the Army diet, the Navy diet, the 3-day diet or the 3-day Military diet.

Is the Military diet healthy?

The Military diet has no rank in the world of nutrition. In fact, it’s never even made it onto US News’ annual best diet list. That may be because there’s no clinical data about the Military diet. “There is a dearth of research regarding the military diet so its safety and effectiveness are not known,” Jen Bruning, a registered dietitian and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics, told TODAY.

No studies support the Military diet’s claim that you can lose up to 10 pounds in a week.

A 2016 study published in JAMA Internal Medicine found that people who cut their calories by 25% lost an average of almost 17 pounds over two years.

A study of low-calorie and very-low-calorie diets published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition reports an average weight loss of 27 pounds in people who dieted for eight weeks on average. However, they were eating 1,000 calories per day or less.

A small study of alternate-day calorie restriction published in BMC Public Health found that people lost a little over seven pounds on average after eight weeks. However, they changed their caloric intake every other day. They ate about 400 to 500 calories on “fast” days and as much as they wanted on “feed” days.

Weight loss on the Military diet might not last. “Weight loss would likely be due to severe calorie restriction and water loss, and is very likely to be regained once the diet is no longer being followed,” Bruning said.

Is the Military diet effective long-term?

No. It’s not intended as a long-term diet. Military diet results are designed as a way to lose weight quickly.

Talk with your doctor before starting the Military diet or any other diet — your doctor can recommend the best eating plan for you, based on your health needs.

How can you tell if the Military diet is a good choice for you?

Dietitians who spoke to TODAY don’t recommend it. “If you want to go on this diet, don’t. That’s the quickest summary I can give you,” said Bonnie Taub-Dix, a registered dietitian and author of “Read It Before You Eat It: Taking You from Label to Table.” “It says you can lose up to 10 pounds in a week. When would that ever be a healthy thing to do? It’s a sure sign to stay away.”

Bruning agrees: “Due to its severe calorie restriction, lack of research and lack of nutritional adequacy, I cannot recommend the Military diet.”

It has its fans, though, with 78,000 people who like the Three Day, Military Diet Facebook page and 50,000 posts on Instagram tagged #military diet.

You may be interested in it if you want to lose weight quickly and you like a regimented diet. If you don’t like the restrictions, you might find it hard to follow.

If you try it, you’ll want to make sure you get the nutrients you need on the “off” days. “The restricted-day meal plans do not contain enough calories to supply all essential nutrients to the vast majority of people,” Bruning said.

On the plus side, the food list for the Military diet includes a lot of foods that are inexpensive and readily available. Unfortunately, it doesn't include much diversity. So, if you like variety, you will likely find the Military diet challenging.

Foods you can eat on the Military diet

  • Apples
  • Bananas
  • Bread (in small amounts, whole-wheat only)
  • Broccoli
  • Carrots
  • Cheddar cheese
  • Cottage cheese
  • Coffee
  • Eggs
  • Grapefruit
  • Greek yogurt
  • Green beans
  • Hot dogs
  • Ice cream
  • Meat
  • Peanut butter (preferably salt- and sugar-free)
  • Saltine crackers
  • Tea
  • Tuna
  • Vanilla ice cream

Military diet meal plan

For the 3-day Military diet menu, you follow these meal plans for losing weight:

DAY 1 (1,400 calories)


  • 1/2 grapefruit
  • 1 slice of toast (whole-wheat preferred)
  • 2 tablespoons of peanut butter
  • 1 cup caffeinated coffee or tea


  • 1/2 cup of tuna
  • 1 slice of bread or toast (whole-wheat preferred)
  • 1 cup caffeinated coffee or tea


  • 3 ounces of any type of meat
  • 1 cup of green beans
  • 1/2 banana
  • 1 small apple
  • 1 cup of vanilla ice cream

DAY 2 (1,200 calories)


  • 1 egg
  • 1 slice of toast (whole-wheat preferred)
  • 1/2 banana


  • 1 cup of cottage cheese
  • 1 hard-boiled egg
  • 5 saltine crackers


  • 2 hot dogs (no bun)
  • 1 cup of broccoli
  • 1/2 cup of carrots
  • 1/2 banana
  • 1/2 cup of vanilla ice cream

DAY 3 (1,100 calories)


  • 5 saltine crackers
  • 1 slice of cheddar cheese
  • 1 small apple


  • 1 hard-boiled egg (or cooked however you like)
  • 1 slice of toast (whole-wheat preferred)


  • 1 cup of tuna
  • 1/2 banana
  • 1 cup of vanilla ice cream

For the next four days, you can eat what you like, ideally keeping calories under 1,500 per day. You repeat the three-days-on and four-days-off cycle until you reach your goal weight.

While that program may sound appealing, it could have some major drawbacks — namely that it’s pretty difficult to maintain such a restrictive diet for very long. Not only that, but experts are concerned that the Military diet could prevent you from developing healthy habits. “It discourages lifelong good eating habits to be on a diet for three days and eat what you want for four days,” Taub-Dix said.