The most frustrating thing about trying to lose weight is that it doesn’t happen overnight, right? The fact you won’t see chiselled abs after a day of healthy eating and 20 minutes on the treadmill might be one of life’s greatest injustices.
The latest diet fad to hit the news cycle is the military diet. It’s as brutal as it sounds – think three days of eating not much more than sliced meats, boiled eggs, grapefruit and celery sticks, washed down with bitter cups of black coffee and tea – but promises you’ll lose almost 5kg in less than a week.
Frankly, it sounds a bit gross, but for quick and noticeable results, it’s tempting.
But is this diet too good to be true, and more importantly, safe?
To find out, we asked a dietitian to unpack exactly how the military diet works and if you should give it a go.
What is the military diet and how does it ‘work’?
Put simply, the military diet promises a 4.5kg weight loss in three days. Three very long, hungry days.
Accredited Practising Dietitian Rachel Scoular explained this drastic result is achieved by following a strict calorie reduction for those three days.
“Basically, you follow a strict calorie reduction for three days, averaging 1,200 calories (roughly 5000 kJ). This restriction is roughly two-thirds of the estimated energy requirements for an Australian adult,” the Healthy Happy Habits founder told Mamamia.
“During these three days, you’re looking at a diet high in protein and low in fat and carbs (i.e. lots of tuna, boiled eggs and lean meat) along with one or two serves of fruit and veg. You then follow this with four days of general healthy eating with no set calorie restriction to fill out the week. One is meant to repeat this cycle until you reach your goal.”
For example, your day on the diet might look something like this, according to a military diet website:
- Breakfast: one slice of toast, two tablespoons of peanut butter, half a grapefruit and a black coffee
- Lunch: one slice of toast with half a can of tuna with a black tea or coffee
- Dinner: a small handful of sliced deli ham or minced meat, one cup of green beans, and half a banana with a cup of vanilla ice cream for dessert
Is the military diet safe?
Technically, yes. Nothing drastic will happen to the average, healthy woman’s health during the three days of this diet.
It’s when this kind of restrictive program becomes your everyday ‘normal’ that we’d start to worry.
“Looking at those numbers above, the military diet is a quick fix program. But the problem with fads that offer such rapid weight loss is it’s not sustainable,” Rachel said.
“For most people, a goal of roughly one kilo a week is a suitable, safe level of weight loss which is sustainable. To be losing 4.5kg in just three days means you’re unlikely to be burning fat stores, the majority would be water stores or possibly some muscle mass.
“This means you’re more likely to but the weight back on, as opposed to a more sustainable, gradual weight loss.”
There’s also a bunch of not so great side effects that make chowing down on an entire family size block of chocolate sound like a brilliant idea. Rachel said these would vary for each individual, but the common ones are headaches, nausea and fatigue. Even worse is that these symptoms often pass over time, making it seem more appealing.
“Since the diet is so heavily restricted, you’re unable to meet your recommended intake for key food groups like dairy, whole grains, fruit and vegetables. So, if you were to undertake this military diet for several weeks, you’re placing yourself at a high risk of key nutrient deficiencies (fibre, iron, calcium) just to name a few.”
Side note – Brigid Delaney did a 101 day detox diet. naturally, we wanted to know everything. Post continues after video.
This low calorie diet would also exacerbate the symptoms of people with low blood sugar, low blood pressure and anaemia experience. Other people who might not be a great fit for this type of calorie restricted diet is anyone who has suffered from or is susceptible to any form of eating disorder.
The Butterfly Foundation research shows young people who undertake moderate diets are six times more likely to develop an eating disorder. Diets like the military diet that encourage strict and rigid eating patterns can play into the obsessive compulsive nature of eating disorders.
It’s also important to note this diet is not backed by any scientific research or nutritional expert. Google ‘military diet’ and you’ll find a website with before and after shots and ‘expert advice’, only… without the expert. CNN reports they tried multiple times to contact this website and other top military diet search results to verify their information, but got no responses.
It’s also been denounced by the author of the first ever US navy SEAL Nutrition guide, despite claims the diet was created by the army to help soldiers shed kilos quickly.
“What? In my 30 years working with the military, I’ve never heard of it,” certified nutrition specialist Patricia Deuster told CNN.
“We did not develop this. We do not use it. It has absolutely no resemblance to the real military diet. Even our rations are healthier and more nutritionally sound [than this diet].”
What to try instead of the military diet if you’re trying to lose weight.
In short, try the military diet if you like, it’s your body. But please, please don’t do it for longer than a few days.
If you’re trying to lose weight and looking for a calorie restriction diet or healthy meal plan to follow, try the 5:2 diet instead.
5:2 or intermittent fasting is a research-based diet that works by following a ‘normal’ healthy pattern of eating for five days, followed by two ‘fasting’ days. On fasting days, your energy intake is restricted to around 500 calories for women and 600 calories for men – roughly a quarter of your regular calorie intake. You can smash out these consecutively or split them up during your week.
“In general, there is a growing body of evidence to support the act of fasting and calorie reduction to achieve short term weight loss,” Rachel said.
“If you are looking to lose weight and are interested in the idea of intermittent fasting or cyclic caloric reduction, speak with your health professional to determine the best way for you.”
Sure, the idea of fasting isn’t all that different to the military diet’s method, but the thing that makes it different – and sustainable – is its long-term approach to weight loss.
Because as anyone who’s ever tried a quick fix diet before knows, nothing that promises to shed kilos in three days lasts forever.
Consistent, healthy eating with the help of a nutritional professional, however, does.
Please always seek professional advice before undertaking any new weight loss or health regime.
Have you tried fad diets before? Do you find the results aren’t sustainable?