- Proponents of the 1,000-calorie-a-day “Military Diet” claim it can help participants lose up to 10 pounds in three days.
- The strict meal plan includes low-nutrient items like hot dogs, ice cream, and saltine crackers, and requires participants to count calories in everything, including coffee.
- As with other crash diets, it’s not recommended by dietitians, who say it puts people at risk of nutritional deficiencies and poor health in the long term, and that participants will likely regain any weight they lose in the short-term.
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With every new year comes a wave of trendy, too-good-to-be-true diet promises, and 2020 is no exception. This time, it’s the resurgence of an old concept known as the Military Diet, a low-calorie plan that claims to help adherents lose up to 10 pounds in three days.
On Twitter, a search for the Military Diet returns equal numbers of people talking about their (often hungry) experiences on the plan, and ads promoting its weight-loss capabilities.
—✨ (@_starlyt) January 8, 2020
The meal plan ranges from 1,000 to 1,300 calories a day, far lower than the typical daily intake recommended even for weight loss, since fewer than 1,500 to 1,200 calories can put you at risk of malnutrition, according to Harvard Health.
According to the Military Diet website, a typical breakfast on the plan consists of one egg, one slice of toast, and a half a piece of fruit like banana or grapefruit. Lunch is a cup of cottage cheese and five saltine crackers, while for dinner you can look forward to two hot dogs (minus the bun), 1 cup of broccoli, 1/2 cup of carrots, and 1/2 cup of vanilla ice cream.
The portion sizes are nonnegotiable, no snacking is allowed on the diet, and participants are instructed to subtract calories from beverages like coffee (about five calories per cup) out of their meals.
It’s not clear where the diet came from, but it wasn’t from the military
Also known as the Mayo, Cleveland Clinic, or Kaiser diet, despite not being affiliated with any of those organizations, the crash diet’s origins are unclear. Online searches for the “Military Diet plan” appear to have spiked a few times a year since at least 2012, most recently peaking again the last few days of 2019, according to Google Trends.
Despite occasional claims that it was invented by an anonymous military officer, there’s no evidence that the diet is connected to any branch of the armed forces in any way. Nutrition specialist Patricia Deuster, who developed the official Special Operations forces nutrition guide, has previously debunked the diet’s military connections. The actual guide recommends between 2,200 and 3,400 calories a day for operators.
“In my 30 years working with the military, I’ve never heard of it,” 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.”
In fact, the diet doesn’t appear to be endorsed by any expert or professional of any kind, let alone someone qualified in nutrition. There’s no qualified expert listed on the diet’s webpage, and many of the sources it cites come from Wikipedia.
A message sent to the Facebook page for the “Three Day Military Diet” was not returned.
Experts don’t recommend the military diet or similar low-calorie plans for quick weight loss.
It’s true that the diet will probably cause most people to lose weight. Any strict calorie deficit is likely to cause weight loss, especially in the short term, according to registered dietitian Rachael Hartley.
“Certainly any time you restrict calories that heavily and deprive the body of needed nutrients, you’re going to have rapid loss of weight,” Hartley told Insider. “It’s a calorie-controlled crash diet, there’s nothing special about the foods included.”
The diet could have negative side effects, according to Hartley, including low blood sugar, dizziness, and fatigue. People with health conditions or who take medications may face additional risks.
Further, exercising, or even accomplishing daily tasks, can be difficult on a such a low-calorie eating plan, Hartley added.
“A thousand calories is under the daily amount recommended for a 2 year old. So for an adult eating that and expecting to fuel their day, you might not keel over, but you’re not going to have the energy to perform at your best,” Hartley said.
More importantly, the quick-fix diet won’t really make a difference in long-term health, since participants will regain the weight if they return to their usual eating habits.
Nutritionists recommend healthy, sustainable changes over brief, extreme diets
“I often tell my patients that the best diet for them is one they can stay on long term,” she said. “So many of my patients try the Mediterranean, keto, or something else, and lose weight, only to go back to old cravings and habits.”
Ideally, Hartley added, a sustainable eating pattern doesn’t have to even include weight loss, and instead should prioritize good habits. This can include eating more vegetables, doing more physical activity, or even making sure to get enough sleep.
“The focus on the scale really takes us away from what serves our physical and mental health” she said. “Instead of looking at an arbitrary number, we should look at actually taking care of ourselves with healthy behaviors that are sustainable.”