Is the military diet good for you?

Until I read your question, I had never heard of the Military Diet. If you are familiar with my blogs you will know that I am not a fan of fad “diets”. Diets that claim to help you “lose 10 pounds in a week” and to “lose that pesky belly fat” tend to be restrictive and not sustainable. Don’t get me wrong. I completely understand the desire to lose a few pounds before a class reunion or to shed some weight to get ready for bikini weather. But as a dietitian, I remind my patients that healthy weight loss takes overall lifestyle changes and it is a journey…which takes time.

The Military Diet is basically a carbohydrate restricted and low-calorie plan. It entices you with simple instructions. The diet says exactly what you can eat for the first three days, and I can understand why many people would want to try it because it doesn’t require you to do the work to figure out what you should eat. It spells it out for you. On day 1 you consume three meals including foods like grapefruit, canned tuna, coffee, green beans, a choice of meat, toast… and you even get ice cream as a “reward”. The calorie total for day one is anywhere from 1100 to 1400 calories. Day 2 brings another three meals including: saltine crackers, eggs, cottage cheese, broccoli/carrots, toast, and MORE ICE CREAM!! Wahoo! Calorie total for day 2 is around 1200. The “last” day of the diet provides less food including: more toast, eggs, banana/apple, cheese, tuna, and you guessed it…more of the desired ice cream. Day 3 would provide around 800 calories, which is below what the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics would recommend. Sadly, just when you thought you were done with the hard part, you still need to keep your calorie intake below 1500 calories per day. And it does not give you a written plan on how to do this. Anecdotally, I was picturing myself waking up on day four after following a restrictive diet for three days. Even with my vast knowledge in nutrition, I suspect I would be craving loads of unhealthy food and my not make the healthiest food choices.

This diet concerns me for many reasons. The first three days fall short in recommending adequate fruit and vegetable intake. The American Cancer Society would recommend that you consume a minimum of five servings of fruits and vegetables a day. Adequate fruit and vegetable consumption is imperative in helping reduce cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, stroke, etc. The Military Diet is inadequate in providing enough essential vitamins and minerals that support grown and repair of tissue, adequate bone health (calcium), and a healthy metabolism. The websites promoting the military diet say that eating certain food combinations will help you burn fat and boost your metabolism. But sadly, I didn’t see any research cited for these claims. Next, it recommends followers to avoid artificial sweeteners (I didn’t see any cited evidence that moderate consumption of artificial sweeteners was harmful?) but in the same breath they recommend that you consume hot dogs. Huh? I have concerns that any diet plan would “recommend” one to consume any type of meat, especially hot dogs. In 2015, the World Health Organization released information citing concerns about consumption of processed meat and increased cancer risk. Twenty-two experts from 10 countries reviewed more than 800 studies to reach their conclusions. They found that eating 50 grams of processed meat every day increased the risk of colorectal cancer by 18%. That’s the equivalent of about 4 strips of bacon or 1 hot dog. Finally, the Military Diet doesn’t seem to suggest that you would need to include any information regarding the importance of physical activity. And research shows that healthy and sustainable weight loss comes with a combination of a healthy diet and daily exercise.

In my opinion, fad diets are dangerous. One may lose some weight following these restrictive plans. But, these fad diets don’t provide sound information on how to keep the weight off in a healthy way. Telling someone what to eat for three days is one thing, but what is someone without proper nutrition education supposed to do on day four and the days to come? It doesn’t discuss how to healthfully deal with food cravings, time constraints, fatigue, and the daily diet pitfalls of real life. One may lose a few pounds following this diet, but without sound nutrition education, one will likely regain lost weight and continue to gain…leading to the dreaded “yo-yo dieting” effect. Drastically reducing calories can lead to a slower metabolism and loss of lean body mass, and when the “diet” is done, the weight comes back on and may increase risk of many co-morbidities like cardiovascular disease, diabetes and cancer. If your goal is to lose a few pounds, I suggest meeting with a registered dietitian. She or he can help you adapt healthy eating habits that will assist you in reaching a healthy weight.

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