What Is The Military Diet? – Forbes Health – Forbes
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The Military Diet plan is a low-calorie, short-term diet regimen that claims to help you lose 10 pounds in one week.
Despite its name, the diet has no connection to the military. It’s divided into two stages: Three days following a strict low-calorie eating plan, followed by four days of eating in moderation.
While you can expect to lose weight, at least temporarily, on any low-calorie eating plan, experts generally agree that the Military Diet is unsustainable, doesn’t promote healthy eating habits and that you are likely to regain any weight you lose on this diet.
Here’s what you need to know about the eating plan and how similar diets may affect your health.
The Military Diet is a short-term, calorie-controlled meal plan that claims to help you lose 10 pounds in one week. The diet involves eating a set calorie-restricted menu for three days, followed by four days off the diet, in which you’re advised to eat in moderation or follow a less restrictive, low-calorie meal plan. Followers of the diet are advised to repeat this three-days-on, four-days-off week-long cycle until they reach their desired weight.
The three-day low-calorie meal plan provides between 1,100 to 1,400 calories a day. Men following the diet are advised to add an extra 100 calories per day, preferably in the form of protein, to all meal plans. The diet does not specify any alterations for women. The Military Diet calls itself a type of intermittent fasting because of its low calorie count.
With intermittent fasting, eating is restricted to a certain number of hours during the day or certain days of the week. These periods of eating alternate with regular periods of no or very limited caloric intake, ranging from zero to 25% of caloric needs. There are no time restrictions on when you can eat the prescribed foods on the three-day Military Diet, however. And while calories on this plan are low, the Military Diet provides about 50% or more of the average adult’s calorie needs.
According to its website, the Military Diet is intended for “weight-loss emergencies” or people who want to lose unwanted pounds quickly. With its low calorie count and restricted menu, the Military Diet is not intended as a long-term nutrition plan.
Despite its name, the Military Diet wasn’t created by, nor does it have any connection to the military. While it’s unclear who started the Military Diet, its name comes from the resolve it takes to stick to the diet, “just like the willpower and discipline it takes to stay in the military,” the site says.
The Military Diet outlines a set three-day meal plan that includes breakfast, lunch and dinner. If you are vegetarian or vegan, or have food sensitivities or allergies, the diet offers vegetarian and vegan options as well as substitutions. Examples include swapping hot dogs for tofu or a mixture of baking soda and water instead of grapefruit juice.
The three-day plan includes:
All other foods should be avoided during the first three days of the Military Diet plan. This includes artificial sweeteners and creamers in coffee and tea.
There are no foods to avoid on days four through seven, but the Military Diet suggests eating moderately to maintain your progress. Specifically, it recommends followers consume no more than 1,500 calories each day for the final four days of the diet.
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Losing weight involves eating fewer calories than your body expends, so it’s possible to shed pounds on any diet that requires this type of monitored eating.
The Military Diet “can lead to weight loss given the calorie restriction, since it’s on average 600 and 1,100 calories lower than the [U.S. Department of Agriculture] USDA average recommended daily caloric intake for women and men, respectively,” notes registered dietitian Victoria Coglianese, who specializes in functional nutrition therapy for weight loss in New York. The USDA’s latest guidelines recommend between 1,600 to 2,400 calories a day for adult women and anywhere from 2,000 to 3,000 calories a day for men.
The calorie deficit required with the Military Diet becomes more drastic for someone who is active and expends more calories daily, adds Coglianese. “Regardless, it’s unlikely that the Military Diet could result in its claimed 10-pound weight loss in one week,” she notes.
Even if someone does lose significant weight on the plan, those “initial losses are likely due to the depletion of glycogen stores in the muscles when calories are limited,” explains registered dietitian Melanie Marcus, based in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Glycogen is the body’s form of stored energy. When you eat fewer calories than your body needs, your body breaks down glycogen to release glucose for fuel. Every gram of glycogen is bound to 3 grams of water. So, as you use up your glycogen stores, you are losing three times as much water. The scale will register this water loss as weight loss.
Studies confirm that in the early stages of caloric restriction, weight loss is rapid and largely due to water loss rather than loss of body fat. “You can expect to easily re-gain that weight once the ‘diet’ stops,” explains Marcus.
Additionally, the generally accepted caloric equivalent of one pound of fat is 3,500 calories. So, to lose 10 pounds of fat in a week, you would need to remove 35,000 calories from your diet.
Coglianese notes that the average person following the Military Diet would accrue a deficit of just 3,000 to 4,000 calories in each three-day period of calorie restriction. This equals just around 1 pound of body fat loss.
The Military Diet claims that fasting or eating a very low calorie diet may alter the metabolism and hormones that make your body more likely to burn fat. It also claims that the specific foods included in the plan, like caffeinated coffee, grapefruit and high protein foods like peanut butter, eggs and tuna, boost your metabolism and promote fat burning.
There is some evidence that caffeine is associated with weight loss. One large review in Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition looked at 13 placebo-controlled studies investigating the effect of caffeine intake on weight, BMI and body fat. It found that for every doubling in caffeine intake, body weight decreased by 22%, body mass index (BMI) decreased by 17% and fat mass decreased by 28%. However, if you’re already consuming caffeinated coffee or tea, it’s unlikely you’d see additional benefit from the one to two cups of coffee on day one of the three-day Military Diet.
And while protein foods require slightly more energy to digest than fats or carbohydrates, there’s a lack of comprehensive research to suggest the foods on the three-day Military Diet will make significant changes to your metabolism or ability to burn stored fat.
“There is no combination of foods that will speed metabolism,” explains Kimberly Gomer, registered dietitian and Director of Nutrition at Body Beautiful in Miami. “Only adding muscle to the body with strength training will speed metabolism, as muscle is metabolically active tissue that uses more calories at rest compared to fat,” she says.
There are some benefits to the Military Diet: It outlines exactly what to eat, it’s inexpensive and you can schedule diet days when they are convenient for you. Still, experts generally agree that there are healthier, more sustainable ways to lose weight.
There are also some safety concerns to consider before trying this diet. For example, even if the Military Diet could result in 10 pounds of weight loss in a week, experts warn against the dangers of trying to lose weight too quickly. “Losing 10 pounds in a week is risky and unsustainable. Losing weight too fast can put you at risk for nutrient deficiencies, muscle loss, weight cycling and an unhealthy relationship with food,” states Miranda Galati, dietitian and owner of Real Life Nutritionist in Canada.
Indeed, studies involving athletes who lose weight quickly for sporting events illustrate that extreme caloric restriction can lead to malnourishment and micronutrient deficiencies over time. Further, in response to severe caloric restriction, the body uses stored muscle proteins as a fuel source. This loss of lean muscle mass may lead to decreased resting metabolic rate, making future weight loss even more challenging.
Registered dietitian Toby Amidor, Wall Street Journal best-selling author of Diabetes Create Your Plate Meal Prep Cookbook and a Forbes Health Advisory Board member agrees. “According to the [Centers For Disease Control and Prevention] CDC, a safe rate of weight loss is one to two pounds per week. Losing 10 pounds in one week is dangerous and is not achievable or sustainable.” She explains, “you will lose weight on this plan because it’s so low in calories, but this is not a safe way or healthy way to lose weight.”
Part of the issue with many low-calorie diets like this is that they aren’t just low in calories—they’re low in nutrients, too.
“The menu of the three days of calorie restriction is not nutrient replete,” explains Coglianese. “If you’re not following up the other four days each week with incredibly nutrient dense foods, you can run the risk of developing nutrient deficiencies over time. This can lead to a whole host of negative side effects, including eventually stalling future weight loss efforts.”
Marcus cautions that the Military Diet “lacks the well-studied recommendation to include a basic five servings of fruits and vegetables a day during the three-day ‘diet’ phase” and that the overall quality of the foods is low. “Including foods such as hot dogs and ice cream during a calorie-restricted phase isn’t the best way to fuel your body,” she adds.
Further, the Military Diet doesn’t promote healthy lifestyle changes that lead to sustainable weight loss and management over time. “It fails to educate on how to build balanced meals, why it’s important to include certain foods and what to do when your willpower runs out. It’s just another fad diet with extraordinary weight loss claims that are unlikely to last,” explains Galati.
Risks of low-calorie diets like the Military Diet may include:
Amidor recommends that people with diabetes or kidney disease, including those on dialysis, as well as anyone with a history of eating disorders avoid the Military Diet and others like it for health reasons. She adds that the diet isn’t advised for people who are pregnant or lactating, as they need significantly more calories and better nutritional balance than this diet offers.
“If you are seeking to lose weight, there are much better options than the Military Diet,” advises Gabriela Rodriguez Ruiz, M.D., Ph.D., a board-certified bariatric surgeon at VIDA Wellness and Beauty in Tijuana, Mexico. “A healthier approach is to lose one to two pounds per week by making sustainable changes to your diet and lifestyle.”
This entails lowering your calorie intake gradually while increasing your physical activity, while also making sure your body gets adequate nutrition by eating a variety of nutrient-rich foods, adds Dr. Ruiz. “Making these changes permanently will not only help you lose weight and keep it off, but also improves your overall health.”
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Alyssa Northrop is a registered dietitian, nutrition writer, speaker and licensed massage therapist based in Minneapolis, Minnesota. She received a Master of Public Health in human nutrition from the University of Michigan and began her career as a researcher investigating complementary treatments for heart disease patients at the University of Michigan Integrative Medicine Research Center. Currently, she offers holistic nutrition counseling and therapeutic massage through her private practice in Minneapolis. When she isn’t cooking, eating or writing about food, she loves spending time with her husband and two children, running and singing with the Minnesota Chorale.
Keri Gans is a registered dietitian nutritionist, certified yoga teacher, spokesperson, speaker, writer and author of The Small Change Diet. The Keri Report, her own bi-monthly podcast and newsletter, helps to convey her no-nonsense and fun approach to living a healthy lifestyle. Gans is a sought-after nutrition expert and has conducted thousands of interviews worldwide. Her expertise has been featured in popular media outlets such as, Forbes, Shape, Prevention, Women’s Health, The Dr. Oz Show, Good Morning America and FOX Business. She lives in New York City with her husband Bart and four-legged son Cooper, is a huge animal lover, Netflix aficionado and martini enthusiast.
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