What Is the 3-Day Military Diet?

3 day military diet

 Verywell / Debbie Burkhoff 

At Verywell, we believe there is no one-size-fits-all approach to a healthy lifestyle. Successful eating plans need to be individualized and take the whole person into consideration. Prior to starting a new diet plan, consult with your health care provider or a registered dietitian, especially if you have an underlying health condition.

The three-day military diet, also known as the three-day diet, is a quick weight-loss program that includes three days of a specific, very low-calorie eating plan followed by four days of a less restrictive, low-calorie plan.

Proponents of the military diet claim you can lose up to 10 pounds a week or 30 pounds in a month while eating foods like vanilla ice cream and hot dogs. The diet claims that combining specific foods can boost metabolism and burn fat, however, there is no scientific evidence to support this.

The military diet strongly encourages portion control. For the first three days, all calories are accounted for unless you make substitutions, which must be measured and calorie-counted. For the next four days, it is recommended to keep a food log and count calories.

Though the program might lead to weight loss, in general, when you lose weight quickly, it's water weight. In fact, some experts say you can lose up to five pounds of water weight in a day. While proponents of the three-day military diet claim that it's more than just water weight that's lost on the plan, there is no research to support this.

The origin of the three-day military diet is unknown. Some sources say the diet was created by nutritionists working for the United States military as a way to help soldiers quickly slim down. However, the diet is not affiliated with the military or any U.S. government institution. It is widely speculated that the diet, similar to other fad diets, was created by a marketing specialist and not a dietitian.

What Experts Say

"This diet cycles on for three days and then off for four days with the 'on' days only providing about 1,100 to 1,400 calories and then the four 'off' days still only allowing 1,500 calories. This is extremely restrictive and not enough energy for most people."

Kelly Plowe, MS, RD

What Can You Eat?

The military diet consists of a three-day eating plan of three meals a day with no snacks, followed by four days of less restricted eating for three meals and two snacks.

For the first three days, you will eat a very strict list of food including peanut butter toast, hard-boiled eggs, cottage cheese, grapefruit, tuna, meat and hot dogs (no bun), saltine crackers, bananas, apples, broccoli, green beans, coffee, and ice cream. These are referred to as your "on" days and range from 1,100 to 1,400 calories per day.

Then you take four days off from the restrictive diet and limit your daily caloric intake to 1,500 calories of preferably healthy food. Off-day meals could include items such as a yogurt parfait, a salad topped with protein, or shrimp and zucchini pasta.

The cycle can be repeated until you reach your goal weight. From there, the program recommends adhering to the guidelines outlined in the four-day plan, which encourages healthier foods.

What You Need to Know

The military diet is a strict, low-calorie eating plan that involves specific foods purportedly designed to "work together to jumpstart weight loss," however, there is little to no evidence to back this claim. While some foods like grapefruit or caffeinated beverages like coffee have been associated with weight loss, there is no research to show that combining the specific foods listed on the military diet can rev up your metabolism to speed up the weight loss process.

Additional guidance and meal plans for the military diet can be found on the military diet website and in books including:

Though restricting calories to 1,500 per day can promote weight loss, a short-term diet that emphasizes unhealthy processed foods like hot dogs is not an ideal solution for overall health and weight management, particularly if the cycle is repeated.

What to Eat
  • Meat

  • Vanilla ice cream

  • Bananas

  • Hot dogs

  • Eggs

  • Saltines

  • Cottage and cheddar cheese

  • Bread or toast

  • Broccoli

  • Apple

  • Tuna

  • Grapefruit

  • Green beans

  • Black coffee

What Not to Eat
  • Alcohol

  • Milk or cream (in coffee)

  • Sugar

  • All other foods (for the first 3 days)

Limited substitutions are allowed on the plan as long as you stay within the calorie guidelines for the first three days. On your "off" days, you are advised to consume 1,500 calories per day of a less restrictive diet, ideally choosing healthier, whole foods over processed foods.

Pros and Cons

  • Could promote quick weight loss

  • Structured eating plan can be easy to adhere to

  • Not scientifically proven

  • Contains some nutrient-poor, processed foods including hot dogs and saltines

Like most fad diets, the three-day military diet has benefits and drawbacks. The diet promises quick weight loss and provides a structured plan to achieve that, which helps to take the guesswork out of dieting.

However, the diet is highly restrictive, includes nutrient-poor processed foods, and may not provide enough calories to sustain energy throughout the day. It is not considered a healthy diet plan.

Because hot dogs and ice cream are high in calories and saturated fat, consuming too much over time may lead to weight gain and increase your risk of heart disease.

Is the 3-Day Military Diet a Healthy Choice for You?

For short-term weight loss, the three-day military diet is reportedly effective, but any weight loss experienced on the plan is likely to be regained once you resume a normal diet. The military diet isn't a long-term weight loss solution or a healthy eating plan, nor does it teach necessary skills like healthy meal planning and preparation, which can help support sustained weight loss.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) dietary guidelines include recommendations and tips for a healthy, balanced diet which should include a variety of vegetables, fruits, grains, lean meats, beans, legumes, nuts, seeds, dairy, and oil.

The USDA also recommends consuming roughly 1,500 calories per day for weight loss, but this number varies based on age, sex, weight, and activity level. Use this calculator to determine the right number of calories for you.

The three-day military diet does not adhere to USDA guidelines and it is not considered a healthy eating plan for weight loss or long-term weight management. The eating plan is not recommended by nutrition experts since it could create unhealthy eating habits and lead to unfavorable health outcomes.

Health Benefits

Proponents of the three-day military diet claim that quick weight loss can be achieved on the plan. However, even if you lose a few pounds at first, it was likely just water weight. In most cases, you may end up gaining it back later because the diet is restrictive and an unrealistic way of eating for the long-term.

Health Risks

The military diet claims to be one of the best "natural diets," however, this is not rooted in scientific evidence. The diet encourages the consumption of hot dogs, a heavily processed, unnatural food. Processed foods contain ingredients that may increase your risk of cancer and heart disease when consumed in excess.

The military diet also promotes unhealthy eating habits, which could cause some people to choose unprocessed foods over real, whole foods or lead to disordered eating.

Similar Diets

Much like the three-day military diet, these other fad diets limit the foods you eat to very specific days. While each plan promises you’ll lose weight quickly, they are unlikely to provide long-term, sustained weight loss, nor do they support overall health.

  • Cabbage Soup Diet: The main focus of the cabbage soup diet is a homemade soup that is eaten several times a day. The diet also includes other foods that can be eaten on specific days.
  • The Sacred Heart DietSwap out cabbage soup for a different vegetable soup recipe and you have the Sacred Heart diet. In fact, the weeklong meal plan is almost identical to the cabbage soup diet.
  • Juice Cleanse: Typically a three-day fast, a juice cleanse recommends drinking raw, organic juice made from fruits and vegetables several times a day. Food, other than that which is juiced, is not allowed.
  • Grapefruit Diet: Another diet with a promise of quick weight loss, the grapefruit diet is a 10-day plan that encourages eating grapefruit or drinking grapefruit juice with every meal.
  • The M-PlanOn this diet, the M stands for mushroom, and you replace one meal a day for two weeks with a low-fat or fat-free mushroom-based dish. It doesn’t otherwise limit calories or other food groups, but swapping out meat for mushrooms reduces daily caloric intake and may help you lose weight. Of all the plans listed, this one is probably the most healthy.

A Word From Verywell

If you're wanting to lose weight and improve your overall health, consider meeting with a registered dietitian or making small changes to your daily habits. Find the right diet for you and put a reasonable healthy plan in place you can stick to. It may take some effort in the beginning, but you're more likely to achieve sustainable results, especially if you prioritize regular exercise.

Remember, following a long-term or short-term diet may not be necessary for you and many diets out there simply don’t work, especially long-term. While we do not endorse fad diet trends or unsustainable weight loss methods, we present the facts so you can make an informed decision that works best for your nutritional needs, genetic blueprint, and budget, and goals.

If your goal is weight loss, remember that losing weight isn’t necessarily the same as being your healthiest self, and there are many other ways to pursue health. Exercise, sleep, and other lifestyle factors also play a major role in your overall health. The best diet is always the one that is balanced and fits your lifestyle.

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