Military Diet Substitutes

When it comes to losing weight, many of us seem willing to try just about any new idea or diet that claims to get the job done quickly. Ultra-low-calorie plans have long been a means of achieving fast weight loss. One extreme low-calorie diet that’s been around for a long time and recently experienced a resurgence of interest is the so-called military diet.

The military diet, also called the 3-day diet or the 3-day military diet, is a quick weight loss program that claims to help users drop 10 pounds in just three days. The premise is simple: Follow a super-restrictive diet for three days and lose weight.

And that calorie restriction is severe — most versions of the diet recommend reducing daily calorie intake to between 800 and 1,200 calories. That’s a good bit lower than the standard 2,000 calories a day that the average adult is usually told to aim for.

“The military diet is another fad, low-calorie diet that specifically states what to eat for three days and then gives some flexibility for the other four days of the week,” says Liz Weinandy, a registered dietitian with the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. The claim is that by following the program you’ll lose 10 pounds in a week.

The program — which it should be noted has no actual connection to the military — features three meals per day “without any snacks and all the water and plain coffee and tea the dieter wants,” Weinandy explains.

[See: The 9 Best Diets for Fast Weight Loss.]

3-Day Diet Meal Plan

The diet is very specific about what you should eat. One version of the diet (freely available at lists the following meal plans for the first three days:

Day 1


— 1 cup black coffee or tea.

— ½ grapefruit or ½ cup fresh-squeezed juice.

— 1 slice of toast.

— 1 teaspoon peanut butter.


— ½ cup plain tuna or chicken.

— 1 slice toast.

— 1 cup black coffee or tea.


— 2 slices of any kind of meat (3 ounces).

— 1 cup string beans.

— 1 cup carrots or beets.

— 1 small apple.

— 1 cup vanilla ice cream.

Day 2


— 1 cup black coffee or tea.

— 1 hard-boiled egg.

— 1 slice toast.

— ½ banana.


— 1 cup cottage cheese or ½ cup plain tuna.

— 5 saltine crackers or soda crackers.


— 1 plain hot dog (no bun).

— 1 cup broccoli or cabbage.

— 1 cup carrots or turnips.

— ½ banana.

— ½ cup vanilla ice cream.

Day 3


— 1 cup black coffee or tea.

— 5 saltine crackers.

— 1 slice cheddar cheese (1 ounce).

— 1 small apple.


— 1 hard-boiled egg.

— 1 slice toast.

— 1 cup black coffee or tea.


— 1 cup plain tuna or chicken.

— 1 cup carrots or beets.

— 1 cup cauliflower or green-leaf vegetables.

— 1 cup cantaloupe

— ½ cup vanilla ice cream.

In addition, the diet notes that you must “follow the menus exactly!,” and that users may not “vary or substitute any of the foods. Salt and pepper may be used, but not other seasoning.” Users are admonished not to “pick between meals,” but water, coffee, tea, diet sodas and other sugar-free drinks can be used at any time during the three days.

“After three days of dieting, you can eat your normal foods, but do not overeat. After four days of normal eating, you may continue a three-day regimen,” the diet states. It’s labeled as intended for people who need to lose large amounts of weight, and promises that users can drop 10 pounds in three days each time you stick with the plan as it’s written.

[READ: What Is Reverse Dieting? Can It Help to Maintain Weight Loss?]

Smart Food Substitutions

But what happens if you don’t like some of the items on the list? Foods like tuna, cauliflower, cantaloupe and cottage cheese are often on people’s do-not-like list, and foods like bread, ice cream and eggs can cause allergic reactions in some people.

If you’re not willing or able to eat those or another item on the list, what can you do? Especially given that the first instruction on the directions list is to “follow the menus exactly!”?

It’s true that the diet is very specific in terms of what you can eat, but “it does allow for substitutions for food allergies and general food likes or dislikes,” Weinandy says.

For example, breakfast the first day calls for a slice of toast with peanut butter. But if you’re following a gluten-free diet, “the regular toast can be subbed out for gluten-free toast,” she says. If you’ve got a peanut allergy, swap in sunflower seed butter instead.

Substitutions should be made with similar foods, but if you’re a vegetarian or vegan, for example, you can shift from meat to plant-based foods, Weinandy explains. “The main rule of thumb is to substitute foods of similar calorie value.”

Here are some substitution ideas that can work with the 3-day military diet:

Grapefruit: orange or anther type of fruit at the same calorie level.

Tuna fish: chicken or another lean protein, such as another type of fish or poultry or chickpeas.

Hot dog or meat: lentils, tofu or portobello mushrooms, cottage cheese or hummus.

Vanilla ice cream: fruit-flavored yogurt or a non-dairy ice cream or yogurt option.

Green beans: any other green vegetable, lettuce, spinach or tomatoes.

Banana: kiwi, papaya, apricots, plums or grapes.

Apple: plums, peaches, grapes or apricots.

Egg: milk, nuts or seeds, bacon or beans.

Cottage or cheddar cheese: Greek yogurt, ricotta cheese, eggs, meat or tofu.

Bread or saltine crackers: quinoa, couscous or gluten-free bread.

When making substitutions, the key is to keep portion sizes similar or adjust them so that the number of calories you’re taking in stays the same as what the diet prescribes. With the 3-day diet, success lies in severely limiting the calories you’re consuming.

[See: 10 Lessons From Extreme Dieting.]

Does the Military Diet Work?

In a word, yes. The 3-day military diet can indeed cause weight loss. “The military diet likely works for many people because it’s a low-calorie diet and if a person takes in fewer calories than they burn, weight loss will happen. There’s nothing magical about it other than whoever follows it is likely eating fewer calories and a lot fewer carbs than usual,” Weinandy says.

But whether that weight loss is healthy or sustainable is another question entirely. “Eating fewer calories and especially fewer carbs will result in water loss since it has diuretic effect. Unfortunately, people will probably believe this is fat loss when much of it is water weight,” she explains. This means that as soon as you go off the diet, the weight is likely to come back.

Substitute a Sustainable, Healthy Diet

Weinandy says the diet is not one she’d recommend. “First of all, it does nothing to teach behavior change like mindful eating or helping to make a healthier eating pattern. In fact, because it doesn’t include snacks and is so low-calorie, the person following it will likely have to deal with quite a few hunger pains.” That can trigger overeating in some people, and long term, “this won’t be sustainable,” she says.

In addition, “the diet isn’t very healthy. It has quite a few processed or empty calorie foods like hot dogs and ice cream, not enough fruits and vegetables or essential fats and is well below the recommended amount of fiber, magnesium and calcium for an average adult.”
Instead of getting caught up in the fad of the 3-day diet, consider finding a more sustainable alternative, Weinandy says.

“I would really like to tell people that before they embark on a diet journey, they should really think about what the end result will be.” If you’re following this diet, you’ll likely lose weight, but tire of the diet quickly. You’ll return back to your normal eating pattern and gain the weight back, “and maybe even gain more weight than you lost.”

That can be more than just discouraging — yo-yo dieting can actually be detrimental to your health. A 2019 study found that women who lost and regained as little as 10 pounds within a year were at higher risk of heart disease.

Instead of getting on the weight-loss-weight-rebound train, Weinandy recommends thinking about two or three realistic changes you can make that will improve your health and help you manage your weight. “Eating hot dogs and ice cream on a too-low-calorie diet is not the answer,” she notes. “Find a dietitian or other trained professional” who can help you develop a tailor-made plan specifically for you, your body, likes and dislikes, activity level and health needs.

Hollie Zammit, a registered dietitian with Orlando Health in Orlando, Florida, says this tailored approach can help you find the right way to eat for your body and your specific needs. ” Genetics, age and gender play a huge role in how your body reacts to certain food items or diets, and this is not something we can change. It’s also not helpful to compare yourself to anyone else — the human body is incredibly complex.”

Instead, find out what works for you and helps you maintain a healthy weight for life, instead of constantly trying to lose weight only to gain it back when you go off a restrictive plan. It may take some trial and error, but many dietitians recommend the Mediterranean diet as being a sustainable option for all sorts of health markers from blood pressure and cholesterol levels to weight.

There are few durable shortcuts to weight loss, and while eating right for the rest of your life, “isn’t necessarily glamorous like losing 10 pounds in a week sounds, but it works in the end,” Weinandy says. Slow and steady wins this race every time.

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