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The Military Diet (aka the Ice Cream Diet) Is Super Strict — But Does It Work?

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If you’ve been looking for a new diet to try — or just scrolling through healthy recipes on Pinterest — you’ve probably come across the “Military Diet." It’s a new fad diet that promises to help you lose 10 pounds in about a week, even more if you’re lucky, and was supposedly named after a technique the military uses to help recruits shed pounds. But what’s the real deal on this diet? Does it work as well as its proponents claim — and can you really eat ice cream every day that you're on it? We took a closer look at the meal plan. Check it out.

What is the military diet plan?

There's not a lot of reliable information available about how the military diet plan was started — or, for that matter, who started it. MilitaryDiet.co and TheMilitaryDiet.com, the two main resource sites for the diet regimen, are both run by fans and proponents of the diet without any cited health professional credentials. According to them, though, the military diet plan is an intermittent fasting diet that combines three days of a strict, low-calorie meal plan with four days of eating whatever you want (as long as it still falls below the calorie intake).

During each of those scheduled three days, the military diet food plan is strict, and you’ll consume about 1,000-1,400 calories. Our calculations put most days around 1,150 calories. The four following days, you should aim to keep your calorie intake below 1,500 calories. For reference, the United States governments' Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion says that moderately active adult males need about 2,200-2,800 calories a day, and moderately active adult females need about 1,800-2,000 calories a day.

Is the military diet really used by the military?

Nope — and it’s not the diet’s only name. Some know it by the Navy diet, the Army diet, or even the ice cream diet, since the three day menu allots for at least a few bites of vanilla ice cream each evening. Personally, we like to think that it’s called the military diet because it takes military-level self-control to stick to the restrictive meal plan.

What’s on the 3-day military diet menu?

For the first three days, the diet consists of three distinct meal plans. For the first day, breakfast consists of half a grapefruit, a slice of whole-wheat toast with 2 tablespoons of peanut butter, and a cup of caffeinated black tea or coffee. If you can't drink it black, it's recommended you sweeten it with a natural sugar substitute, like Stevia. For lunch, have half a cup of tuna (you can buy 3 oz or 5 oz cannes of cooked tuna, or prepare it yourself), one slice of whole-wheat toast, and a second cup of black coffee or tea. Dinner is the more filling meal, consisting of 3 oz of meat, one cup of green beans, half a banana, one small apple, and one cup of vanilla ice cream for dessert.

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Day two is even lighter fare. For breakfast, have one slice of whole-wheat toast, one egg cooked however you like, and half a banana. Lunch is one cup of cottage cheese, one hard-boiled egg, and five (yep, count 'em out) saltine crackers. Dinner features two hot dogs (just the hot dogs themselves, no buns or condiments), one cup of broccoli, a half cup of carrots, half a banana, and one half cup of vanilla ice cream.

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Day three is the lightest day yet. Breakfast is a slice of cheddar cheese, a small apple, and five saltine crackers. For lunch, have one slice of whole-wheat toast and an egg cooked however you'd like. When dinner rolls around, you can have a cup of tuna, half a banana, and a full cup of vanilla ice cream.

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What can you eat the other four days?

Basically, whatever you want — but you're only allotted 1,500 calories per day, so if you want to feel full, your best bet is sticking to healthy fare. The advantage is that instead of limiting yourself to the menu laid out for you on the first three days, you can divvy those calories up however you'd like. You can fill up on a salad, eat plenty of small fruit snacks throughout the day, or focus on your proteins. It's up to you and whatever you decide to make of it.

What should you put on your shopping list for the military diet?

When you're headed to the market, make sure to focus on the usual healthy fare, since you'll need at least a week's worth of food. But for the planned meals specifically, here's what you'll need to add to your 3-day military diet shopping list: 1 grapefruit, 4 slices of whole-wheat toast, 3 eggs, 2 cups of coffee, 11/2 cups tuna, 2 tbs peanut butter, 3 oz meat, 1 cup green beans, 2 bananas, 2 small apples, 2 1/2 cup vanilla ice cream, 1 cup cottage cheese, 10 saltine crackers, 2 hotdogs, 1 cup broccoli, 1/2 cup carrots, and 1 slice cheddar cheese. Chances are, you have a lot of this already in your kitchen.

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Is there a vegetarian military diet? Can you substitute out the meat and dairy?

If you don't eat meat — or any animal products, for that matter — or if you have a food allergy, you can replace anything on the meal plan with foods that have a similar calorie count and provide the same nutrients. For example, instead of eating half a cup of tuna, you can eat about 2/3 cup of tofu. Instead of eating an egg at breakfast, you can drink a cup of soy milk. On day two of the military diet, cottage cheese substitution ideas include 15-20 almonds. Almonds work to sub out the slice of cheddar cheese, too. And instead of peanut butter, you can spread almond butter or sunflower butter on your toast for breakfast of day one.

How does the military diet work?

The longer answer, according to MilitaryDiet.co, is that it “comprises carbohydrates, protein and healthy fats, all of which are needed for optimal body function.” At least in theory. But the short answer is that you're seriously limiting your calorie consumption. As mentioned, moderately active adult women need about 1,800-2,000 calories a day, so by following the military diet plan, you're effectively cutting your calories by nearly half. And though you're indulging with some ice cream, most of the foods on the menu are ultimately pretty lean as well.

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Does the military diet work?

Again, there’s an easy short answer: Yes. By drastically limiting your calorie intake, your body is burning more than it’s taking in, and you’ll shed pounds quickly, possibly even that 10 pounds in one week that others who've tried the diet have claimed. However, the diet itself is only designed to last one week. If you're looking to get a jump start on your weight loss journey, it can be a good place to begin. But if you're looking to make healthy changes in your life, longer-term solutions might be the better fit.

Though this diet will help you drop weight and quickly, all while eating ice cream and sticking to a cheap budget, the fact that you're taking in fewer calories than you're burning in a day means that, eventually, you'll burn out. A healthy lifestyle requires eating nutritious foods and exercising. A diet with this low caloric intake doesn't provide your body with enough energy to burn if you're looking to make working out or simply getting more active a part of your daily routine.

What kind of results do people have from the military diet?

Scroll through the #militarydietresults hashtag on Instagram and you can see plenty of people trying the meal plan out. Most report being down at least a couple of pounds and reducing their body fat percentage as well. And checking out their pictures, it's pretty crazy the progess they can make with just a few meals and a few days. Want to see what we mean? We asked Instagram users @healthyhappydays_ and @sweatherly816 to share their results with us. Check out their military diet results in the video below.

Military Diet Reviews: Do people like the diet?

While some report that they look forward to doing the diet again — "I wasn't hungry... just lacking energy," one user wrote — others preferred to find a diet that kept them feeling more full. Mom of three @sweatherly816 also gave it a shot. "I wanted to see how much I could lose, and I wanted to get a jump start on a healthier me," she said. "I lost 7lbs 3oz in the three days, which I was pretty proud of." She found it difficult — "It is a hard challenge, you have to drink plenty of water to stay full" — but ultimately was pleased with her results.

Instagram user @healthyhappydays_ was happy with her results, though. "I found it easy to stick to as it's only three days," she told us. "You know you're going to see results if you [are] 100% committed to it... If you're feeling bloated, especially after a big weekend or event, it's a good diet to do to get back to shape in a short space of time. That's the reason why I did it after being indulgent over [the holidays]." Because she typically sticks to a vegetarian or vegan diet, she substituted out two veggie sausages instead of the hot dogs and the meat.

What do professionals think of the military diet?

We reached out to two experts to see what they thought — and if the diet works. "It’s a low calorie diet that includes typical American foods," said Janis Jibrin, MS, RD, an adjunct professor of Nutrition at American University. "It’s nutritionally deficient, but not as crazy as some (i.e. juice fasts)." When it comes to the meal plan, she's not a fan. "It’s too low in many nutrients," she explains. Day 2 alone is "so low in fiber, iron, calcium and other nutrients, yet it manages to hit the daily sodium max. (Actually, most health authorities recommend 2,300 mg as a max, so this diet exceeds it.) Sure, the other four days offer more calories and nutrients, but even so, you’re still skimping."

She also says that cutting certain foods and drinks out of your diet point-blank, like soda, can be difficult. "While I’m no fan of sodas — they’ve have been linked to weight gain, and have no nutritional value — banning them without offering a substitute might backfire because people feel deprived. Deprivation can lead to rebellion and giving up on weight loss." Sticking to the meal plan is the hard part — but if you can do, you will lose a couple of pounds, the professor says. "If you actually follow it... then yes, you’ll certainly lose weight. You’re not going to lose 10 pounds of 'real weight' in 3 days though. If you lose 10 pounds, then most of it is water weight."

She's not confident about long-term results, either. "I’d wager that most people won’t keep the weight off, because the Military Diet doesn’t offer enough guidance on how to expand beyond its prescribed foods. Plus, the diet doesn’t offer guidance on how to deal with all the other facets of weight loss, such as emotional eating, dealing with temptations, restaurant eating, relapse, etc... There are better weight loss plans out there that are more nutritionally balanced, and address the multi-faceted nature of weight loss which includes exercise, emotions, support, etc." If you're looking for one, Jibrin recommends the DASH diet, a Mediterranean-style diet, or Weight Watchers. "Ideally, join a program that helps you with the other facets of weight loss, such as exercise, emotional eating, and support."

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Erin Palinski-Wade, RD, CDE, and author of 2 Day Diabetes Diet and Belly Fat Diet For Dummies, feels similarly concerned. "A restrictive diet that does not promote the nutritional value of foods and is only focused on calories, such as the Military Diet, may promote weight loss at the expense of health," she says. "This diet is not sustainable and any weight loss will most likely be regained quickly." She even cautions that the diet may ultimately lead to weight gain down the road. "A drastic reduction in calories will promote weight loss, however restricting calories this low may promote a loss of both lean body mass (muscle mass) as well as fat mass, which makes it easier to regain the weight as soon as you return to normal eating habits."

How long can you do the military diet?

The diet plan last a full week, though some only to the three days of planned meals and others do a 10-day military diet. But the experts say it's not something that anyone should be on for very long. "It's probably safe for most people for a week," said Professor Jibrin, but recommends that people shouldn't be on it for any longer. Palinski-Wade agrees: "Following a plan such as this for 3 days will most likely not lead to significant nutritient deficiencies." The author worries, however, about the overall effects. "It sets the patterns for yo-yo dieting and restrictive eating that result in weight regain as well as impairing your relationship with food."

If what you're attracted to is the idea of a quick, three day challenge, Palinski-Wade has other ideas. "Challenge yourself to eat a minimum of 30 grams of fiber per day and at least 5 servings of fruits and vegetables. This would still reduce calorie intake while providing your body with nutrients that promote health all while allowing you to develop eating habits that can actually lead to sustained weight loss." If it's the idea of inermittent fasting that you like, there are other ways to try that, too.

"There is promising research on effective weight loss from intermittent fasting, an eating strategy where you eat very few calories two days per week while eating higher calorie levels the remainder of the week. However, this form of eating involves careful planning to ensure every calorie consumed on ‘fasting’ days is nutritionally dense. I would encourage someone interested in the Military Diet to consider this weight loss strategy before following this diet plan. Fad diets don’t work — whatever you do to lose weight has to be something you can see yourself following for life. If it is too restrictive, you will just regain the weight."

Is the military diet worth it?

If you’re looking for a quick fix to fit into a dress, say, for your daughter’s wedding, then this diet could be a good fit for you. And if you simply can't give up ice cream, the military diet shows how you can work it into your meal plan without overdoing it. But if you’re looking to make long-term lifestyle changes, you might be more interested in something like the Mediterranean diet or the anti-inflammatory diet.

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