So far, 2019 has been the year of #TBT eating plans. (Eating Mediterranean-style and going high-fiber are both on-trend once again.) But as for the military diet, which has recently resurfaced online…the two nutrition experts I spoke with say it just doesn’t deserve a “Backstreet’s back, alright!” moment.
According to the plan’s official website, the requirements include following a certain menu (which can be adapted for vegans or vegetarians) three days out of the week. For example, one day of meals includes crackers and cheese for breakfast with one small apple; a hard-boiled egg and toast for lunch; and tuna, banana, and vanilla ice cream for dinner. During these days, your total calorie intake will be between 762 and 1,066 calories within each 24-hour period, reports CNN. Then, you get four days “off” the plan where you can eat 1,500 calories per day. It promises to help people lose up to 10 pounds in a week. (It should be noted that despite invoking the military in its name, the military diet doesn’t seem to have any real connection to any branches of the military.)
If alarm bells are already sounding in your head, there’s a reason. Bonnie Taub-Dix, RDN, creator of BetterThanDieting.com and author of Read It Before You Eat It – Taking You from Label to Table and Brittany Michels, RD, registered dietician for The Vitamin Shoppe, say there are three major red flags with this plan. Below, they break them down.
Red flag number one: The diet involves cutting calories too quickly.
Say you’re eating 2,000 calories a day at the moment. If you start the military diet tomorrow and cut that number nearly in half, Michels says your body will notice the difference, like, immediately. “The calories on this plan are very low, even in the 4 days off of the cycle (at 1500 calories) and may not be sustainable for those with a very active lifestyle who are exercising frequently,” she tells me.
On top of that, the expert points out that the diet severely limits how much protein you can eat. So it might feel particularly difficult to crush your strength-cardio combo at the gym after a day of eating, well, almost nothing at all.
Red flag number two: The diet doesn’t work psychologically, either
Taub-Dix adds that any time you’re swinging between restricting, restricting, restricting (i.e., eating your tuna, cheese, and crackers) then switching over to following a less rigid structure (i.e., stay below 1,500 calories), there’s a psychological toll, too. “It’s the same kind of concept as ‘cheat days’ or ‘good and bad,’ or ‘on and off,’ she says. Ultimately, the framing eating “healthy” as something you do some days and not others can lead to a lot of shame. And Taub-Dix says that since you’re operating from a place of scarcity rather than a place of nutrient-abundance, it can be challenging (not to mention boring) to stick with in the long run.
Red flag number three: You’re not eating the rainbow. In fact, you’re barely eating any fruits and veggies
You know the old phrase “eat the rainbow?” Well, if we crafted a rainbow out of the food groups included in the military diet plan, we’d end up with a sad arch of brown and white mush. (Ick, sorry for that visual. But you get it, right?) Here’s what the dietitians say is missing from the list:
1. Vegetables: “This is very low in healthy vegetables, giving you vitamins A, E and C,” says Michels. Indeed, in the three days of dictated meals, you only eat one cup of green beans and two cups of broccoli. Seriously, that’s it.
2. Protein: “For a small female there is enough protein, but not for the average person,” Michels explains. “Especially for those working out or people in the military. They need protein to maintain and build muscle mass and this amount is very low.” On top of that, the animal-sourced protein in the diet comes from things hot dogs, cheese, and ice cream, which don’t exactly earn a good-for-you gold star.
3. Fiber: The lack of veggies also leads to a lack of fiber, according to Taub-Dix, which is something your digestive tract will not be thanking you for.
4. Healthy fats: No. Avocado.“Outside of tuna and eggs there are no healthy fats, which are higher in calories but healthy or the body,” Michels says. She goes onto explain that our bodies use ingredients like for the absorption of Vitamins A, D, and E. And they’ve also been found to to lower the risk of heart disease.
Finally, Michels stresses that those with food intolerances, those who are trying to build muscle mass, or those who have inflammation issues should definitely steer clear of this diet. But really, the lesson here is that both nutritionists agree that the plan just isn’t suited for civilians or those serving in the military. Roger that!