Don’t fall for the Military Diet hype – it’s dangerous and unsustainable

The Military Diet, which is growing in popularity in the United States, helps with rapid weight loss, but at the cost of good health

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 29 March, 2016, 2:01am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 29 March, 2016, 3:05pm

Lose up to 4.5 kilograms in a week? Sounds like a dream diet. There are online testimonials – complete with “before” and “after” full-body pictures – that claim the Military Diet really does work, and it’s trending in the US (which means it probably won’t be long before it makes it to Hong Kong), so enough people are buying into it.

But look deeper, and it’s obvious this isn’t as easy as it sounds. The Military Diet is an intermittent-fasting regime, it consists of three days of a calorie-controlled programme and four days off each week. On dieting days, there’s a strict list of approved foods for the three main meals – no snacks are allowed. Even the rest or “off-diet” days, it’s not easy. One is advised to exercise and keep intake to just 1,500 calories. With all that, there will be weight loss.

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But the diet is hard to sustain and worse, unhealthy. I know because I tried. Although I lost 1kg after the first week, it required a lot of adjustments, including making special arrangements when dining out.

It’s hard to be a social butterfly while on such a restrictive – and prescriptive – diet, though the approved items are relatively easy to procure and require little or no preparation.

Like every diet, the key to success with the Military Diet is discipline – and dare I say, a certain amount of faith. Nutritionists and dietitians say that it’s little surprise the diet works.

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“The main reason why people lose weight on this diet is because of calorie restriction,” says Singapore-based nutritionist Jaclyn Reutens.

She adds that the plan expects dieters to limit calories to 1,100 to 1,400 a day, which is far lower than the typical caloric intake of the average person.

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So while the Military Diet might want you to think it’s easy, it’s actually a really hardcore diet. If you’re starving yourself, of course you’re going to lose weight.

Worse, much of the weight loss actually comes from the loss of muscle, says Karen Lee Weiss, a nutrition and health coach.

“This diet forces the body into ‘starvation mode’ as it is taking in so little food. The problem here is that the mind knows that this is just a short-term diet, but the body doesn’t distinguish between a diet and a famine. Our bodies are amazing and will do everything they can to keep us alive, including conserving energy during this ‘famine’,” says Lee Weiss.

“As a result, your metabolic rate slows down and you burn fewer calories doing daily activities. You start to feel tired so you can’t do much. Since you are not taking enough food for energy, your body will start to break down muscle tissue and convert it to glucose for fuel.”

Realistically, Reutens says, it will be “extremely hard” to continue this type of diet in the long term.

“You want weight loss to be permanent,” adds Reutens. “Yo-yo dieting results in lowered self-esteem and increased health risks.”

Nutrition-wise, the Military Diet doesn’t encourage good eating habits. Lee Weiss, the founder of wellness company Re:Health, says: “If you go on this diet, your body will miss out on all the vital nutrients it needs for optimal functioning. A healthy diet consists of a well-balanced mix of protein, fats and carbohydrates and focuses on high quality and minimally processed foods.”

Reutens agrees: “There are too little vegetables, especially on day three. Fruits and vegetables may seem like they can replace each other, but they can’t. They each offer a different array of vitamins and minerals.”

Cheryl Tay, 29, founder of positive body image movement Rock Your Naked Truth (rockthenakedtruth.com), says that ultimately, the Military Diet is just a gimmick.

“Such a fad diet may work for a start because it is new to your body and you suddenly drop your calorie intake, but we shouldn’t be aiming to lose so much weight in such a short time. Sustainable results take time.”