Fasting. Intermittent fasting. And now OMAD (One Meal a Day). It seems like we’re constantly being told a new version of not just what to eat but when and when not to eat it. If all this business about OMAD has you thinking “OMG, what now,” then we’ve got the lowdown on this latest eating plan.
So what is OMAD all about, and is it for you? Here’s the skinny on this popular approach to weight loss and (supposed) wellness.
What Is OMAD?
One Meal a Day (OMAD) is essentially a hardcore version of intermittent fasting. Just as in intermittent fasting, the focus isn’t placed on what you eat, but rather on when you eat it.
A typical approach to intermittent fasting would be the 16/8 plan, where you fast for 16 hours a day and then eat your meals within an 8-hour window. For example, you might eat your first meal at 8 am, finish your last meal by 4 pm and then fast for another 16 hours.
Other people choose to do a full 24-hour fast a day or two a week.
With OMAD, you eat just one meal a day within a 1-hour window. In other words, you fast for 23 hours, eat all of your daily calories within an hour, and then fast for another 23 hours.
Many followers of OMAD choose to take their meal after they exercise somewhere between 4 to 7 pm (this also allows some people to eat dinner with their family). But once you choose your 1-hour window, the point is to keep it the same. So if you decide on 3 pm, then you need to eat at 3 pm every day.
What you eat within your one-hour window isn’t dictated. In theory, you could eat nachos, pizza and ice cream and still lose weight. (But you’d also be missing out on important micronutrients from healthier, unprocessed foods like veggies and whole grains.)
You are allowed to drink tea, coffee and, of course, water throughout the fasting period on OMAD, but they have to be taken without milk or sweeteners. Other zero-calorie or diet drinks are not allowed.
If you think that sounds pretty tough, it is. So what’s all this fasting going to do for you?
Purported Benefits of Intermittent Fasting
Fasting isn’t exactly the new kid on the block.
Our hunter-gatherer forbears didn’t always have food available, so fasting periods were a natural part of their eating pattern. Some proponents even claim that intermittent fasting is a more natural approach to eating than having three squares a day.
The intermittent fasting theory is that it puts a mild form of stress on our body and that stress is actually supposed to be good for us. You could compare it to weightlifting. It develops small tears in your muscles, but then those muscles repair themselves and become stronger.
Because of the mild stress that intermittent fasting puts on the body, it’s supposed to boost a process called autophagy. This is a natural process in which the body cleans out damaged cells and generates new ones.
So in addition to helping with weight loss, proponents of this approach to eating claim that intermittent fasting may:
- Reduce inflammation
- Protect against disease
- Increase longevity
- Boost metabolism
- Increase mental focus
- Help you burn more body fat
- Improve glucose tolerance
- Improve insulin sensitivity
And, of course, because you’re only eating one meal a day, meal prep becomes a lot simpler. It may not be the most important benefit, but it is a time saver.
What the Research Says
If you listen to the converts to OMAD, it all sounds pretty miraculous. But is there research to back up the claims?
Well, not a lot.
While there are more and more and more studies being done on intermittent fasting, there’s very little research to back up the claims of its more extreme version, OMAD. Whether the same benefits apply isn’t really known.
And as the bulk of the studies on intermittent fasting were done over short periods of time, the long term effects are also unknown.
That being said, here are a few examples of what a few studies have found concerning the benefits of a fasted diet.
Intermittent Fasting May Promote Fat Loss
Restrict your calories and you’ll lose weight whether you eat once a day or three times a day. But one study found that intermittent fasting promoted greater fat loss while also helping to retain muscle.
Another small study that actually did use the one meal a day approach also found that there was a greater loss of fat compared to other forms of calorie restriction. But it’s also important to note that there was a slight increase in blood pressure and cholesterol in the subjects.
Intermittent Fasting May Increase Longevity
Intermittent Fasting May Improve Your Mood
Intermittent Fasting May Improve Your Metabolic Health
Another study on intermittent fasting focused on pre-diabetic men. After 5 weeks of restricted eating schedules, they had better insulin levels, improved insulin sensitivity, and also saw improvements in their blood pressure and oxidative stress levels. An intermittent fasting calculator is a great way to understand your health needs and how you can meet your goals.
The Downside of OMAD
Obviously, there does seem to be some genuine benefits to intermittent fasting in the short term. But again, studies on its long term effects are lacking, and research on the one meal a day diet itself is scarce.
There are also some definite downsides when it comes to OMAD.
First of all, because OMAD is so extreme, it’s also hard to sustain for long periods. And because maintaining a healthy weight has more to do with lifestyle than crash diets, it may not be a viable solution over the long term.
Also, most adults shouldn’t eat less than 1,200 calories per day. And because you have only a 1-hour window to consume your meal, it could be tough to get enough calories and nutrients you need.
And while calorie restriction will lead to weight loss, too few calories could compromise your immune system and break down muscle mass. Too few calories could also slow down your metabolism over time, which is the exact opposite of what you want.
Finally, eating one meal a day could impact your social life. Eating with your family or grabbing a meal with a friend gets a lot more complicated when you’re trying to scarf down a large meal worth of calories in 60 minutes.
People Who Should Avoid OMAD
For some people, maintaining a steady intake of calories is vitally important. For this and other reasons, there are certain groups that should steer away from OMAD.
OMAD is not recommended for elderly people, children, diabetics, pregnant or nursing women, people on medication, people with a history of eating disorders or individuals with other serious health conditions.
And an extra word of caution to the ladies, some studies have shown that extreme forms of fasting can interfere with our hormonal cycle. And while OMAD may not be strictly off the table, you may want to get better acquainted with some of the potential risks before you try it.
Finally, if you’re feeling especially stressed out, you may want to leave this experiment for another time, as it could add to your stress load instead of reducing it.
Tips for Getting Started With OMAD
Despite all of its caveats, you may still decide to jump on the OMAD bandwagon to lose weight or to give your digestive system a break. If that’s the case, keep in mind that most nutritionists don’t recommend it as a long term eating plan (and some don’t recommend it period).
But if you do decide to incorporate it into your lifestyle short term, here are a few tips to make it easier.
1. Start Slowly
Transitioning from three meals a day to just one meal is a big and probably brutal change for most people. Instead of diving into OMAD full force, you may want to try a less extreme form of fasting to start out.
For example, you could try the 16 to 8 ratio of intermittent fasting (16 hours of fasting and an 8-hour eating window) a day or two a week. Then you can gradually increase the frequency and duration of your fasts over time.
If you find that you feel better and fasting seems to be working for you, you can then give OMAD a try.
If, on the other hand, you find yourself exhausted, moody or stressed, you may want to skip OMAD altogether.
2. Stay Away from Junk Food
Yes, this is a plan that gives you a lot of freedom when planning your meals. But do you really think pizza and french fries are the keys to glowing health?
Instead of relying on unhealthy and highly processed foods, try to stick to lean proteins, veggies and healthy fats. And make sure you eat a wide variety to get those important micronutrients you need. Your calorie intake for the day should be filled with foods that will fill you up.
3. Limit Your Carbs
Yes, this is probably not the first time you’ve heard this, and it still applies when on OMAD. When you avoid overloading on carbs, it keeps your blood sugar levels and your hunger hormones in balance. And that makes it easier to stick to your eating schedule. Similar to a low-carb keto diet.
4. Try to Eat Before 5 pm
Again, there are no hard and fast rules about what time your eating window should be with OMAD. But studies do show that it’s better to consume your single meal calories earlier in the evening.
That way you have more time to digest before bedtime and may even decrease your risk for certain biomarkers associated with inflammation and disease.
5. Be Flexible
Yes, you’re supposed to fast for 23 hours. But if you find yourself hangry and dangerous at 21 or 22 hours, don’t be afraid to change your eating once a day timeline a bit.
Also, if you can’t get your entire meal down in an hour, try relaxing your pace to a 90-minute meal. The point is for you to be in control of your fast and not the other way around.
6. Listen to Your Body
With any type of fasting you do, there will be a transition period that makes it seem harder at first. However, it’s important to always stay in touch with the signals you’re getting from your body over the entire course of your fast.
If you feel weak, distracted, moody or have trouble sleeping when practicing OMAD, it may be a sign that your body needs a more constant supply of energy. Remember, though a small amount of stress may be good for your body, a large amount is not healthy.
Our bodies are a lot wiser than we are sometimes, so be sure to pay attention to what yours is telling you and know when to stop. This extreme form of fasting isn’t for everyone, and that’s okay.
7. Transition Out of OMAD With Care
Just as you don’t want to start OMAD too abruptly, you should also be mindful when you transition off this form of fasting.
Going from one meal a day to indulging in too much food or filling up on junk food is not a healthy way to end your fast. So be careful not to overindulge.
Instead, try to stick to lean proteins and veggies and increase the amount of food you’re eating gradually.
Your Body. Your Choice.
There’s no doubt that OMAD has its devoted adherents and definite detractors. In the end, you alone have to decide if this extreme form of fasting is for you.
While the benefits of short term, intermittent fasting seem to be legitimate, no studies have been on the long term effects. And it’s unsure whether these same benefits still apply when you’re eating only one meal a day.
If you are in one of the risk groups for fasting or are under a lot of stress, it would be best to give OMAD a pass.
But if you do decide to try the OMAD diet, remember to eat healthy food, pay close attention to what your body is telling you and transition in and out of the fast mindfully.
Remember that fasting is just one tool you can use to support your mind and body. The bottom line, the benefits of OMAD aren't right for everyone, and that is okay!
And it may or may not be the right approach for you. Every single BODY is different. So remember to respect what yours is telling you.
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