Ultra-restrictive, extreme diets and eating patterns are in vogue.
Social media now spotlights small groups going against the mainstream.
That’s exactly the case with an extreme subset of intermittent fasters following a practice called OMAD (one meal a day). The r/OMAD subreddit now boasts an online community of 145,000 users.
Proponents of OMAD use it to lose weight, reverse disease, mitigate symptoms, enhance productivity, and simplify busy schedules. I tried it for three months —celebrating some successes, and making plenty of mistakes along the way. Here’s what I wish I knew before I started OMAD.
What is OMAD?
OMAD, or eating just one-meal-a-day focuses on when to eat rather than what to eat. OMAD is considered the most extreme version of intermittent fasting, generally consuming all your calories for the day within a one hour window.
Under the right conditions, intense intermittent fasting protocols can completely change lives. I personally have found OMAD to be a poor choice for a long-term eating pattern. I reverted back to a less intensive intermittent fasting schedule, but I still use it on occasion.
Warning: OMAD borders disordered eating and should only be practiced under the supervision of your doctor.
How I Started OMAD
I experimented with three-months of eating one meal a day in 2019. I had heard a lot about it, researched it extensively, and figured it wouldn’t be too much of a leap from my current routine. After all, I already fasted 18 hours per day and followed a low-carb template.
I didn’t look at any guides on how to start but listened to a few recommendations from experienced podcast guests and friends.
I knew that eating fewer times made each meal crucial to get right. One hour of nutrient intake for every 23 hours of fasting.
I now use OMAD in one-day or periodic one-week bursts for greater productivity, weight loss, to increase my resilience, and to give my body more time to restore.
OMAD Lessons I Learned The Hard Way
1. Advice: Adapt Slow
I can’t imagine diving straight in. From three plus meals per day down to one.
Instead, I transitioned into OMAD from a keto-like diet. Which made burning stored body fat and keep my blood sugar stable easier.
I already ate in a six to eight-hour window. Even still, I had a hard time compressing all my calories into only one hour.
I’ve heard stories of fatigue, brain fog, dizziness, nausea, and feeling bad. The common thread? Most of them jumped straight into eating one meal a day without preparation or knowledge.
Now, when going for more than a day, I gradually build up to 23-hour fasting. I stop if it feels too uncomfortable.
2. Advice: Set Yourself up for Success
Control your environment.
Assuming you want to succeed, your environment matters a whole lot.
Specifically, the people and places that surround you.
You may have willpower made of steel, but the outside influences will determine how you fare when the unavoidable craving or distraction eventually arises. Plus, why waste your finite willpower unnecessarily?
By creating a supporting environment, you not only preserve willpower, but make OMAD less taxing.
3. Advice: Resist the Temptation to Eat Anything & Everything
Chocolate chip cookies, cornbread (a vice of mine), sweetened drinks — OMAD doesn’t restrict foods.
Even though you’ll probably lose weight by eating less, what you eat still matters.
Flooding the digestive systems with a deluge of chemicals and highly processed ingredients virtually guarantee eventual problems.
Before long, junk food catches up to you causing metabolic disorders, rampant inflammation, mood swings, nutrient deficiencies, and junkie-like chemical addictions.
Paying attention to what you consume will help you maintain steady progress. Don’t beat yourself up about an occasional treat, but OMAD won’t bulletproof you against junk.
4. Advice: Consistent Meal Timing
When do you enjoy that meal?
Ancient Ayurvedic wisdom would probably recommend earlier in the day.
What if you workout at evening? Do you fast for many hours after working out?
Do you eat in alignment with your circadian rhythm?
Or do you toss all the rules out the window and eat whenever it’s convenient.
Whatever you choose, stick to a similar window of time every day. That way your body learns when to produce digestive enzymes, and other necessary factors to fully utilize your only meal.
Benefits and Drawbacks of OMAD
5. Pro: Great for Focus & Productivity
OMAD does two wonders for focus and productivity:
- Frees up time from cooking, prepping, eating, and worst of all, dishes. Ordering out takes time too.
- Prevents the afternoon energy slump. When you eat certain foods, your blood sugar rises. The body overcompensates and leaves you with lower blood sugar than before, making you tired.
Once you’re able to burn body fat effectively, your energy stays steady throughout the day (thanks to stable blood sugar). I plowed through my task list and got more done than usual.
6. Pro: Weight Loss
As with any major diet change, I lost some weight.
9.5 pounds over the three months — with zero extra effort.
I’d expect similar results from breaking any familiar dietary pattern. The body responds quite favorably to variety. In the short-term, you’ll hear of people losing massive weight on just about any diet.
The myopic equation of weight loss (food minus exercise) works in a vacuum, but not in the real-world. Environmental variables come into play. Using basic math that OMAD is conducive to weight loss.
I burn 3,500 – 4,000 calories per day.
How could I possible eat more than that in one meal?
Even with ultra-processed foods (not that I recommend them), I get full long before 4,000 calories. Especially when eating clean whole foods (as I usually do).
Eating to absolute satiety, I only managing about 3,000 calories per day.
7. Pro: Restore Insulin Sensitivity
Bodybuilders and diabetics share a common obsession: insulin.
Depending on the crowd you run with, insulin is either a hero or villain.Insulin is the hormone of aging (or anti-aging). It shuttles calories into fat storage or the metabolic energy-producing furnace. Click To Tweet
This hormone regulates your weight, body fat, thyroid, bones, brain, testosterone and estrogen, stress hormones, neurotransmitters, immune system.
In short: It’s pretty important. The issue?
Meaning that the mechanism deciding between fat and energy is faulty.
8. Con: Fitness Suffers
One qualm quickly became apparent.
When to eat?
- Before working out. Then finish—sometimes extremely strenuous—exercise with zero replenishment?
- After working out. Perform each workout completely fasted, and then need to eat immediately afterward.
I didn’t like either option. Both limited me considerably. They actually added rigidity to my schedule.
Unrealistically, I could have eased up on my workouts. I quickly dismissed that option as lackluster.
Gaining lean body mass is significantly more difficult on OMAD. High levels of AMPK keep the body catabolic, while also suppressing muscle-building mTOR.
I usually went with eating after working out. Any approach can work in the short-term. On month two I noticed by fitness declining. Workouts became harder and I didn’t push as hard.
9. Con: Socially Difficult
Food is deeply social.
People quickly notice how, what, and when you eat.
So when do you eat?
Lunch with coworkers. Or dinner with friends. It’s a real choice I made every day.
I started by skipping dinner and joining my coworkers for lunch. Who wants to be that person that never joins their coworkers?
Then when plans with friends came up, I shifted my schedule to only eating dinner and skipping lunch. Dining on nothing but a large glass of water every lunch elicited more than a few raised eyebrows and obligatory explanations.
No matter how I sliced it, either coworkers during the day, or friends at night felt off-put by OMAD.
10. Con: Digestion
Imagine 3500 plus calories hitting the stomach all at once.
Not a pretty picture. Nor was it comfortable to put all that down in one meal.
3,500 calories of quality food is voluminous and takes a while to eat.
Maintaining (I gave up on gaining) weight and muscle required it.
Needless to say, I felt bloated and not all that good for the first few days.
Many people struggle with poor digestion, whether from a lack of digestive enzymes, or abnormal pH. Getting all your calories at once can overwhelm the digestive system.
OMAD Tips & Hacks
Eating one meal a day isn’t easy. At least initially. It takes some getting used to.
Many of the same extended fasting hacks work well for OMAD. Some become more important as this new eating pattern transitions to a daily routine.
11. Keto Before OMAD
Keto shares a lot with one meal a day.
Spending 23 hours every day in a fasted state induces mild ketosis.
Preparing for OMAD by eating low-carb keeps insulin low, manages cravings, stabilizes energy, teaches your body to access body fat for fuel, produces ketones, and makes the transition a heck of a lot easier.
Going keto helps dust off and fire up metabolic machinery used in the absence of carbs.
I doubt that I would have tried OMAD had I not already been completely fat adapted.
12. Morning Electrolytes
Popular among athletes, regular fasters also need additional electrolytes.
I’m not talking some sugary sports drink, or energy gels.
Electrolytes are a group of minerals your body needs to conduct electricity. Since your entire body and brain run on electricity, inadequate electrolyte supply causes the biological equivalent of a power outage.
The major electrolytes include sodium, potassium, and magnesium. You need each of them.
Salt has its place. Even more so when in the low-insulin states of keto or fasting. Insulin regulates salt storage. Without it, your body sheds too much, leaving your salt deficient. Headaches, brain fog, low energy, muscle cramps, weakness, dizziness, and general feelings of malaise characterize the so-called “keto flu”.
Inadequate electrolytes are one of the biggest keto mistakes. Specifically high-quality mineral salt and magnesium deficiency. They’re easy fixes.
I make sure to add both and a squeeze of lemon to my morning tonic. When possible I add a small squirt of trace minerals to cover the less common electrolyte minerals.
13. Eat Protein
Odds are, you don’t eat enough protein.
This simple hack can change everything.
Polishing off a nice, large serving of (preferably whole food-based) protein can quell even the most ravenous of appetites.
Protein is the most satiating macronutrient. Meaning less food fills you up more.
Metabolizing protein also has burns some energy, making the net calorie gain from protein the least of the three main macros (fat, protein, and carbs).
Feeding your body protein switches it from cellular breakdown and recycling mode, into regeneration, rebuilding, and growth. An increasingly important contrast to the rest of your day.
When you find yourself with an insatiate appetite, recollect your previous meal. Get enough protein and you’ll feel a whole lot better.
14. OMAD and Coffee
Coffee makes OMAD far more manageable. Especially during the adaptation phase.
Make no mistake, fasting is a stressor (albeit sometimes beneficial). So is caffeine.
Hacking OMAD with caffeine is a double-edged sword.
In the short-term, the appetite suppression makes sticking with OMAD easier. But caffeine spikes your cortisol levels and exacerbates stress.
Excessive caffeine replaces one issue for another. Since chronic stress underlies just about every disease, tread lightly with your stimulants.
15. Walking Around
One of my favorite appetite hacks, the benefits of frequent movement are second to none.
Hunger comes and goes in waves. Just a few minutes spent walking around passes these waves quickly and effectively.
Since intense fitness sessions become more draining on OMAD, I put more emphasis on minimizing sedentary time. I engaged in tiny micro-workouts throughout the day.
I found myself sitting back down naturally satiated, and feeling good thanks to fresh blood flowing through the brain.
How I Do One Meal a Day Now
I like OMAD. I still use it on occasion.
During easy or low physical activity days, I’ll throw it into the mix. A couple of times per quarter, at least. I only eat twice per day, so removing one of those meals isn’t too bad.
Sometimes it happens naturally — I look up from my work and realize I forgot to eat lunch (and breakfast).
I focus on getting plenty of protein. Doing so naturally fills the other nutritional gaps.Similar to other restrictive diets and meal timings, done properly OMAD offers great promise to heal and regenerate the body and mind. Click To Tweet
Extreme diets aren’t for everyone and can lead to troubled eating patterns. Always consult a medical professional before making any drastic lifestyle changes.