What is OMAD?
One Meal a Day (OMAD). That’s right, I eat once a day. One large meal, and then no food for the next 23 hours. Why would someone do such a thing? Read on, because it turns out that of all the diets I’ve ever tried, this has been not only the most enjoyable and most satisfying, but probably the most effective.
Who Came Up with OMAD?
I don’t know who coined “OMAD,” but the diet has clearly grown out of the larger trend of intermittent fasting, which asks its participants to skip meals to lose weight and otherwise improve health.
The most basic intermittent fasting (or “time-restricted eating”) protocol is to go for 16-18 hours between meals. This is often easily accomplished by skipping breakfast and late-night snacks, with a regular lunch and dinner. Some theorize that this eating pattern is more naturally suited to our bodies. After all, without the benefit of agriculture, our stone age ancestors likely went through regular periods of feast and famine.
The subject of intermittent fasting is too large to tackle here, but to put it briefly, many see intermittent fasting as a terrific way to restrict calories and lose weight that may also have a host of extra benefits, including autophagy, which is described as a self-cleaning function that that can reduce the likelihood of disease and help reset metabolic dysfunctions.
OMAD amplifies this simple diet by asking you to skip food for 23 hours.
How do you OMAD?
It couldn’t be simpler: you eat whatever you like for one hour per day. That’s just about it. You don’t really need any other rules, and part of the attraction of the diet is its simplicity.
I’ve added a bit of complexity to this by maintaining my very low carbohydrate diet, which I find is the very best way to maintain healthy and steady blood sugar levels. I’m not alone. It’s popular to combine keto and OMAD, and for good reason: today’s sugary and highly-processed foods trigger an unnatural compulsion to overeat, one that might be difficult to ignore for 23 hours.
Why Does it Work?
OMAD fundamentally works due to caloric restriction. You see, it’s very difficult to eat an excess of calories if you’re only having one meal. Most people will naturally limit themselves because they’ll feel stuffed before they can put down an entire day’s worth of calories.
On OMAD I eat very large meals, and I don’t really hold back. I purposefully eat until I am very full, knowing that I have at least another 23 hours before the next meal. But I can’t regularly eat 2,000+ calories in one sitting, and the result is a caloric deficit that all but guarantees that I’ll lose weight.
This may not be true for everyone – some OMAD dieters still see the need to count calories. But for me, it’s the first successful diet I’ve embarked on that did not require me to be obsessive about tracking my food intake.
Most of my meals are probably in the 1,600-1,800 calorie range. This is an indulgent portion of food, and it leaves me very, very satisfied. If I’m still a bit peckish 30 minutes after I’ve finished eating, I’ll top myself off with some dark chocolate, nuts, or other low-sugar treats. That’s usually enough to sustain myself until the next day’s big meal.
Why I Love OMAD
For me, the genius of One Meal a Day is that it balances gluttony and self-restraint.
On a normal diet, I rarely feel satisfied by my meals, and almost never feel like I’m actually treating myself. When every meal and snack is restricted by calorie content, it requires me to exert my willpower all day long, with little immediate payoff. Eventually, results show in the scale and in the mirror, but it can be a long battle to get there. On Day 1, you usually know you have 7 or 14 or 30 days before you may see any positive results. It’s no wonder diets usually fail – they require tremendous endurance and willpower.
On OMAD, the sessions of self-restraint are balanced by regular sessions of joyful indulgence. It does take willpower to go 23 hours without eating, but it’s a lot easier when I know that I’ll have a glorious meal at the end of it.
Every meal is a much-appreciated reward for one day of hard work. These daily rewards make the little challenges to self-restraint far more manageable. I actually find myself enjoying food more, because each meal is so eagerly appreciated. And as they say, hunger is the best sauce.
In a nutshell, OMAD makes every meal feel like a cheat meal.
Blood Sugar Control
I didn’t choose OMAD because of its glycemic impact, but now that I’m on the diet, I don’t think I’ve ever had such exquisite blood sugar control.
It should go without saying that the less often you eat (and the less often you take a bolus of rapid insulin), the fewer opportunities you have for blood sugar spikes or hypos. It’s true that one extremely large meal loaded with fat and protein can have a tricky blood sugar impact, but once that meal is over, I end up spending a huge percentage of my day with very stable glucose. For the vast majority of my day there’s no food in my body to yank my glucose up, no bolus insulin to drag it down. Just smooth, predictable, uncomplicated sailing.
Insulin-dependent dieters, of course, cannot adhere too strictly to any fasting schedule. The dangers of hypoglycemia far outweigh the very minor consequences of a broken fast. If you need sugar to fight off a blood sugar low outside your preferred eating window, you need to take that sugar.
I do find that after prolonged fasting, say 18+ hours, my blood sugar may begin to dip. And so I don’t hesitate to have some carbs if the situation calls for it. At night, if my blood sugar is just a touch low, I’ll have a spoonful of peanut butter – a nice slow-releasing mix of carbs, fat and protein – before bed. While this may interrupt the autophagy process, that’s something that those of us that are reliant on insulin just can’t worry about.
Is OMAD safe for Type 1 Diabetes?
As long as a person with Type 1 diabetes or insulin-dependent diabetes uses the correct amount of basal insulin, OMAD can be done safely. Please consult for health care professional with any questions you have before trying.
When to eat my single gargantuan meal? Dinner seems to be the most popular choice among OMAD dieters. I differ, and choose lunch.
My first reason is unique to people using insulin: I just hate going to sleep when I don’t know exactly what direction my blood sugar is headed in. With one powerfully large meal per day, I need to give a larger bolus than usual. The very slow glucose rise that comes from a high fat and high protein meal can take many hours to resolve, and I’d prefer for that to happen while I’m awake and able to respond to changes.
Just as important, the timing feels right to me. The morning fast is more tolerable knowing that a meal is only hours away, and I’ve never enjoyed going to bed with a very full stomach. There’s a reason Thanksgiving dinner is so often served in the early afternoon.
I recognize that lunch is a challenge for many people. Not all workplaces have the equipment and not all jobs offer the time to allow for a big meal in the middle of a work day. Many OMAD dieters enjoy huge dinners or huge breakfasts instead.
The Results of OMAD
As soon as I started the diet (around December 1) I began to shed weight. I took a break over the holidays, when my weight loss predictably stalled and slightly reversed. I picked the diet back up after New Year’s without a hitch. So far so good!
Is OMAD Sustainable?
I don’t expect to eat only one meal per day for the rest of my life. There will come times when OMAD will be inappropriate, due to any number of reasons. Perhaps it will be socially awkward. Perhaps I’ll find I need food to fuel exercise. And anyway, one cannot eat at a caloric deficit forever.
What I do expect is that OMAD will become a permanent tool in my toolbox, a way to trim up in a targeted way whenever I need to. The simplicity of OMAD means that the diet is unusually easy to adopt, to put on pause, and to readopt. There’s no intense commitment involved, no learning curve, no complicated planning.
With other more involved diets, a cheat day or break often feels like a very slippery slope, a threat to the hard work you’ve put in, an invitation to totally abandon the diet. I don’t have that feeling with OMAD. It’s so much easier to take one day at a time.
Does some social situation require that you eat two regular meals? Just eat normally for one day, and then go back to OMAD tomorrow. Are you absolutely famished for some reason this morning? Have a snack, and go back to OMAD tomorrow. Can’t bear to diet over the holidays? Don’t. Just get back on OMAD when you can. It’s not a big deal.
Heck, I enjoy my bouts of controlled gluttony so much that I can easily imagine planning some OMAD days even after meeting my goal weight.
Reviewed by Mariela Glandt, MD
Top Photo: Pork Rind Nachos, All the Fixins, 1800 Calories