OMAD diet: Is it dangerous?

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What if we said there was a super-simple way to lose weight?

And what if we told you that it involved eating whatever you liked with no calorie restriction?

Well, meet the OMAD diet.

That stands for One Meal A Day, and it’s an extreme version of intermittent fasting that involves eating for one hour only in a whole 24-hour window.

According to the sub-Reddit, r/OMAD, you’re allowed to eat whatever you like within that hour without calorie restriction but when you’re not eating, you’re only allowed to drink calorie-free beverages like black coffee and water.

Followers claim that it speeds up weight loss and saves loads of time and effort which can then be put towards other things.

Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey is said to be a fan.

He claims to eat his one meal somewhere between 6.30pm and 9.30pm, and typically has “fish, chicken or steak with a salad, spinach, asparagus or Brussels sprouts”.

He also has mixed berries or some dark chocolate for dessert and sometimes drinks red wine.

Speaking on the Ben Greenfield Fitness podcast earlier this year, Jack said: “During the day, I feel so much more focused…you have this very focused point of the mind in terms of this drive.”

“The time back from breakfast and lunch allowed me to focus more on what my day is.”

He also claims to sleep better as a result of not eating much.

So to clarify, OMAD is about eating what you want for one meal a day and then fasting for the rest of the time.

And that, apparently, will help you to slim down.

Does it really work?

Well, even if you ate a big old takeaway for that massive hour-long blowout, the chances are that you’d still be consuming fewer calories throughout the day.

But as with any highly restrictive diet, there’s a massive risk of disordered eating.

Ignoring your hunger cues and binging out on mega-calorific grub when you do have the chance to eat can seriously mess up your relationship with food.

Which is why nutritionist Sarah Flower stresses the importance of the food quality you’re consuming during that hour.

Whatever diet you wish to follow or however many times per day you want to eat, the most important message is to eat real food – this is absolutely vital to good health as it provides nutrient-rich foods our body recognises.

She told us that we aren’t supposed to snack throughout the day and that the typical Western diet is highly processed but nutrient-poor.

As a result, more and more of us have nutritional deficiencies and diseases like type 2 diabetes, obesity and insulin-resistance-related metabolic disorders.

Intermittent fasts need fat

“You could certainly not do an OMAD diet on processed or low-fat foods!” she told The Sun.

But it is do-able, and the key is to eat real food that’s high in fat.

“Those who opt for intermittent fasting or OMAD, tend to eat a diet of real food and most have come from a low carb or ketogenic way of eating so are already fat adapted,” Sarah explained.

“Their diet tends to be very nutrient dense with lots of healthy protein and healthy fats, but lower in carbohydrates in order to feel satisfied during the day (as carbs drive our hunger/cravings by stimulating a hormone called ghrelin), so for many this diet works well for them often in the short term to boost weight loss or to improve health.”

Rebalancing blood sugar

Every time you eat, you stimulate an insulin response – so, Sarah says, fasting can help to rebalance your blood sugar and insulin levels.

But Sarah is more a fan of low-carb, high-fat diets with some intermittent fasting rather than going very long hours of not eating.

“Although you can do fasting for one, two, three days at a time, most people tend to opt for a 16-hour fasting window, eating their last meal in the evening and fasting until late morning/lunch.

“This helps to balance blood sugars and allows the body to heal, and works very well on the low carb way of eating. Some take this further and do opt for the OMAD.

“Whatever diet you wish to follow or however many times per day you want to eat, the most important message is to EAT REAL FOOD – this is absolutely vital to good health as it provides nutrient-rich foods our body recognises.

“Don’t fear fat – get the essential fats into your body (they are called essential for a reason!), and enjoy food as nature intended.”

Listen to your body’s cues

The real issue with diets is that they tend to be unsustainable.

We’ve forgotten how to listen to our bodies and what it needs to get through the day.

We overeat then starve ourselves – completely ignoring any hunger or fullness cues.

Humans adapted to be able to go for long hours between meals but today, we graze from breakfast ’till supper.

If we just cut out the snacks, we’d be better off.

And don’t forget that food is supposed to be social. We celebrate, commiserate, spend time together through the power of food.

Not eating at all except during one hour a day could be really isolating – unless you always make sure that the hour falls when you’re able to eat with other people. And that could mean moving that hour around, which in turn would mean extending or contracting your fast.

More sustainable fasts:

Many weight loss experts claim that going back to fasting is key.

It’s worth saying of course, that if you have any history of disordered eating, fasting won’t be for you.

If you don’t and you can’t be bothered to count calories or eat certain foods, then restricting the amount of time you’re allowed to eat in might be quite handy.

Here are three of the most popular:

The 5:2

This is a popular version of intermittent fasting is where you eat a very low-calorie diet (about 500kcal) for two days each week (any two days). On the other five days, you eat as normal.

Research has shown that it’s possible to lose weight with this diet; it also improves several markers of health, such as reducing levels of glucose and cholesterol in the blood.

It’s not the most sustainable diet but there’s some evidence that conducting the two days of very low-calorie intake on consecutive days can improve insulin sensitivity – a risk marker for type 2 diabetes – to a greater extent than traditional dieting.

Alternate-day fasting (ADF)

ADF is often referred to as the “every other day diet” and requires you to alternate daily between unrestricted eating and consuming a very low-calorie diet.

It uses a similar approach to 5:2, allowing a small meal (usually about 500kcal) to be consumed on “fasting” days.

Research has shown that ADF can lead to considerable weight loss in 8-12 weeks, but a big problem with ADF is that it’s hard to stick to.

Again, it’s not very sustainable.

Time-restricted eating (TRE)

TRE involves fasting for long periods (16-20 hours) and consuming all your calories within a certain window of time.

The most common version of TRE uses a ratio between fasting and eating of 16:8 (16 hours of fasting and eight hours during which you can eat).

Research has shown that calorie intake over a 24-hour period is reduced when people skip breakfast.

But the number of calories expended through physical activity is also reduced, which will partially or completely negate the calorie deficit achieved by skipping breakfast.

A recent study found that fasting from 2pm improved insulin sensitivity in a group of pre-diabetic men.

So, eating breakfast and lunch and then fasting could be a better model.

This article originally appeared on The Sun and was republished here with permission.