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OMAD – Just Another Diet or Could It Be “The One”? ? A Dietitian’s Response to This Fad Diet

by | Feb 4, 2021 | Intuitive Eating | 0 comments

OMAD? More like WTAF? If you haven’t heard of it, OMAD stands for One Meal A Day. It’s a dieting method where you can eat whatever and however much you want for one hour a day and then eat nothing for the other 23 hours. I have to be honest, it really scares and saddens me how much our society continues to normalize disordered eating and perpetuate eating disorders. I would never want to blame you, dear reader, for your interest or hope that there might finally be one perfect diet to follow. It’s not your fault that our culture and the health industry continue to preach this false promise to us. In the last week, I’ve had FOUR clients reach out telling me about people they knew who were on OMAD and asking if i’d heard of it.

Within the first three seconds of my Google search my eyes had rolled so far into the back of my head I worried I honestly may never retrieve them. If you’ve been around here for any length of time, you know that my approach to food, health and nutrition is non-diet and weight-neutral. So the simple response to all the questions I am getting is this: no, I would never encourage anyone to eat in this way. I wanted to explain this answer a bit more in depth in a blog post, so here I’m outlining why I believe this approach is not only not beneficial, but is actually harmful to anyone pursuing a peaceful, normal, low-stress relationship with food and their body.

The premise: one meal a day, eating only once every 23 hours. 

People following this diet trend post pictures of HUGE food binges (because that’s what they are, binges). Binges are defined by the National Eating Disorders Association as “eating, in a discrete period of time (e.g., within any 2-hour period), an amount of food that is definitely larger than what most people would eat in a similar period of time under similar circumstances. A sense of lack of control over eating during the episode (e.g., a feeling that one cannot stop eating or control what or how much one is eating).” 

IDK who needs to hear this, but eating for only one hour a day is not normal, it’s definitely unhealthy, it’s unsustainable and severely concerning.

Here’s why….

Our bodies need a semi consistent influx of food to carry on normal body processes like digestion, hormone functioning, metabolism, etc. When we don’t get enough food our bodies start to get tripped up. Thinking logically, it simply doesn’t make sense to expect our bodies, which were designed to be fed consistent energy throughout the day, to perform the exact same as normal if we decided to only feed them for one hour a day. Now let me acknowledge that YES, someone who starts on this diet will most likely lose weight. It’s unlikely that day after day, within a one hour period, you could comfortably eat enough calories to maintain your weight without throwing up. So maybe you’re thinking “Well, Lexy, you just answered my question! I want to lose weight so here’s my solution.”

But this doesn’t even begin to cover the side effects, the physical harm, the social deprivation, and discomfort of tolerating extreme hunger during many hours of the day… not to mention the sustainability (or lack thereof). Any program you follow that produces weight loss may work short term, but what the research (and possibly your own personal experiences) continue to prove time and time again is that these programs, plans or diets are not sustainable. They simply cannot be continued long term and the weight returns. Because your body is not meant to be at a weight you can only maintain through restriction. 

I hate to even focus on weight and weight loss, but I feel it’s relevant here because I would imagine one of the only reasons that someone would consider doing this severely uncomfortable and restrictive diet plan is because they are desperate to manipulate their body into weight loss. 

So instead of saying “this won’t work,” let’s talk about the physical harms. 

Because yes, it may produce short term weight loss, but at what cost? Your body will be existing in starvation mode for the majority of the day. Since eating once a day is not how the human body was designed, the body sees it as a threat, possibly a famine or some form of deprivation. To protect you, the body increases release of a hormone called ghrelin. The function of this hormone is to make you more hungry. The body will try to convince you to EAT. This study outlines this effect.

Another hormone, leptin, will decrease so that you feel less satisfied even on the same amount of food. The combination of these two changes mean that you will be hungrier and hungrier (read: hangrier and hangier). Insulin, which is released to help your body absorb the glucose, or energy, from your food, will get all screwed up, too. As for your digestion, because your stomach isn’t meant to have one huge influx of food, a huge strain is put on your GI tract. I can almost guarantee your bowels will be off (think constipation, cramping, pain, etc). You can also reference my post on Why Diets Suck and read about the harmful effects of intermittent fasting. Go ahead and assume all of those will apply here, but in an even more extreme way.

Discussing physical consequences like altering hormone levels is really only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the effects of OMAD. Let’s consider the effect of starvation on mental health.

 It’s been shown through research, most famously in the Minnesota Starvation Experiment. “Hunger made the men obsessed with food. They would dream and fantasize about food, read and talk about food and savor the two meals a day they were given. They reported fatigue, irritability, depression and apathy” (Baker and Keramidas). If one of your goals with eating is to be at peace with food, eat normally and naturally, and not be obsessed with food, then OMAD is most definitely not your solution. You can be certain that your mind will be able to think of nothing but food just about all of the time.

Next, let’s talk about the effects socially. 

Maybe these are things you feel you can deal with. You are willing to make these sacrifices for the weight loss outcome that you desire. But are you willing to make these sacrifices forever, indefinitely? Remember that as with many diets, the outcome (like weight loss) only lasts as long as you continue with your extreme restriction. When you finally have had enough and decide to return to a more normal pattern of living and eating, you can expect those results to disappear. (It’s not really that simple, as this fails to address the long term negative consequences of your diet, but hopefully you get my point.)

So are you prepared to – for the indefinite future – miss out on brunches, dinner parties, work lunches, baby showers, vacation/travel experiences, meeting a friend for breakfast, daily family meal time, date nights and all the rest of the experiences that help make life normal, fun, and rich with connection? If there’s one thing the covid-19 pandemic has taught me, it is that human beings were built for community. We flourish in friendships, relationships, community groups, family units and shared work and living environments. Condemning yourself to a lifetime of eating food during just one hour per day is going to be extremely isolating. I cannot see this bringing any positive outcomes for you socially or emotionally.

Now what about SPIRITUALLY?

Ever been so hungry you can’t focus? Yeah me too. How are you gonna become your MOST authentic self, give your GREATEST contribution and achieve your HIGHEST potential when you’re so hungry you can’t think straight? Diets sever the connection between mind, mody and spirit on purpose. 

“A culture fixated on female thinness is not an obsession about female beauty, but an obsession about female obedience. Dieting is the most potent political sedative in women’s history; a quietly mad population is a tractable one.” – Naomi Wolf

Potential long-term effects of OMAD on relationship with food

I have clients who have only ever tried one standard diet (think Whole 30, Weight Watchers, Keto, Intermittent Fasting) for even as little as a month and now have a severely challenging and unhealthy relationship with food as a result. I cannot even begin to imagine the severe, long lasting, detrimental effects of this OMAD bullshit. Dieting- in any form- is a departure from normal eating. Dieting confuses your body. Dieting confuses your brain. You’re left wondering: What is healthy? What is normal? How am I supposed to eat? When am I supposed to eat? Can I trust my hunger? Can I trust myself? These confusions, struggles and stress around eating can take years to unravel and deal with. 

Why does society accept this crap? Because our cultural fatphobia runs SO DEEP we will go to ANY lengths for “victory” over our weight. 

What is fatphobia? The most basic definition is a pathological fear of fatness. This may sound like an extreme way to describe the health industry or the thin ideal, but think for a moment: basically ALL eating and health advice is focused around how to shed pounds, trim down, tone up certain areas, lose belly fat, achieve a “normal” BMI, and on and on. The healthcare industry is weight-biased and has been shown to treat people in larger bodies differently (suggesting different treatments and approaches to their health) than someone experiencing the same symptoms in a straight-sized body. You can read a journal article about weight bias in healthcare here (warning: triggering language).

Movies, tv and media glorify thin bodies as fit, sexual and highly desired while shaming fat bodies by either not showing them at all or showing them as the sidekick. People working towards the liberation of fat bodies on their social media platforms are attacked daily for the size of their bodies and for their messages of body equality. It is sickening. As a country we’ve had an awakening about racial inequalities, but one of the biggest industries- health and wellness- still perpetuates the inequality of bodies according to size in almost every single message they put out. This is fatphobia.

If we- as a people- accept plans like OMAD, it means we are willing to cut out fun, community, connection, culture, religion, normalcy, brunches, dinner parties, a fun afternoon snack, and tea and toast with our Grandmas because we’ve decided that being thin is more important than being alive. And the worst part is how many doctors, coaches, “wellness influencers”, and even dietitians and nutritionists get behind shit like this. Basically, through support of diets like OMAD, they’re saying they agree: the importance of weight manipulation (achieving a certain weight) trumps all else

If you’ve been in a constant battle to decipher every new diet that pops up and figure out how you should eat to promote health and peace with food, or if you feel like you’re in a constant battle with your body to accept it and care for it, working through these struggles is exactly what I assist my clients in doing. If you’re ready to take a next step in healing, please read more here about working with me and sign up for a free intro call if you’d like to chat further!

Blog Lexy Penney Nutritionist Boston Intuitive Eating

Hi, I’m Lexy!

I’m a Registered Dietitian, yoga teacher, & body image coach.

I help women make peace with food and built trust with their bodies so they can live the lives they desire and deserve.

Hop on my email list for your weekly dose of food freedom, body liberation and self-care!

Lexy Penney Nutritionist Boston Intuitive Eating

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