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We all know the best sort of diet a person can follow is a balanced one, with experts advising that we eat an array of foods containing different vitamins and nutrients. But for some, wanting to better manage a medical condition (such as IBS) or hoping to kick start an overall healthier lifestyle can mean they consider a different eating plan to usual.
It can feel like tricky ground though, given that there are plenty of fad diets out there which most definitaly aren’t good for you – meaning it it’s always best to chat to your GP or a dietician/nutritionist before making big changes. And the OMAD diet is one you should definitely do your research on before even thinking about it.
We asked Consultant Dietician at City Dietitians, Sophie Medlin, to explain her thoughts on the OMAD diet – and overall it seems it’s not one she would recommend. Here, she shares the limited pros as well as all the cons, and explores whether there’s any useful science behind it at all…
What is the OMAD Diet?
“The OMAD diet is exactly what it says on the tin, OMAD stands for ‘One Meal A Day’,” says Sophie. “You fast for 23 hours of the day and eat once per day.” With that in mind, the OMAD diet is like an intermittent fasting diet – but taken to the extreme. “One of the issues I see with this method is that it gives a legitimate seeming label to behaviour that we associate with anorexia nervosa. This may mean that you notice people justifying skipping meals or not eating with friends and family due to their new diet regimen when actually, they need help.”
What is the science behind the OMAD diet (and is it safe)?
There hasn’t been any specific research to justify this approach to eating, notes Sophie. “Most people would struggle with headaches, poor focus and low energy if they only ate once per day,” she adds. “While restricting your eating to one meal per day will, of course, result in weight loss for most people, that doesn’t mean it’s a safe or valid method of weight loss for everyone.”
What are the pros and cons of the OMAD diet?
“The only pro would be the inevitable calorie deficit,” says Sophie, but that’s only a positive if it’s advisable to be in a calorie deficit in the first place. On the other hand, the cons are vast. “Cons include the need to meet your full daily nutritional requirements for vitamins and minerals in one meal – which is virtually impossible – and the fact that you can’t absorb a large amount of protein in one sitting, so you may notice a loss of muscle mass.”
In addition to this, she continues, most people won’t feel that they can think or perform at their best when fasting, so this method isn’t suitable for a lot of people on that basis. It could also put you at risk of nutritional deficiencies. “This is particularly worrying if the one meal you choose is a burger or a pizza which won’t meet your nutritional needs.”
What do you eat when following the OMAD diet?
“The one meal that you do have would need to be carefully planned and thought out in order to prevent deficiencies,” says Sophie, noting that this would require a lot of forward planning not only for the day, but the week ahead, to make sure the balance is right to meet your needs. “For example, most women don’t meet their iron requirements each day even when they eat three different meals.”
Who is the OMAD diet popular amongst?
Typically, these extreme fasting regimens are popular among men in their 30s and 40s who are looking for ‘hacks’ to improve their health or feel better, Sophie observes. “Most people who buy into these diets are high achievers, who are seeking something to kickstart their health. It’s highly unlikely that someone who does any form of manual labour, or a busy working mum would be able to manage on one meal per day through choice.”
Could the OMAD diet be dangerous?
The OMAD diet could certainly trigger behaviours associated with eating disorders in those who are vulnerable, says Sophie. “It’s also virtually impossible to make sure your one meal per day meets all your nutritional needs. It’s not a diet I would advise.”
Why do some people consider the OMAD Diet?
“It may be that they want to tune into hunger cues more and start to recognise when they’re eating out of physical hunger, versus when they eat out of habit or boredom,” Sophie explains. But if that’s the case, you can explore that without cutting quite so much out. “See how you feel if you skip breakfast for a couple of days. If you feel more energised and have plenty of focus for your day, it may be fine to continue. If however, you get headaches, feel sluggish or can’t focus, it is unlikely that fasting for any period is the approach for you.”
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