There’s a new diet gaining notoriety, likely because it sounds a bit extreme. It’s the one meal a day (OMAD) diet, a form of intermittent fasting that’s exactly what it sounds like: You spend most of the day fasting, except for when you eat just one meal. Celebrities like Channing Tatum and Brooke Shields originally piqued the public’s interest about the trend, with #omad returning over 450,000 Instagram images, including before and after photos, and Google searches of “OMAD weight loss results” up 130 percent in the past year.
For most of us, making that leap seems impossible. And yet some people have managed to do it, sustain it, and enjoy it. Don’t believe us? Parade.com chatted with a woman who has been successfully following the OMAD diet for two years and has become an advocate for what she says is a healthy, flexible lifestyle. Here’s her story.
OMAD is a lifestyle—not a magic trick
In November of 2018, it took Dio Balootje, 37, just five days to go from three meals a day to one—and she hasn’t looked back since. Back then, there wasn’t much information on the OMAD diet, so she had to start her own method to make the jump from what many of us consider a “normal” diet to her new normal. Now dubbed the OMAD Queen, Balootje spends her time helping others transition to the OMAD diet, offering monthly challenges on her Instagram and coaching others on successfully adopting what can seem like an intimidating lifestyle.
While one study found that OMAD does lead to “significant reduction in fat mass,” it also had a negative affect on glucose tolerance and subjects had significant increases in both LDL And HDL cholesterol totals. Faye Townsend, ANutr, a registered associate nutritionist at Rhitrition based in London, notes that when it comes to weight loss, intermittent fasting diets such as OMAD aren’t any more effective than just restricting your number of overall daily calories.
“There is some interesting research emerging suggesting that less extreme versions of intermittent fasting may be beneficial in losing weight and reducing the risk of diabetes,” explains Townsend. “A study showed that early time restricted feeding (9 a.m.-3 p.m. eating window) improved insulin sensitivity, improved pancreatic function and reduced blood pressure in men at high risk of developing type 2 diabetes. This is thought to be because this feeding pattern links up with your circadian rhythm.”
But more recent research shows that intermittent fasting might lead to muscle loss, along with minimal weight loss—so a lot more research needs to be conducted before we can come to a conclusion about just how effective (and potentially dangerous) fasting is.
For Balootje, though, the OMAD diet is working out quite well. While she lives in Holland, her OMAD lifestyle has connected her with followers from all over the world, many whom want a glimpse at what life is really like when you’re only eating once per day. The question Balootje always receives from followers? “How much weight can I lose in a few weeks?” She admits it is a common misconception that OMAD is some sort of magic trick for weight loss, but “you aren’t starving yourself.” After years of trying other diets and seeing her weight yo-yo, it took Balootje seven months to lose 35 pounds on the OMAD diet, and she has been able to maintain that ever since.
Aside from the weight loss, there were other noticeable changes that separated OMAD from other diets in Balootje’s mind. She shares that when she first transitioned to one meal, she was tired after each meal because her body was working so hard to process everything at once. Her body adapted, however, and now her energy has notably increased. In fact, it has been found that our metabolism increases right after a meal and digestion alone accounts for about 10 percent of our daily outgoing energy and metabolism increases right after a meal.
“I started because I wanted to lose weight, but I noticed I was much clearer and alert and can concentrate way better than when I didn’t do OMAD,” she notes. “Most people expect that when you don’t eat, you will feel weak and cannot concentrate, but it’s totally the opposite. When your body isn’t processing food all day, it can focus on things that are more important.”
Intermittent fasting has actually been studied against dementia, and results suggest that it improves cognitive decline and reduces “proinflammatory cytokines” in the brain. While studies have found a positive effect on cognitive decline, more studies continue to be done.
A typical day on the OMAD diet
After following the OMAD diet for almost two years, Balootje has her routine down pat. She starts her day with a black coffee—which she admits “was awful in the beginning”—and until her daily meal at dinner around 5:30 p.m., she follows her morning brew with water and tea. She doesn’t supplement with any additional vitamins other than what is found in her well-balanced meals (and recent blood work validated that choice).
While you may be inclined to think that because she isn’t eating the typical three meals and two snacks a day that Balootje is often left out from dinners out with friends, you’d be wrong; she says that while it sounds strict, OMAD actually allows for a lot of flexibility.
“I just adjust my eating window when I have social gatherings,” she shares. “I normally eat around 5:30 p.m. but if I have a social gathering—like eating out with friends and family—I extend my fasting. If [dinner is planned for] 7 p.m., I just wait until then and eat at that time… I need to plan. If I know I am going to eat out tomorrow, I will eat a little later today so I don’t need to fast for too long.”
Of course, the flexibility doesn’t just extend to what time of day you choose to have your meal; it also involves what you eat. Balootje quips that the question she is asked most often is whether or not you can actually eat whatever you want when on the OMAD diet. While the answer is yes, you can, she finds she doesn’t want to “waste” her one meal of the day on food that isn’t going to fuel her properly.
“If trying the OMAD diet, it may be tempting to eat whatever you want during the limited eating window,” acknowledges Townsend. “Generally speaking, you should still try to get your daily requirements within that one hour and you should still focus on eating a balanced diet. This includes quality protein, whole grains, healthy fats and an abundance of fruits and vegetables—and not forgetting about hydration!”
Can you really eat anything on the OMAD diet?
For most of us, meal planning, grocery shopping and food preparation can seem like a chore. We already have so much else we have to get done in a day! That’s why things like fast food and microwave meals are so enticing. But when you are only eating one time each day, the way you view mealtime quickly changes, according to Balootje. She quickly noticed how much more she enjoys preparing her meals now, and not just because she can look forward to what she will choose.
“[With OMAD] you learn so much about food,” she adds. “Because you eat once a day, when you feel weak the next day or bloated the next day or hungry [earlier] you know exactly that it is because you ate certain types of food the day before. You learn about which kinds of foods keep you full longer and which give you more energy, so you appreciate food a lot more.”
While it may seem hard to believe that you can eat without any restrictions and still lose weight, this recognition for what food actually does for your body besides activating your tastebuds helps guide you toward what tastes good and what your body needs. Balootje is only human and admits to hitting the fast food drive-thru while on OMAD, but follows it up with the sentiment that she “regrets it forever.”
“It doesn’t keep you full the whole day and you realize it is just junk that makes you more hungry and have more cravings,” she reasons. “I always say you can eat anything but please, eat with your common sense.”
Townsend notes that OMAD may not work for everyone, especially as some people do need regular intake of energy and nutrients. This includes someone who is pregnant, breastfeeding, taking medications with food or prone to low blood sugar, among others.
“Prolonged fasting such as the OMAD diet has been seen to cause some serious harm,” Townsend adds. “If you are only eating for one hour of the day, it becomes much more challenging to get your recommended energy, macro and micronutrient intake. On
average, female adults will generally need around 1200-1500 calories per day just for vital bodily functions. If there is insufficient energy and nutrients, the immune and endocrine (hormonal) systems will be compromised, and the body will start to break down muscle for energy.”
Related: What is intermittent fasting?
Balootje devotes her time to helping others successfully begin and follow OMAD, but she wishes everyone would try some sort of intermittent fasting to see what it can actually do for them. She notes that we have become too tied up in the idea that we need three meals a day, along with whatever’s trending in pills and supplements. It’s something she has noticed more and more since beginning OMAD herself.
Before beginning OMAD—or any type of intermittent fasting, for that matter—it is advised to reach out to a registered nutritionist or dietician who can help you make sure you are getting the nutrients you need. This is especially true if you fit any of the categories listed above and may need additional energy throughout the day. Townsend also notes that there can be side effects from any type of prolonged fasting, including irritability, anxiety, poor sleep and even overeating.
“Intermittent fasting of any type could also be damaging for somebody who has an eating disorder or has a history of one,” remarks Townsend. “The rigidity associated with intermittent fasting can become obsessive and prolonged fasting has been linked with binge eating and bulimia.”
Next up, read more about the benefits and risks of the OMAD diet.