From the ketogenic diet to intermittent fasting, the internet churns out a never-ending supply of new diet trends that well-meaning people swear will change your life. On Reddit, the preferred platform of many bio-hacking bros, these diets often take on a life of their own. People share their experiments, success stories, and occasionally problematic diet ideas.
Such is the case with the "OMAD" diet subreddit, which has amassed more than 50K active members, according to a Reddit representative. OMAD stands for "one meal a day," and it's an extreme version of intermittent fasting that involves eating for one hour and not eating for the other 23 each day. Followers of the diet say that you can eat whatever you want during your daily meal, and while you fast you can only have calorie-free beverages.
Why would anyone do this when you could just eat all day long? People claim the OMAD diet speeds up weight loss, and is extremely convenient — especially in the summertime when you're traveling a lot. But, like many internet-famous diet trends, this should come with a massive disclaimer that it's not for everyone, and probably will do more harm than good.
For starters, we know that the nutrients in food gives our bodies energy. When you're hungry, it's your body's way of telling you that you need more food to sustain all the various activities and functions that you complete in a day. "One meal a day doesn’t cut it for most people," and is unnecessarily restrictive, explains Robin Foroutan, MS, RDN, HHC, a registered dietitian in New York City.
One of the many troubling things about the OMAD diet is the idea that you'd have to eat all of your daily recommendations for overall calories and nutrients in one sitting. "It's likely unpleasant to try and eat all that food in one sitting," says Kathleen Meehan, MS, RD, LDN, an anti-diet registered dietitian in Houston. "I'd also imagine it's isolating, as food is meant to be enjoyed socially." Eating one massive meal can affect your digestion and absorption, Foroutan says. And, when you've been fasting all day and teetering on the edge of extreme hunger, it can be harder to make healthy food choices, she adds.
Although you're technically "allowed to" eat whatever you want during this one meal, you're still eating way fewer calories (which are units of energy) than you would typically need in a day. Going through the rest of your day without food will not only make you feel sluggish and hungry, but also screw with your body's cues around hunger, satiety, and satisfaction, Meehan says. This pattern — along with the stringent rules around when you can and can't eat — could easily harm your relationship to food and eating in the long-term. For people who have a history of disordered eating, this would really be a bad idea to follow the OMAD died, adds Courtney Dunn, MS, RD, CDN, a registered dietitian in San Diego.
Despite these various problems, plenty of people still follow this diet because they think time-restricted eating plans are the way to go. "Our bodies are meant to fast naturally overnight, though not for extreme periods of time such as this," says Melissa Bailey, MS, RD, LDN, a dietitian in Philadelphia. And although there is intriguing research about the benefits of intermittent fasting, "there’s really no research that tells us that the more restriction the better," Foroutan says.
What we do know based on research is that most diets are rarely sustainable. Listening to your body for what it needs throughout the day, and nourishing it with well-balanced meals instead of depriving yourself is often your best bet. And hey, when that philosophy becomes a Reddit trend, we're on-board.
If you are struggling with an eating disorder and are in need of support, please call the National Eating Disorders Association Helpline at 1-800-931-2237. For a 24-hour crisis line, text “NEDA” to 741741.