My 21 Day OMAD Journey to Weight Loss and Emotional Eating Recovery
How this eating plan can help you rebuild healthier eating habits
Over the course of last year, I gained 7 pounds. That’s enough weight for my skinny jeans to serve as a makeshift tourniquet. The weight I gained was stress-related and cortisol induced. I turned to the fridge to soothe my worries in what I’ve come to learn as “emotional eating.”
For me, this looked like constantly snacking on healthy foods while wondering why my jeans kept getting tighter. Even though I know for a fact that you can’t out-train a bad diet, I would run an extra mile or two to “make up for it.” Food made me feel like everything would be OK, so I felt like there was no way I was going to give up snacking.
Then I was deployed to the Bahamas to work on the Hurricane Dorian emergency response. On Abaco — the island that suffered 85% of the damage — the storm destroyed nearly everything. For food, there were only two roadside shacks and World Central Kitchen, a relief organization that allows aid workers to eat. Most of the local food is fried or Southern-style—it tastes very good, but should only be eaten in limited amounts.
With my new circumstances in mind, I decided to try eating One Meal a Day (OMAD) for three weeks. I saw it as a way to get rid of excess weight, and to save time, energy and money. Plus, no one loves a challenge more than me!
OMAD is a type of intermittent fasting (IF) — where you fast for 23 hours per day and eat for one (23:1). It’s also commonly permissible to eat within a four-hour window from an average-size dinner plate, which is about 11–12 inches across. The food can only pile up to three inches high, with no specific foods being off-limits. OMAD’s cousins are 5:2 and 18:6 — the most common types of IF.
The OMAD eating plan works on the theory that your body can stay within a constant state of burning fat by restricting your calories to one feeding time. Your body uses the calories from eating regular meals and snacks at a steady rate for energy. When you remove that ongoing stream of calories, your body has to use fuel from other places, such as stored fat.
My Typical Fast Day
Here’s what it looked like in practice for me:
Morning: I drink a big mug of green tea upon waking. I follow that with water and apple cider vinegar.
Noon: I drink mineral water, sparkling water, and herbal teas.
Evening: I meditate at 5:30 and start prepping my food at 5:50. I start eating at around 6:30 p.m. and give myself 1 to 1.5 hours to eat whatever I want. (Note that just because you can eat whatever you want, doesn’t mean you should eat whatever you want—for example, you shouldn’t eat a plate full of desserts).
My Experience With OMAD
Days 1–3 were hard. I constantly thought about food. I was hungry — but not hangry. On Day 4, something snapped and I no longer thought about food all day. When I noticed that my stomach was empty, I drank water or herbal tea. I parented my stomach and gently reminded it that we eat at 6 p.m. — not all day, as it had grown accustomed to. I ended our pep talk with “one day, you’ll thank me.”
By the end of week one, I could smell food and it didn’t bother me. In fact, I’ve come to relish the smell of food while fasting. I had social outings about once per week, and I handled this by eating my OMAD a bit earlier — making sure it was within a four-hour window of my normal eating time. I also began to notice that I wanted to eat when I was bored or stressed — a form of emotional eating I might not have recognized if I hadn’t embarked on this fasting journey.
No two days are the same with intermittent fasting. Weeks 2 and 3 were very similar in that the mental challenge had lessened — but there were a few days that my mind/body for some reason didn’t adapt well to the fast, and I felt the urge to eat a bit earlier than 6:00 p.m.
Although my goal going into this fast was to lose weight, I soon learned that I had a troubled relationship with food and that this was the root of the weight gain. Therefore, on the off-days, I didn’t want to privilege a fasting protocol over listening to my body. This meant that I gave myself permission to eat 15 minutes or a half-hour earlier — which was well within my eating window.
I’m grateful for this OMAD experience, as fasting helped reset my metabolism and digestive system. By day 21, I lost 6.5 pounds. At this point, I was no longer hungry in the daytime. Eating OMAD is only difficult because it’s not fun to skip lunch when you only have a few opportunities to socialize and that’s one of them. Overall, eating OMAD helped me recover the ability I’d lost to detect real hunger as an emotional eater. Now, when I eat at 6 p.m., I know the true feeling of hunger and realize that real hunger happens every 18 to 24 hours — not every two.
Helpful Tactics for Making OMAD Work
Use coffee strategically
Before I started this fast, I made coffee immediately upon rising. I continued this for about a week into my fast until I realized that I didn’t need it in the morning anymore.
I began to experiment with and leverage coffee — I drank iced coffee when I wanted a cool drink or to change up the flavor of drinks. I drank it as a response to mid-day hunger, or to alleviate the feeling that my stomach was empty. I sometimes drank coffee because I was overtired from work.
In general, I drank a lot less coffee than usual — from 2 or 3 days per week during the fast — compared to 7 days per week prior. I raise this issue not because I’m anti-caffeine, as research shows there are a lot of cognitive and weight loss benefits to caffeine. I raise it because I don’t like to feel like I’m addicted to anything, and fasting helped me to control my caffeine intake in ways I didn’t know was possible.
You might find it similarly helpful to reconsider your coffee intake.
Double the tea bags
I only had access to a limited selection of supermarket teas. This was not ideal for me because I like strong, flavorful teas. Since there were no fancy tea shops around, I resorted to doubling my tea bags to punch up the flavor. This worked quite well!
Flavor your water with magnesium tablets
There are differing opinions as to how many calories you can consume and remain in a fasted state. I consumed no more than 4 calories during my fasting period by adding a Kruger magnesium effervescent tablet (4 cal) to my water.
Prior to fasting, I used magnesium tablets to aid muscle recovery when running. It was a happy coincidence that I’d packed magnesium because it helped me stave off boredom. Don’t go overboard here; one a day will suffice.
Meditate before you eat
I started this practice after a week of wolfing down my food when the clock struck 6 p.m.
I didn’t want to negate the digestive benefits of fasting by swallowing my food whole. So I took this opportunity to pick up my neglected evening meditation and use it to assist me with entering my evening meal prep with a calm mind.
I practice a 20-minute meditation, but if you haven’t learned this form, you can just practice breathing in stillness for 5–10 minutes before your meal prep.
When I entered my third week, this became less of an issue—but there were still days that I felt anxious to eat — and when I felt this way, I made sure to calm myself first. If I was out during the day, and it was impossible for me to meditate before eating, I would find a quiet place — often a bathroom stall — and simply breath before eating.
Eat a good one meal a day — preferably home-cooked
I ate at home a lot more when I fasted. There were environmental reasons for this — the town was virtually destroyed by the hurricane with power lines were still down, and it was less than optimal to drive the 30 minutes back to base at night.
I also noticed that I enjoyed preparing my food during this time a lot more than usual—even though I was cooking for myself.
I ate a lot of single-ingredient foods, and often broke my fast with an apple or another piece of fruit. I felt more satisfied and enjoy the food more when my OMAD was home-cooked.
Carry a healthy snack in case you need to break your fast and are not near food
At least that’s the story you tell your rational mind. The real reason you do this is to quiet the panicked thoughts in the deep recesses of your mind which is worried you’ll be stranded in a food desert in a fasted state.
This scenario is probably never going to happen, but the mind can do strange things when it realizes that you’re not eating.
I almost always keep a Clif bar and an apple at the bottom of my bag. This keeps me from entertaining any wild thoughts I have about starvation before it’s time to break my fast. I usually ended up giving this to a colleague who has missed breakfast and is dying of hunger, but this trick fools my brain every time.
Experiment with healthy desserts
I made sure to buy some good dark chocolate to have with mixed nuts and fruit as a dessert. These were often my go-to snack foods, and I was happy to still be able to incorporate these into my meals.
I’ve gone overboard on the “you can eat anything” route — and boy did I regret it. After having a big bowl of ice cream (a first-week OMAD rookie mistake), I woke up feeling like death. My body was no longer used to the sugar and I felt like I had a full-body hangover.
I’m sure some of you will fully embrace the concept of, “it matters more when you eat than what you eat.” I’m here to warn you — that’s only partially true. A big bowl of ice cream will have consequences!
Have breakfast at dinner
I love eggs and all kinds of breakfast food. To make up for skipping breakfast, some nights I’d cook a full breakfast for dinner. This helps me not to feel deprived and I absolutely loved it!
Keep a journal
My journal was not fancy. I used a pinned Apple note where I jotted a few observations from that day’s fast for my reference. I took note of difficult fast days and any preoccupations with food. You’ll be surprised at what you can learn from this simple exercise.
Some people like to use a fasting app like Zero to note their observations.
Practice very gentle yoga
I tried to do a 7 minute HIIT workout, but after being winded almost immediately, I decided against it — rather sticking to my gentle Strala yoga practice (which I also teach).
Strala is a form of yoga that privileges movements that feel good on your body — over-perfecting yoga poses. I rolled around on my mat for 5–10 min each morning and this was the perfect level of movement for me while fasting.
What I Ate for My OMAD
There is no fancy food in the field. When I was in Nassau, I’d treat myself to a dinner out, which left my wallet significantly lighter. At the Abaco island base, I ate a lot of single-ingredient food. I always started with a salad made with spinach/ field greens and strawberries. Main dishes were either:
- Lentil soup prepared with stewed tomatoes, chili, and spices
- Grits and eggs
- Avocado toast with a fried egg on top
- Black beans and corn with corn chips
- Fresh fish and fries
- Pasta of some sort
I’m mostly plant-based and eat fish when I can get it fresh. I probably ate the most meat while in Abaco at the odd BBQ — because that’s the food that was available it provided a much-need socializing opportunity as well.
The whole OMAD experience has led me to become even more of a flexitarian. I will remain plant-based, but my emphasis going forward will be on restricting eating times.
How I Will Keep the Healthy Habits I’ve Gained
For long-term maintenance, I’ve switched to two meals a day — fasting for about 18 hours with 6 hours to eat two small meals.
If I stop eating by 8 p.m., this gives me a feeding window from 2 p.m. to 8 p.m. — affording me most of the metabolic benefits associated with a longer intermittent fast. I’m estimating my fasting times as I am leaning more toward listening to my body and eating when I feel hungry—a skill I feel I re-acquired during my 21-day OMAD plan. I’m also journaling my experience with the transition as this will become a lifestyle for me.
I am making a conscious choice to continue skipping breakfast because it’s the easiest meal to skip socially — and the claim that ‘breakfast is the most important meal of the day’ is scientifically baseless. When I’m working from home, I’ll most likely eat breakfast for lunch — as I do love breakfast foods.
Another new habit that I will carry forward is not snacking. At one point in my life, I bought into the myth that it was healthy to eat a bunch of little meals each day. But eating all day means that your digestive system never gets a break. I found no scientific evidence to support constant snacking as a healthy lifestyle. I’ll continue to eat my snack foods like dessert.
Final Thoughts on Eating OMAD
Eating OMAD has helped me improve my relationship with food. I learned to relish the one meal a day when I ate it. It was an opportunity also to practice mindful eating—I don’t stare into my phone or laptop while I eat anymore. I learned to recognize true hunger and respond accordingly.
I’ve lost excess weight and have cultivated a healthier relationship with food. I feel smart to have dodged the restricting calories bullet, as restricting calories is hasn’t worked for me.
Learning to listen to my body is the most valuable lesson I’ve learned from this 21 day fast. Losing the 6.5 pounds was the cherry on top.
OMAD is not for everyone, but for those who struggle with their “set weight”, want to lose weight safely and quickly, or improve other metabolic markers, I highly recommend eating OMAD.