Warning! This Extreme Diet Approach May Not Suit Everyone
Would you eat just one meal a day? A Harvard and Oxford University-educated doctor stresses the weight loss benefits and convenience of this extreme diet plan, but warns the approach may not suit everyone.
Fasting of any kind is thought to place a ‘gentle stress’ on the body, which leads to fat burning.
The ‘one meal a day’ approach may also be surprisingly convenient for many dieters as it produces weight-loss results without the hassle of excessive meal preparations, juicing or calorie counting, according to Dr Xand Van Tulleken, who is an advocate of the eating plan.
Yet, the British Dietetic Association warns followers of the plan should expect to feel hungry, adding the diet’s recipes may also leave people lacking in vital nutrients, such as calcium.
Dr Van Tulleken himself also adds the diet should not be used as an excuse to overindulge, as even extreme calorie restriction cannot reverse a diet high in processed food and sugar.
Overall, followers of the one meal a day plan should listen to their instinct, eat when really hungry and ensure their daily meal is nutrient-dense.
In a piece for Get The Gloss, Dr Van Tulleken outlines, in detail, the pros and cons of eating just one meal a day.
Doctors support it
Or at least Dr Xand Van Tulleken, who studied medicine at Oxford and has a degree in public health from Harvard, does.
In Dr Van Tulleken’s recently published book How to Lose Weight Well, he explains why he generally eats just one meal a day and how he maintains his willpower.
He said: ‘There’s a large amount of medical evidence that indicates that fasting is a safe and effective way of losing weight. The scientific research on fasting makes compelling reading (OK, it’s not the new Dan Brown or Gillian Flynn but I enjoyed it!): it does seem that you can lose weight by fasting even if you don’t reduce your overall weekly calorie intake.
‘The way in which this works isn’t clear but some researchers describe fasting as being a good kind of stress on your body, like exercise, and that it promotes fat burning.
‘However you do it, losing weight will involve figuring out where you need to cut calories. Personally, I find most days that it’s easiest to stay hungry until dinner. Other people can’t stand this so work towards a solution for you.’
Clearly the one day meal approach words for Dr Van Tulleken, who lost six stone after making the shift from grazing to more infrequent, but larger, meals.
You can eat what you like, when you like
Albeit only once a day.
Dr Van Tulleken said: ‘My personal experience is that fasting works well much of the time.
‘I have a nine-to-five job for quite a bit of the time in which I teach and do research. I start the day with a cup or two of black coffee and then eat all my calories in the evening in a big, tasty meal.
‘I don’t have to exercise much restraint on that meal and I finish it feeling full and happy. When I’m trying to lose weight, I’m going to have to be hungry some of the time, so I’d rather spend the day thinking about a hearty dinner and not wondering why I’m hungry.’
Meals need to be nutritionally balanced, but Dr Van Tulleken stresses eating one meal a day can lead to weight-loss results without calorie counting, dietary commandments or having to source obscure, expensive ingredients.
He said: ‘It’s really hard to gain weight on one meal per day. You can manage it if you eat pizza and ice cream but if you stick to sensible healthy eating principles you’ll be fine.’
Providing you eat well, of course. NHS guidelines for fasting emphasise the importance of eating high-energy meals to prevent muscle wastage, with a balanced carbohydrate, protein and fat intake.
The guidelines also highlight the importance of eating food high in fibre, as this ‘can help to keep your bowels healthy and add bulk to your meal, helping you to feel full.’
Include plenty of fruit, vegetables, pulses and whole grains and you should feel satiated for longer than you think.
It’s easy to fit into your schedule
Mainly because there is no schedule.
Followers can have their main meal whenever it suits them during the day, and the lack of tupperware prep/juicing/macro counting should save time.
It gets you back in touch with your hunger
You may realise you have been mindlessly ploughing through snacks without actually being hungry.
Dr Van Tulleken said: ‘My advice is to try it and bear the following things in mind: your body has memory of the way you used to eat. If you have a chocolate bar at 10am one day, the next day at 10am your body will expect a chocolate bar.
‘Fasting can therefore be a shock to the system and the first day you’re likely to feel hungry. It does get better. My way of dealing with hunger is to remember that feeling hungry isn’t too bad and it is possible to function quite well when you’re hungry.’
It can be unsafe
As you may have guessed, fasting can impact mental and physical agility.
Dr Van Tulleken said: ‘Fasting doesn’t have to come with a safety warning but it is worth remembering that there is good evidence that we do function less well when we’re hungry.
‘You function less well when you’re full, tired, worried and all sorts of other brain states but it is undeniable that after a long fast (say, 24 hours) you’re less competent to operate heavy machinery than if you hadn’t fasted.’
Basically, do not operate any cranes, sit a vital exam or run a marathon while fasting.
Also, depending on your job, day-to-day routine, personal health and activity levels, the one meal a day principle may not be appropriate.
Discuss the diet plan with your doctor first. As with exercise, radically changing your routine without support can do more damage than good.
It’s not always convenient
While one meal a day simplifies your routine on the surface, getting stressed about it defeats the point.
Dr Van Tulleken acknowledges that, despite its title, the one meal a day eating regime is not actually an everyday diet, and flexibility and common sense are key.
He said: ‘The amount of hunger you can cope with depends for many people on knowing how long it’s going to last and what will happen at the end of it.
‘It’s like being sleep deprived. If you’re tired on holiday it’s no big deal; the same amount of tiredness on a Monday morning prior to a busy week is almost impossible to cope with.
‘Similarly, I can cope with having one meal a day to look forward to most of the time. But when I’m working away from home, in places where the evening meal is going to be dismal or possibly non-existent, this means that there isn’t much to look forward to at the end of a period of hunger.
‘At these times I tend to have three meals per day.’
It can lead to overeating
Just because you are only eating one meal a day, that is not a licence to obliterate the buffet.
Although intermittent fasting can help people gain control of their health, it does not cancel out a diet high in processed foods and sugar.
You may be lacking in energy or nutrients
The British Dietetic Association’s analysis of Dr Van Tulleken’s book was on the whole positive, however, the organisation had a few misgivings about the plan, particularly its recipes.
It said: ‘The “one meal a day” only provides about 750 kcals per day – so expect to be hungry, especially keeping in mind that the average male and female needs 2,500 and 2,000 calories daily, respectively, to maintain weight.
‘A mix and match approach to the meal plans is most likely. On the one-meal a day plan, the diet is also low in several nutrients, but especially lacking in calcium, so we would advise adding some milk or yogurt into the plan if you are going to follow this in the longer term.
‘Overall this book provides reasonably sensible diet advice, although the plan is too low in some vital nutrients such as calcium and fibre to follow long term.’
The bottom line?
Follow your instinct, eat when you are really hungry and make sure your plate is balanced, satisfying and tailored to your needs, rather than to the clock, a complicated recipe or whatever food is in fashion.