This is my account of how I lost a significant amount of weight when I adopted the idea of eating one main meal a day.
I’ve written this for those who have heard about eating one meal a day and want to seek out the experience of someone doing it. If you decide to do something similar it’s my hope that you can benefit from my experience. I write this as if a friend had asked me to describe the diet.
Be advised: The effectiveness of diets vary from person to person and I cannot guarantee that taking this approach will work for you. Please see my disclaimer at the foot of this post.
BTW: I have a new site called 1 Mad Diet – I’ll be writing more about this topic over there.
It sounds brutal I know, but it really isn’t.
The article was about his capability as a leader, not about dieting or weight loss, but as an aside it was mentioned that he ate only one meal a day.
Judging by the pictures I saw, the man looks in great shape and clearly manages to find enough energy to go running every day AND command the day to day operations of the military in a war zone.
And if it’s good enough for a 4 star General, it’s good enough for me!
At the time I read it I was busy eating six small meals a day, going to the gym and running almost every day. I was taking the ‘optimal’ approach and it was hurting me. I was spending a lot of time reading about dieting and weight loss – getting into the minute detail – listening to people who insisted that you had to cut out certain types of food and eat specific foods, in specific ratios, at specific times.
It was good for a while and I made some progress but it wasn’t sustainable for me with everything else that was going on in my life. I spent more time researching the best way to lose weight than I invested in actually doing something about it.
I had a full time career and when I wasn’t working I was looking after the children while my wife worked. I was exhausted, I hated the 6 small meals diet because I never felt full – I got injured running - and I quit, regaining the weight soon after.
It doesn’t have to be this way
For a long time I suspected that it was possible to lose weight eating a normal balanced(ish) diet. I called it the sub-optimal diet because it involves eating things that traditional diet wisdom says you shouldn’t eat.
I’m talking about normal foods that families eat for lunch and dinner. The staples – bread, pasta, rice, potatoes, fish, meat, vegetables, fruit, dairy, and all the rest.
The sorts of things an army officer, like the General, might get served up in the mess tent. Ordinary, regular food served up in decent portions that fills your belly and keeps you feeling satisfied for hours afterwards.
But I’m also talking about the good stuff (IN MODERATION!!), like cake, chocolate, sweets, candies, pastries and other things that normal people eat – what would life be like without these delights?
Life is already complicated enough, so make it simple
I’ve always believed that for most people there’s no need to weigh and measure food. No need to get the supposed optimal balance between protein, carbohydrate and fat. Following a balanced diet as outlined by the NHS is good enough.
Sure, if you’re going for Olympic gold, then get freaky about your diet, but for the majority of people looking to lose a bit of weight in order to feel better about themselves and extend their lifespan, there’s no need to have a finely tuned and detailed diet plan.
Similarly, I’ve always believed that there’s no need to kill yourself exercising.
Exercise because you want to, because it’s fun, because it’s a challenge – but other than taking a brisk walk every day, you stand to do your diet more harm than good by flogging yourself at the gym on a daily basis – especially if, like me, you’re no longer in the prime of life.
Build up fitness and exercise regimes slowly and deliberately to get the most enjoyment and benefit.
Let’s get this straight… I’m not saying don’t exercise, I’m just saying you might not need to exercise as intensely as you think you do.
Which is good news because if you want to lose more than 30 lbs, you don’t have to embarrass yourself by getting dressed head to foot in lycra and pounding the pavement to the amusement of the jackasses who yell out insults as you go by. Even if you can get past the ridicule or at least the fear of it, you’re going to encounter other problems like injury and lack of motivation.
By all means aim to get fit and put on a little muscle, but don’t feel compelled to try to make two major changes to your lifestyle at the same time. My own experience has taught me to master the mindset of the diet first and then progress to the strenuous exercise in the final stages of a diet (if that’s what you want to do).
Diet as part of a lifestyle
I needed a diet that suited me and my existing lifestyle. I needed it to be simple and inexpensive. I needed it to be something I could sustain over a long period of time and something I could adapt to a permanent lifestyle when I lost the weight.
My life is based around being at home with the children – cooking, cleaning , doing housework and building a home based business.
I’m 43 years old and I have the full time responsibility for looking after our four young children. I’m on duty all day long and I haven’t time to do any of the nonsense that many other diets require.
Nor do I want to pay the ridiculous price tags for the pills, potions and superfoods currently being touted as the answer to everyone’s problems. Superfoods are super but they are also expensive and they are not the miraculous missing link in a successful diet.
I needed a diet that limited my choices and left me to make only good decisions.
Being a work at home mom or dad means that you’re near the fridge all day, it means you’re preparing and cooking food for other people, it means your schedule is crazy, it means you have stressful moments when the business or the family life get a little bent out of shape. And as you doubtless know, comfort eating often seems like a way to relieve the stress.
Comfort or convenience eating is mostly eradicated by the simple fact that I try to eat just once a day, so the proximity of the fridge isn’t a problem. (Note: since I wrote this I’ve learnt to graze, which is perhaps a little better – but in the beginning I ate just once!)
It was also important to me (for reasons I’ll explain elsewhere) that nobody knew I was on a diet, so it needed to appear to everyone else that nothing had changed. Even now at 30 lbs down, my family has no idea I’m eating only one meal.
And just because you’re on a diet it shouldn’t mean the rest of your family have to go on a diet too. My lifestyle choices shouldn’t inconvenience them. I don’t want to turn down the chance to go for a family meal in a restaurant or a some other social function just because I’m on a diet.
How does the diet work?
- Monday to Friday – One main meal in the evening, with a dessert.
- Saturday – Two meals – lunch and dinner, with more freedom to snack in between. In other words, a cheat day.
- Sunday – Two meals – lunch and dinner, with a dessert.
Throughout the day I drink water and tea. The tea is made with whole milk and one sugar and typically I’ll drink about six cups a day.
Snacking isn’t something that I schedule in but there are occasionally times during the day when I’ll eat a snack.
(I would point out that I think it’s probably better to snack throughout the day (and also advisable), but I have some specific reasons why I don’t tend to – besides, the tea with the whole milk and one sugar is pretty close to being a snack with the fat, carbohydrate and protein. Even if it’s not ‘optimal’!)
How I do it
The basic plan is that on weekdays I’ll eat just one main meal everyday around 5pm with my family.
The meal will be big enough to fill my stomach and even make me feel slightly too full.
The point is that I want to feel satisfied that I’ve had a good meal and not feel hungry during the rest of the evening.
Such is the beauty of this diet, fasting during the day means my stomach feels fuller quicker at meal times and stops me over eating.
I eat what the family eats. Meals based around meat, chicken, fish, rice, potatoes, pasta, bread, vegetables, fruit, milk, cream, cheese, eggs – and usually followed by something sweet.
I often try not to eat during the day at all, but if I feel weak or very hungry I’ll eat something that has about 100 to 150 calories.
This is not about starving myself this is about controlling when I eat so that I can be assured of creating a moderate caloric deficit every day.
But it’s important to realise that these snacks are not mini meals, they’re not designed to satisfy my hunger, they’re purely functional.
One of the reasons this works for me, as I’ve already mentioned (but it bears repeating), is I drink tea with full fat milk and sugar throughout the day which tends to keep me going. I guess if you could classify it as snacking.
On Saturday I’ll eat two meals, lunch and dinner but I pretty much eat what I want and when I want. This is my day off, some people call it a cheat day, but I don’t consider it cheating as it will be part of the lifestyle I adopt after the weightloss phase is complete.
On Sunday I have 2 meals, lunch and dinner, but I’m strict about how much I eat and I use the day to prepare me to get back on the diet on Monday.
Exercise during the diet
I made a conscious decison not to take on any additional exercise other than walking once or twice a day with the dogs.
Taking on exercise as part of your diet may seem like a good idea, but my own experience is that exercise hampers my efforts.
From time to time I do some body-weight exercises mainly for fun or for the challenge but it’s not central to creating weight loss.
If there are days when I don’t get out for a walk it doesn’t have any significant impact on my progress.
The right mindset for successful dieting
I believe that most diets will work if you develop the right mindset, and most will fail if you don’t.
This approach to dieting may not suit you and that’s fine, go find something else, but you’re still going to need to develop the right mindset.
When you have a lot of weight to lose it can be hard to buy into the idea that you’ll need to stick to a diet for months. The results you want to see won’t be evident for a long time so you need to get invested in the process as much as the outcome.
It’s so important to get a reward from your efforts on a daily basis. Understand that the real result is not what the scale says but whether you stuck to your eating plan.
Get it into your head that if you repeatedly do the same thing day after day and stick to the plan, the occasional failures will be absorbed by the successes and you’ll reach your goal.
You are going to feel hungry on a diet, learn to get comfortable with it. Hunger is a signal and not a command. Again this is not an exercise in starvation, that’s a stupid and potentially dangerous way to lose weight, it’s about learning to control your intake to ensure that your body gets enough nutrition whilst producing enough of a deficit to lose fat over a period of time.
Set limits. The evening meal is not an open ended thing. There’s a tempation to drag the evening meal out for an hour or two but resist it and set an end time after which you will not eat. For me that time is 6pm which gives me an hour to eat and limits my opportunity to damage my diet.
What you tell yourself is important.
So much of your success on a diet comes from what you tell yourself. So make sure you tell yourself things that will benefit you.
- Tell yourself that you’re easily eating enough food every day to meet your needs (but you actually do need to do this!)
- Tell yourself that what you’re doing is amazing and life changing.
- Tell yourself you have what it takes to get the job done.
- Tell yourself how proud you are that you’re sticking to the diet.
Should you weigh yourself daily?
I weighed myself at the start so that I have a marker to work from… but daily?
Well, that depends on whether you can handle it.
Unfortunately your weight is not an accurate indicator of fat loss. Your weight at any given moment is determined by how much fluid you’re retaining, how much glycogen reserves you’re holding, how much undigested food is in your stomach etc.
I don’t weigh myself often because I know that scale weight can vary wildly on any given day. Instead I take my reward from having stuck to the eating plan.
My failure to lose weight has bothered me for years and eventually I came to associate it with failures in other areas of my life.
I’ve been doing the stay at home / work at home thing for a few years now and it’s been the toughest period of my life.
Getting control of my weight has made a huge difference to the way I feel and the way I think, so naturally it’s had a positive impact with other aspects of my life.
My initial motivation to get going with the diet came from negative emotions. I was unhappy about something in my life and this was my way of pushing back. It’s perhaps not the healthiest of motivations but it was effective to get me started.
The same motivation also got me back on the diet after I fell off the wagon a couple of times. Again, not ‘optimal’, but what in life is?
As time has gone by I’ve been able to replace many of the negative motivators with positive ones.
I mention this because the process has to be meaningful to you or you won’t get emotionally invested in it.
The way we feel determines what we do, so make sure you feel strongly about it.
Of course, I’m still motivated by all the usual reasons to lose weight:
- Look good in swimmers
- Set a good example to my children
- Present a good image to others
- Conquer my own thoughts and actions
- Do something worthwhile
- Extend my lifespan
- Feel good
I also want the freedom to pig out for a week or two (like at Christmas) knowing that I’ll be able to take the weight off again. The prospect of always being within 5 or 6 pounds of my ideal weight instead of 35 or 36 pounds is exciting.
One problem with the weight loss industry is that there seems to be a counter argument for almost everything.
You can read conflicting arguments both of which seem very credible and you become paralyzed by confusion and uncertainty. Instead of getting on with doing something positive you end up in a perpetual state of inaction and unable to commit.
I didn’t do any research before I started on the diet, I just did it. (But to be fair, I did have some knowledge from my previous weight loss attempts.)
NOTE: I’m not advocating being reckless, you should seek to educate yourself about health and nutrition. I was happy that I knew enough and was willing to adjust along the way.
This diet isn’t optimal
This diet certainly isn’t optimal but then life isn’t ‘optimal’ either, but we adapt and cope very well.
Optimal diets have their place, but that’s largley with athletes who need peak physical performance for competition. But I’m not an athlete, I’m a busy work at home parent trying to lose the majority of the excess weight I’ve accumulated though middle age and a fair amount of comfort eating brought on by the stresses of raising small children and trying to build a business.
There may come a time when I’m looking to achieve a very specific fitness goal when I explore optimal diets but for now I don’t believe it’s necessary.
Losing weight quickly or slowly
My belief is that slowly is the best option and that’s what I’ve been doing.
If I were to tweak what I’m doing just a little bit I could get faster results, but it might not benefit me to do so.
As I’ve said, for me, this is a lifestyle diet, I’m not trying to lose weight fast because the trade off isn’t worth it to me.
Fortunately, because the early stages of my diet were largely trial and error I got a chance to experience the quick way and the slow way.
Mixing the two approaches helped me (albeit unwittingly) to keep my interest and helped me to accommodate whatever was going on in my life at the time. I’ve put in a few extremely strict weeks as well as some slightly more flexible and relaxed weeks and it seems to work well.
It needs to be simple because as a work at home parent with full time responsibility for the childcare, my life is already complicated enough. I haven’t got time to work out when I next need to eat and how many calories I can take in, and whether I’ve got the perfect balance between, protein, fat and carbohydrate.
Eating one (roughly) balanced meal at the same time every day is about as simple as it can get.
Fits with family life
My family don’t even know I’m on a diet. All they see is me sitting at the dinner table in the evening eating what they eat, enjoying my food and feeling full and happy afterwards.
During the weekdays my wife is at work and the children are at school, so it’s easy to skip lunch. At the weekend I eat lunch with the family and on Saturday I’ll eat whatever I please (within reason).
Feeling lethargic mid afternoon is a productivity killer for me. Working through lunch and into the early afternoon is a bonus. There’s a lot to do every day and I get it done because I don’t feel sluggish as I would following a post meal slump.
I can see myself adapting this diet to keep me at my desired body weight after I’ve got to my target weight and or body composition.
I’ll move to eating two meals a day (with the inclusion of a light lunch or breakfast) and revert to one meal whenever I want to drop a pound or two.
As I haven’t changed what I eat, there doesn’t seem to be much danger of falling back into old eating habits.
It was all trial and error in the beginning and I made a lot of errors.
I found I was able to make up for it by making slight alterations to the quantities of food I ate. If I wanted a really good day, I’d miss out on dessert. If I ate a few too many snacks one day, I’d cut them out completely the next. If I hadn’t eaten enough, I’d eat some more.
I also found that putting in two good days at the start of the week where I ate a small meal in the evening, would allow me to be less stringent for the rest of the week. That’s tough to do though, but it suited me.
There’s no weighing, no obsessing, no superfoods, no supplements, nothing to add in and no meticulous decision making. You just get on and do it, there’s no wasted time.
Not too many moving parts to break
You’re only doing one thing – dieting. And because the success of your weight loss regimen doesn’t rely on you developing an exercise habit at the same time – there’s less chance of falling off the wagon through lack of motivation or physical injury.
If it’s too cold, too rainy, too windy, too dark to go for a run you’ll write off the day as a failure and reason that you may as well abandon the eating plan too.
There is point at which the body will slow the metabolic rate in order to survive on fewer calories, I believe they call it ‘starvation mode’. I’ve read numerous conflicting reports about this phenomenon and even those who believe it to be correct, can’t seem to agree when it occurs.
I get around this by having a cheat day every Saturday. I suspect it tells my body and unconscious brain that there’s an abundance of food so there’s no need to close down. Not particularly scientific, but if nothing else it gives me a nice reward every 7 days.
What to watch out for
If the family are about for extended periods, like school holidays, it can be difficult around lunch time – firstly if the family see you’re not eating they’ll ask questions. It was important to me to keep my diet a secret, hut you might want to tell people (it might be easier!!). Secondly, with all the food around it’s tough not to take a bite, which leads to another and another etc.
Days when it doesn’t go well
I don’t get it right every time. In fact I got it wrong a lot in the beginning. I under-eat or over-eat and it’s difficult to know which you’re doing if you’re not counting calories (which I’m not). It pays to have a rough idea of how many calories your food has but if you start to micro manage your food intake it starts to get tedious and adds an extra pressure.
Beyond that, I let experience be my guide. See what works over a couple of weeks.
Opening the flood gates
I mentioned at the top that I have a specific reason why I don’t eat breakfast and I don’t tend to snack, and this is it…
Snacking is sometimes a good idea, especially if I feel weak, but I have to be careful because one small morsel of food can easily lead to another, and before I know it I’ve spent two hours grazing and eaten more than I would if I’d just had a small meal.
If you’re prone to this you might be better off eating two meals a day and transitioning gradually to one meal.
Sneaking in early
By about 430pm I’m ready to eat, but dinner isn’t until 5pm and I’m still preparing it. The problem is I end up not just tasting the food, but actually eating it. A few spoons of bolognese sauce, or a bite or two of bread can do quite a bit of damage to your diet because you don’t know you’re doing it and even if you do, you’ve waited so long to eat there’s no way you’re going to adjust your portion size at dinner.
Besides, starting early stretches your stomach out so you eat more to feel full.
Wait. Wait until you’re seated at the table before you let any food past your lips
When you don’t enjoy your dinner
The event itself:
The last thing you want having waited all day to eat, is to sit at a table with your family and referee fights and arguments between the kids. Children are children and sometimes they’ll misbehave requiring you to interject frequently. If you get to the end of your meal without really tasting and savoring it, you might not feel inclined to go through it all again tomorrow.
In these circumstances sometimes it’s better to eat after your children have finished. So wait ten or fifteen minutes and then eat your dinner in peace.
Make sure you eat meals you enjoy. If I sat down at the table to liver and bacon casserole I would not be a happy bunny.
When you don’t enjoy the diet
This is not for everyone, and even if does work for you there’ll be times when you don’t enjoy it. You’ll have days or even weeks when you can’t face it. Rather than give up and quit, tread water for a while. Go for maintenance rather than weight loss. Eat two meals a day and gradually work back to having one when you feel like it.
Scale weight and Monday morning bloat
On Monday morning you’ll still be bloated from the free and easy eating on Saturday and the two meals you at on Sunday. Even if you get in two good days at the start of the week it won’t be reflected in your weight until later on in the week.
This is one of the reasons I didn’t bother to weigh myself, I just stuck to the eating plan.
If you insist on weighing yourself, don’t freak out if the scale says you’ve gained weight and over-compensate by eating even less. If you keep doing it you’ll get discouraged or ill, and quit.
It seems to be universally accepted that eating breakfast is a must and I’m not going to dispute that. I certainly wouldn’t be happy if my children wanted to skip this meal. I don’t eat breakfast because for my entire adult life I have rarely eaten breakfast and I haven’t felt that there’s been any detriment to my health or wellbeing.
I’m open to the idea that eating first thing in the day boosts the metabolism and helps in the fat burning process, but I choose not to. That’s a personal preference. As I continue my own fat loss journey I may well decide to experiment to discover for myself whether the conventional fat loss wisdom holds true.
(Update: Now that I’ve been doing this for a while, I still don’t eat breakfast, but I do eat an apple a day and I eat it around breakfast!)
You need to apply common sense to this diet.
It stands to reason that if your one meal a day contains more calories than you need then you’re going to get fatter not thinner. It relies on the fact that you’re not going to absolutely pig out every day on junk food and use it as an excuse to binge. The beauty of the diet is that I can eat anything – ANYTHING – but to get results it has to be in moderation.
Low blood sugar and feeling faint
Extended periods of fasting can lead to feeling faint or dizzy. I know this because sometimes I’ve pushed this diet too far. I haven’t yet fainted, but on one occasion I came close to it. Luckily I wasn’t doing anything that put me at risk. But if I’d been driving, operating machinery or cooking at a hot stove the outcome could have been disastrous.
Be sensible. Eat small snacks if you need to. It’s only a diet, it’s not worth risking your life or your safety over a few calories!
I’m not recommending this diet to you, instead I’m just sharing with you why it worked for me – the pros and the cons of taking this approach drawn from my own personal experience.
The opinions stated here are my own, I am not medically trained nor am I a qualified nutritionist. You must do your own research and you should consult a medical professional before embarking on a diet.
I’m relatively fit and healthy. I don’t have any medical conditions like high blood pressure or diabetes. I don’t take regular medication and I’m not in any risk category. I didn’t seek medical advice before embarking on this diet, I just did it. But if you have any doubts at all you should see a doctor.
Don’t do this if you’re young and still growing. Don’t do it if you’re pregnant (or think you might be). Don’t do it if you drive or operate machinery. If you have even one single doubt, don’t do it.
How much weight have I lost?
I’ve lost 30lbs and it’s taken me five months. I could have done it quicker but the price for the quick result was more than I was willing to pay.
Here’s me at 205lbs and 176lbs.205 lbs 176 lbs
Keep in mind that the pictures don’t show the fat on my back, chest and rear end!.
I’ve been documenting my progress over the last few weeks:
For me, this has been the most successful diet ever
I’ve just quietly got on with it. I haven’t let anything else stop me from doing it and I feel very proud of what I’ve achieved.
The most important thing is to do something.
Wishing you were thinner and spending hours reading up on it won’t do a thing for you.
Taking action and finding a way to eat to a moderate calorie deficit is your best bet, whether it’s something like this or through a structured program like weight watchers.
Good luck with your own diet, let me know how you’re doing in the comments and I’ll cheer you on.
Update: I’m back on the diet. You can follow my progress HERE