OMAD or U Mad?

In which RVA discusses eating for mental health…

Over the weekend, I stopped fasting.

I switched my diet from the OMAD protocol (One Meal A Day) to the athletically more common frequent meal programs.  Three snacks and three meals, eating once every two or three hours.  I’m sure there’s a catchy little acronym for it but hell if I’ve found it.

I’ve been doing OMAD for years (I think I started in 2016?).  I started for the tremendous fat loss and health benefits attributed to fasting.  I started fasting and realized none of those benefits.  I didn’t lose any extra weight, I didn’t perform better or athletically.  I saw no appreciable markers of health and performance improve.  What I did discover is that fasting fit my lifestyle rather nicely.  Fixing one meal a day instead of several was terribly convenient, and one big meal every night was surprisingly fun.  The sense of fullness was nice, as was the austerity of my internal running during the day.  I saw few of the promised benefits of the OMAD protocol, but I stuck with it out of sheer preference.

I opted to discontinue OMAD just recently, and it has been a learning curve.  Going back to frequent eatings was quite a jarring experience, and I’d be lying if the morning weigh-in didn’t shock me the first few days before things settled.  I’m still finding my way around the protocol, but it hasn’t been as big of an adjustment as one might think.

Why did I make the change?  Several reasons.

The first was an increase in clinical literacy.  I’ve spent some time reading clinical trial reports and learning to parse through details with a stronger critical eye.  This has allowed me to better appreciate the nuance for what I’m reading.  If you’ve never read a clinical trial, they are NOT compelling reading.  Quite the opposite, they’re dull as hell.  You have to really be committed to power through them.  That isn’t by design, however, but necessity.  Clinical reports must be very clear and exact in their presentation, allowing for little if any artistic flourish.  There is no room for hyperbole, exaggeration, or sarcasm.

But with renewed critical eyes, I’ve re-evaluated the reports that were used to promote fasting and I simply found them wanting.  I wouldn’t say that they are wrong or inaccurate or lies or any such extreme nonsense.  I would simply describe them as less-than-conclusive.  I don’t regret fasting; I figured out pretty early on that it wasn’t delivering what was advertised.  That was fine.  I was happy with how I was eating, so I kept doing it that way.

The thing is, times change.  I want to experiment with some of my nutritional timing and switching around when and how I do things.  On top of that, I read some other clinical reports on nutrition and Depression.  These were no more conclusive than the fasting programs, but I’ve tried new protocols on a lot less.  These spoke towards the need for carbohydrates and non-fasting dietary regimens in dealing with the illness.  So I went in that direction.  Big deal, right?

I say all of this to draw some parallels to, well, whatever you consider relevant.  See, what one eats is critical to a person’s health and well-being.  Next to maybe air, consumption of food and drink is about as basic as it gets.  Maybe even more basic than things like sleep and company.  You can go a long time doing a lot of other things wrong, but get consumption wrong and things will go sideways real fast.

And yet most people look at food as a form of entertainment, or a form of sustenance.  Maybe both, but not always.  In reality, food is a variable and diverse factor in our lives.  It’s more than a necessary evil as we try to get ready for beach season.  It’s more than a math problem as we try to peak our athletic performance for a game or meet or other competition.  It is a factor that affects all of us, in all ways.

What we eat does not come in a vacuum, nor do our habits and preferences form in a vacuum.  Our consumption is forever in a given context.  You may choose your diet and food and eating protocols based on what you want your stomach to look like, but a great many other factors will weigh in and will result.

All of this is building up to the importance of context.  It’s all about understanding why and how we decide to do things, and what results from doing them.  But in addition to context is understanding the hierarchy of influence.  Meaning, just because something is informed by a context doesn’t mean that context is that important.

What?

I switched from fasting to frequent meals because of my Depression.  I changed the protocols in an effort to better mitigate the symptoms of a mental illness.  Cool, great.  Let’s say in the next two weeks, I suffer two fewer psychological crashes per week.  Can we conclude that a frequent-meal-protocol is successful in combating Depression?

Was it the protocol, or was it the attention to details?  After all, I’m having to constantly rejigger my diet and my cooking and my macronutrients and my timing and my this and my that.  What if it’s not the meal frequency that matters but realizing I’m Vitamin-B deficient?

Was it the protocol, or was it the distraction?  Depression often results (at least for me) from a certain overwhelming of sensory inputs.  If I am concentrating on a given thing, I often don’t get depressed as easily.  Could changing my diet along any lines have produced favorable mental changes simply because it gave me something to focus on?

Was it the protocol, or was it the fixation?  Frustratingly, sensory deprivation can also trigger Depressive crashes.  So what if having food throughout the day and giving me a sensation I often go 22 hours without helped to stymy the tide of Depression?

If my mental health does improve, isolating the specific variable will be very difficult, perhaps impossible.  We wouldn’t be able to say ‘frequent meals is good for Depression’.  All we could say is ‘this change, at this point in my life, netted a positive result in dealing with my Depression symptoms’.

The likelihood that it’s the food and the eating is very low.  More likely, it is the habit and the behavior.  Why?  Because those are much more prominent and important in the mental health hierarchy.  Want a flat stomach?  Your protein timing throughout the day won’t matter a 10% of what total protein consumption will.  And that won’t matter a quarter of what adequate caloric consumption will.

What does this mean?  It means that changes in our lives can often be made for reasons other than what we expect.  I change my diet for mental reasons, not physical reasons.  Originally (when I started fasting), I changed it for physical reasons but I stayed on the OMAD protocol for social/time-saving reasons.

By thinking laterally and looking at our lives in a larger context, we can see opportunities and options we might not have entertained otherwise.  When we view aspects of our lives in isolation, we can become very fixated on what our options are.  But by broadening our view and expanding our horizons beyond a given niche into our whole lives, we can begin to realize opportunities.

I’m going to cut this a bit short.  I’ve got Snack #2 to enjoy.

Author: Robert V Aldrich

Author. Speaker. Cancer Researcher. Martial Artist. Illustrator. Cat dad. Nerd.

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