Research has shown that people tend to eat more on Saturdays and Sundays, which often can erase the hard work of anyone trying to drop a few pounds or maintain weight. It also can lead to weight gain and potentially, obesity.
For the last couple of years, I noticed a trend in my weekly eating patterns. I tended to eat healthy and restrict myself — sometimes consuming too few calories — during the week. Along with tracking calories and eating five or more servings of fruits and veggies a day, I exercised about four to six days a week.
But on the weekends, it seemed as if all bets were off. It wasn’t something I cognitively admitted. On Friday nights, I didn’t say to myself “eat whatever and whenever you want this weekend” However, I relaxed the structure that kept me on track during the week.
In a way, I felt like it was OK to reward myself with dietary flexibility after being good for most of the week. In an ideal world, that would be true, and humans could master their metabolisms.
My food choices on the weekend often were impacted by social situations — i.e. family parties centered on eating and drinking alcoholic beverages, a night out with friends, and semi-mindless snacking at home. Despite my effort to go into a weekend maintaining my typical eating habits, I often let go — not insanely, but enough that I noticed.
Often times, it seemed as if I didn’t have to stray far from my normal routine to notice a weight change even though I still worked out on weekends. For the last couple of years, I refused to weigh myself on Mondays because I knew I probably weighed a pound or two more. By Wednesday, my weight returned to normal. I know this might seem obsessive, but I used to weigh as much as 25 pounds more than I do now. It took a lot of work and education to lose those pounds and maintain a healthy weight. The idea of weight gain is one of my insecurities.
It hit me a couple months ago that my strategy wasn’t the healthiest — nor was it best to start the week feeling down on myself. So I decided to study my patterns and make some changes.
Here’s what I observed.
A problem: Alcohol set me off on the wrong foot. Two or three glasses of wine on a Friday night might have contributed to me eating more, not only that night, but also throughout the weekend. The day after a night out, I often feel hungrier and less satiated than a typical day. Also, studies show that alcohol slows down your metabolism (up to 75 percent!) and shuts off cues from your brain that signal to your stomach you’re full. Isn’t that the perfect storm?
My fix: I cut back on drinking. I used to consume a few drinks on Friday and sometimes Saturday, but none during the week. Mostly, it was to be social. Because I don’t really like drinking, it wasn’t a problem to curb it. I’ve become comfortable with drinking water at bars or occasions when I don’t feel like drinking alcohol. It makes me feel better all around, and I don’t feel like I’m making a sacrifice. Now, I aim for two drinks per weekend, or none at all.
A problem: I lacked structure. Unlike the work week, we do what we want on the weekend, which is a beautiful thing. Monday through Friday, I eat breakfast, lunch and dinner around the same time. I also eat a specific number of calories per meal. I didn’t count calories on weekends, either, which led to me consuming more calories during breakfast and not really having an idea of how much I was eating per day.
My fix: I actually enjoy food journaling, so I don’t know why I wasn’t doing it on the weekend. Maybe I got a little lazy. However, tracking calories helped me lose and maintain weight when I changed my lifestyle several years ago. I tracked for most of this weekend and learned that I consumed more during breakfast that I do during the week. This was OK, but I worked out for an hour each day to avoid going over my caloric budget.
We all have different weight loss and management goals. I still allow myself some wiggle room on weekends, but I’m aiming for consistency seven days a week. I know there will be some weekends when I regress, and that’s OK. But I want my splurges to be worth it, and I don’t want Saturdays to feel like a golden ticket to Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory. It was interesting to take a scientific look at my eating habits, and my body will be healthier because of it.
For the first time in a long time today, I weighed myself on a Monday.
Here are some more tips to avoid overindulging on weekends.
1. Work in a workout. If you know you’re going to be tempted by food and drink later Saturday night, exercise a little extra that day. However, don’t be deceived: It’s easy to erase that calorie burn, so be mindful of what you’re consuming.
2. Don’t think of the weekend as time to splurge. Instead, identify a treat or two that you would like to have, and stick to your normal diet the rest of the time.
3. If you tend to travel on weekends, pack your car or hotel room with healthy snacks, and hydrate.
4. If one too many mojitos steer you off track Friday night, correct your course Saturday, and aim to make the rest of your weekend more healthful.
5. Don’t stress about potential weight gain. When you fret about the number on the scale, your body releases cortisol, which can increase your appetite and drive you to eat more.
What do you do to stay healthy on weekends? We’d love to hear your strategy!