You can enjoy your weekends and work toward your goals *at the same time*.
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We've all been there: You've followed your eating plan to a tee from Monday to Friday. But despite your best intentions, your weekend was filled with pizza, french fries, ice cream, and more. While there's definitely room for indulgences in any healthy diet, when you're after weight loss or fitness performance results, it's sometimes necessary to keep a careful eye on your food intake—even on the weekends. (BTW, here's exactly what to do when you overeat, according to nutritionists.)
Many people get caught in an endless cycle of sticking to their program during the week, indulging all weekend, and then "resetting" again on Monday. But how does doing this on repeat affect your progress, and how can you break the cycle? We asked nutrition pros to find out.
How Weekend Binges Affect Your Health Goals
Regardless of whether you're eating for fat loss, muscle gain, better health, or optimal performance (or a combination!), doing a complete 180 in eating style over the weekend does have significant effects. It can even make an impact if you're simply trying to maintain your weight.
Here's how it works in the case of weight loss or maintenance. "Think about it: You're making healthy, well-rounded food choices for five days of the week," says registered dietitian Emily Field. "You're eating at or just slightly under your calorie and macronutrient (proteins, fats, and carbohydrates) needs. Even in just two meals eaten out, let's say a dinner date on Friday and Sunday brunch with friends, you can effectively undo that slight deficit created over the work week. Coupled with eating later into the night, drinking alcohol, and/or mindless snacking due to lack of scheduled mealtimes, it's easy to see how weight loss can slow under these circumstances."
"Too many meals out, too many alcoholic drinks, and too much all-day food grazing instead of structured meals can throw off your health goals quickly," says Brigitte Zeitlin, R.D., owner of BZ Nutrition. "Plus feeling overstuffed can easily lead to you skipping a workout because you're too full, sabotaging your goals in another way." (Related: How Bad Is Occasional Binge Eating?)
Why Weekend Overeating Happens
So we've established that weekend overeating happens, and it's not so great for your goals. But why is it such a common phenomenon? There are four main reasons this happens.
You're just trying to chill out. "There's a certain 'exhale' that comes with the weekend," says Field. "After our workweek and all the responsibilities that come with it, it's natural to have that 'let your hair down feeling—and all the habits and behaviors that come with it." Makes sense, right?
Weekends are less structured than weekdays. "You wake up late, you skip breakfast because you're going to brunch, then you overeat at brunch because you skipped breakfast and because maybe there was a mimosa or three," she says. Then, you usually want to relax after overeating, so you opt to hang out on the couch before getting ready to go out for dinner or drinks rather than going out and doing something active. "Sometimes that nighttime boozing leads to even later night eating and so the cycle goes," she adds. Sound familiar?
Your weekday eating habits may be too restrictive. "The weekends turn into your 'cheat days,' which become overly excessive in response to your overly restrictive weekdays," explains Zeitlin. Turns out, this is one of the most common reasons for weekend overeating. "Perhaps as a result of trying to exercise restraint after a weekend of overeating, I see many people drastically undereat, restrict, and/or deprive themselves during the workweek, which only sets them up to rebound on the weekend," says Field. "Typically, the harder you try to restrict, the harder you'll rebound and binge." (Related: Orthorexia Is the Eating Disorder You've Never Heard Of)
Social plans—and the alcohol consumption that often comes with them. "Alcohol lowers inhibitions and can make you generally feel more carefree and less disciplined," says Field. (No surprise there!) "Suddenly, your strict and structured weekday meal plan doesn't seem to matter much after a couple of drinks." Plus, it's more likely that you'll be going out with friends or family on the weekend instead of creating healthy, portion-controlled meals at home. "Most of us do not eat the same exact way on the weekends as we do on weekdays, so we're not only overconsuming calories from alcohol, but we're overconsuming calories from restaurant eats—whether that's late-night munchies or brunch the next morning."
How to Break the Cycle
Now that you know why weekend overeating happens, how can you stop doing it? Instead of following a "detox" to "retox" model that creates endless frustration, try these smart strategies.
Create a weekend routine. "If you're struggling with weekend overeating, I encourage you to establish a weekend routine," says Field. "Think of your weekend routine similar to your weekday routine: You generally know what you're going to do, where you're going to be, how you're going to get there." That's not to say that a structured weekend has to be void of fun, or can't exist alongside a healthy social life. Some examples include catching a workout every Saturday morning with a friend, meal prepping every Sunday afternoon, or just keeping a consistent wake-up time, she says. Structure and routine breed good habits, she adds.
Exercise on the weekends. If you aren't already, try making exercise a regular part of that weekend routine. "Before meeting your friends for a boozy brunch, invite them to join you for a spin, yoga, or HIIT class," suggests Zeitlin. "You'll get the motivation of the buddy system while also torching some calories. Plus, working out always keeps you more cognizant of what you're 'spending' those extra calories on." Or, simply pick a brunch or dinner spot that's a decent distance from your home and walk there and back. "The more movement you have going on, the better you'll feel, and the less likely you are to overindulge."
Use a food tracker. "In my nutrition practice, my clients are tracking their foods on weekdays and weekends alike," says Field. "So even though they have similar calorie and macronutrient goals each day, they appropriately plan around brunch, social events, and birthday parties to account for the food and drink they want to enjoy." One way to do this is by pre-logging the food you want to have in a tracking app to see where you'll need to cut back and where you can splurge, while still staying on track with your goals, she says.
Opt for a "treat meal" over a cheat day. Cheat days often spiral into cheat weekends, so Zeitlin recommends nixing them—along with the "cheat" mentality. "Instead, pick one meal during the weekend that you are going to treat yourself on, whether it's a dessert at dinner Saturday night, an extra glass of wine, or the pancakes at brunch on Sunday. Pick one item for one meal and savor every delicious moment of it." (Related: The #1 Weekend Eating Habit to Stop Doing Now)
Know your triggers. Overeating triggers can come in the form of people, physical environments, or even emotions, explains Field. "Do you have a particular friend group that's all about weekend drinking and late-late-night eats? When you're overtired and feeling lousy, do you order food to be delivered? If you walk into that one restaurant, will you be face-planting into a pile of carbs and deep-fried goodies within minutes? Rather than trying to muster all your willpower and discipline to avoid overeating in these circumstances, try avoiding the trigger completely so the temptation no longer exists."