Exactly How to Have a Healthy Weekend (That’s *Actually* Fun, Too)
Here’s your day-by-day guide to refresh and recharge—without saying no to everything
Welcome to the weekend, when you kick off your shoes, pull on your jeans—and fling your diet out the window! (After all, ~balance~ is the key to living a healthy-but-realistic life, right?)
"After watching what you eat all week, it's natural to want to indulge a little," says Judith S. Beck, Ph.D., director of the Beck Institute for Cognitive Therapy and Research and author of The Beck Diet Solution. The problem is that once you loosen the reins and give a green light to a not-so-healthy weekend, it's easy to lose control. "I've seen people erase in two days every ounce of progress they made all week," says Rachel Beller, R.D., founder of the Beller Nutrition Institute in Beverly Hills.
Taking a step back for every step forward isn't just frustrating. "Eventually the yo-yoing can screw up your metabolism and make it even harder to drop pounds," says Joanne Lichten, Ph.D., R.D., author of Dr. Jo's No Big Deal Diet. (Did you hear that science has found you can hack your metabolism by timing your meals right?)
To keep that from happening, try these healthy weekend strategies for every day and situation. This survival guide is guaranteed to help you have a good time, but also get you to Monday without feeling like total crap.
Healthy Weekend Tips For Friday
Happy Hour After Work
You're in the mood to unwind, but the more you drink, the more you munch. "Alcohol makes you hungry because it lowers your blood sugar," Lichten says. "Plus, it lifts your inhibitions, so you'll eat just about anything." (Which may be why post-work workouts are having a moment.)
- Don't order your usual. You're more likely to have a second round when you're drinking your fave. "To keep it to one serving, get something you can nurse for the time you're there," says Marissa Lippert, R.D., author of The Cheater's Diet. For example, if you guzzle white wine, order a light beer instead for a simple healthy weekend swap.
- Go solo. Sharing a pitcher of margaritas with your friends may be more economical, but if you want to make a healthy weekend choice, you're better off ordering by the glass. "That way you can't lose sight of how much you're downing because someone is constantly topping you off," says Evelyn Tribole, R.D., coauthor of Intuitive Eating.
- Cover up the snacks. If you seem to be magnetically drawn to that bowl of spicy nuts, drape a napkin over it. Even if you end up sneaking a few bites, you'll nibble 40 percent less, research has found. "Inserting an extra step is always smart because it slows you down," says Brian Wansink, Ph.D., director of the Cornell University Food and Brand Lab. (Or host a healthy weekend wine and cheese party at home!)
Dinner Out with Girlfriends
You feel like a party pooper picking at a salad. "Research shows that women eat similarly when they're together, possibly as a way of relating to each other," says Sarah-Jeanne Salvy, Ph.D., associate professor of preventive medicine at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. So if your posse is chowing down, chances are you will too. (Related: How to Eat Healthy While Dining Out)
- Designate a healthy-eating buddy. The good news is that the influence works both ways: You'll consume less if you share your healthy weekend with people on the same page. "Having just one fellow calorie-conscious person can really help you stay the course," Salvy notes. "Sit next to each other for extra support."
- Lead the charge. To avoid being swayed by someone's pasta Alfredo calorie bomb, be the first to order. "Make a healthy choice upfront," Salvy recommends.
- Cut yourself off. Once your entree arrives, switch to a nonalcoholic beverage. "You don't need the extra calories to wash down your food," says Connie Diekman, R.D., director of university nutrition at Washington University in Saint Louis.
Healthy Weekend Tips For Saturday
Doing Chores at Home
"When you're home, your day has less structure and it's a quick trip to the kitchen," Beck says. "Eating is how we deal with boredom as well as a way to procrastinate."
- Serve here, eat there. Put your snack on a plate and take it to another room. Having to get up and walk to the kitchen to get more food interrupts mindless eating, Wansink says.
- Snack smarter. Adding a bit of healthy fat to your favorite nosh will fill you up faster. Partial to pretzels? Eat a handful with a dollop of hummus or peanut butter, Lippert advises. (Craving new healthy weekend snacks? Try these unexpected protein bar recipes.)
- Make it a mini meal. Grazing when you're seriously hungry is counter-productive: You'll eat more calories than you realize and still not feel satisfied. Better to feed your growling stomach half a turkey sandwich on whole-grain bread and some carrots; it's the same amount of calories as a few bites of a candy bar (around 150) and much healthier, Beller says.
A Friend's Dinner Party
Being a guest at someone's house can pose a real dilemma. "Not only do you have zero control over the menu, but some hosts are offended when you turn down the food they offer," Beck says.
- Don't arrive ravenous. It's tempting to skip lunch in anticipation of a big meal as part of your overall healthy weekend strategy, "but that will lead to overeating, especially if dinner is served later than you expect," Tribole says. Instead, stick to your regular lunch and afternoon snack and you'll find it easier not to eat too many canapes.
- Stake out the salad bowl. Is the main dish something heavy, like lasagna? "Fortunately, people usually also serve salad," Beller says. So fill the majority of your plate with leafy greens.
- Learn to fend off food pushers. Sometimes saying "No, thanks" isn't enough to stop an insistent host. The best way to derail her: "Tell her that you can't possibly have another bite, but if she is offering leftovers, you would love to take some home," Tribole suggests. (Just in case you need it, here’s what to do if you overeat, according to nutritionists.)
Up Late Watching a Movie
It's past your usual bedtime, and you're on the prowl in the pantry. "If it's four hours since dinner, you're going to be hungry," Lichten says. "Your body is looking for a quick energy boost." (Related: Is It *Really* So Bad to Eat Late at Night?)
- Pick something crunchy. When you've got a hankering for chips, a banana isn't going to cut it. But chomping on something equally noisy will, Beller says. Crisp veggies like carrots, sugar snap peas, and jicama make an especially satisfying sound. Or keep crackling with light microwave popcorn; three cups clock in at less than 100 calories.
- Save the Oscar winner for prime time. Watch a show that's really engrossing and you'll eat up to 44 percent more than if you weren't distracted, research has found. "When you're not paying attention to the way a food tastes or smells, the sensory satiety center in your brain isn't triggered, and you'll keep eating," explains Alan Hirsch, M.D., neurological director of the Smell and Taste Treatment and Research Foundation in Chicago. So watch that half-hour sitcom on Netflix instead.
Healthy Weekend Tips For Sunday
Big Blowout Brunch
During the week, breakfast is typically fast, healthy, and 300 calories, tops. But a leisurely weekend brunch is filled with decadent menu options. "Just a bagel and cream cheese can pack a whopping 600 calories," says Lisa Young, Ph.D., R.D., author of The Portion Teller Plan. "And that's without the lox."
- Think of it as lunch. You can still have midday eggs. Just don't let them be your first bite of the day. "If you wait until late morning to eat, you up the chance of overdoing it because you'll be so hungry," Lippert says. To prevent a blood sugar dip at the start of your final healthy weekend day, rise and reach for a slow-to-digest, lighter pre-brunch meal, like Greek yogurt sprinkled with berries and sliced almonds.
- Share the special stuff. If you've been waiting all week for those buttery chocolate chip pancakes, don't deny yourself. "Order a plate for the table and something more satisfying for yourself, like an omelet with vegetables and a bit of cheese," Lippert suggests. "A few indulgent bites will take care of your craving."
- Don't linger. Part of the reason you eat more with a group is that you're sitting at the table longer, Wansink says. When you finish your healthy weekend meal, have your plate removed. If the gang isn't ready to break up after everyone has stopped eating, suggest moving outside to a nearby bench or going for a walk. (Friends who double as workout buddies are the best, after all!) Whatever you do, don't order more coffee. That's when you start grazing.
Sunday Night Scramble
Where did the healthy weekend go? You've still got chores to do, meal prep to do, maybe work to catch up on. Usually around now, after a splurge or two sprinkled into your healthy weekend, you feel like throwing in the towel. "You may think you'll eat what you want and start fresh tomorrow," Young says. Don't.
- Seek heat. You can't scarf down something piping hot, so go slow with a steamy snack, like a chopped-up apple microwaved and sprinkled with cinnamon, Young recommends. Or drink a cup of tea.
- Surrender sweetly. Is that pint of Ben & Jerry's in the freezer calling your name? Now is not the time to see if you can eat only two spoonfuls of New York Super Fudge Chunk. To make it more likely that you'll keep things under control, reach for an individually wrapped treat, such as a piece of dark chocolate. (Related: Why One Shape Editor Decided to Break up With “Healthy” Ice Cream)
- Hit the sack. Sometimes people eat in response to exhaustion, turning to brownies when what they really need is rest, Tribole explains. Consider wrapping up your healthy weekend a bit early, calling it a night, and setting your alarm accordingly for Monday morning to finish whatever you have left to do. Tomorrow, after all, is a new day.