The weekend weight gain curse
iStock/Jacob Ammentorp Lund
Weekends can wreak havoc on your waistline. “A lot of healthy habits we have during the week, such as drinking water at our desks and eating meals at a regular time, go away then,” says Bonnie Taub-Dix, RDN, owner of Betterthandieting.com and author of Read It Before You Eat It. What’s more, many people reward themselves with food for making it through a tough week. Result? “Overeating, inappropriate eating, skipping meals and drinking more alcohol,” Taub-Dix says. It all adds up: Americans take in more calories on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday (115 extra per day, according to one estimate) than the rest of the week. No surprise, then, that most adults weigh more on Monday morning than they do first thing Friday. And while some of us compensate for weekend overindulging by eating less on weekdays, many don’t. Here, some easy ways to make your weekends as—or more—waist-friendly than your workdays. Need major weight-loss motivation? Here’s the secret weight-loss advice used by the folks on The Biggest Loser and other reality shows.
Go out and play!
Weekends are a great time to pack in more physical activity. But don’t think about exercising—that could actually backfire. In one study, participants walked the same one-mile course, but half were told it was exercise; the rest thought they were just listening to music. Afterward, the “exercisers” were more tired and scarfed down more sugary treats at a lunch buffet. Think about the fun aspects of your physical activity, and you may feel happier and snack more mindfully. “The word ‘exercise’ seems more like a weekday thing, what you do before and after work,” says Taub-Dix. Instead, find fun stuff you can do during your time off that you can’t do on work days. Put on music and dance (408 calories per hour). Ride a real bike (543 calories). Take your dog for a long walk (237 calories). Putter in your garden (339 calories). Bonus points for any activity you do outside in nature. A large body of research says that exposure to green environments boosts your mood, and people in good moods tend to eat less.
Give yourself permission to sleep a little late
In an ideal world, you would go to bed and wake up the same time every day of the week and you’d get at least seven hours of shut-eye. In the real world, you’re probably staying in bed longer on weekend mornings because you were up later than usual and are also making up for the sleep you missed during the week. That’s okay. “If you’ve been sleep-deprived during the week, weekends are a great time to catch up. We know that sleep loss is connected to weight gain,” says St. Louis registered dietitian Jennifer McDaniels, MS, RDN, a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. These tricks can even help you lose weight while you sleep.
Whip up tasty (and healthful) breakfasts
Having breakfast may reduce how many calories you eat during the rest of the day. And when you’re in less of a rush to get out the door, you have a bit more time to jazz up these meals. One trick: “Take a product you normally eat and move it to a more luxurious level. The breakfast will feel special and a little decadent,” Taub-Dix says. For instance, if you normally eat fat-free yogurt, splurge on 2 to 4% yogurt, then add cut-up mango pieces and drizzle on honey. Other healthy possibilities: Toast a frozen waffle, then top with almond butter and a sliced banana. Or cut up an apple, stick it in the microwave, then add the warm apple and cinnamon to oatmeal. Here’s more healthy breakfast inspiration.
Make a plan before you eat out
During the week, you have many meals, such as lunch at your desk, by yourself. On weekends, people usually do a lot more socializing. Weight loss-wise, that’s risky. “Research says you have a tendency to eat like the people you’re with. If your friends eat a lot—they order a bread basket, buy drinks—then you may, too,” Taub-Dix says. One way to maintain self-control is to pick your meal before you even enter a restaurant. Look up most restaurant menus online so you can make healthy choices in advance. Craving dessert? Share it. “Splitting does not necessarily mean cutting the dessert in half—you could just eat a quarter,” says Taub-Dix. These tricks can help you eat healthy while you eat out.
Go easy on cocktails
“Alcohol can be a diet bomb,” says McDaniel. “You’re taking in empty calories and your appetite might increase so that you eat more. If you overindulge and don’t feel well the next day, you’re more likely to reach for unhealthy foods the rest of the weekend.” One way to cut down your consumption is to alternate between drinking a glass of sparkling water (maybe with a lime slice) and an alcoholic beverage. The water also offsets the dehydration caused by alcohol. These subtle signs can indicate you’re drinking too much.
Get a massage
Or practice some other kind of de-stressing technique, such as deep breathing, yoga, tai chi, reading an engaging book, or meditating. There is a strong connection between stress and weight gain, partly because stress hormones like cortisol boost your appetite, says the Mayo Clinic. Weekends, when you’re off duty, are a great time to work at relaxing.
Arm yourself with healthy snacks
For many people, especially parents of school-age children, weekends can be a nonstop frenzy of running errands and ferrying kids around town. And with no time for a real meal, it’s hard not to be seduced by the siren call of places like Mickey D’s. “Portable snacks are key to maintaining a healthy diet,” says McDaniel. She recommends nuts; trail mix; fruit that comes with jackets like bananas, apples, and oranges; dried apricots and figs; string cheese (it can safely remain outside the fridge for several hours); and packaged bars that contain fruits, nuts, and whole grains. McDaniel makes a simple, three-ingredient bar by mixing together ½ cup chopped dates, ½ cup nut butter and 1/3 cup rolled oats. These are rolled into balls about the size of meatballs, put in baggies and stored until they’ve hardened a bit. “They’re great to snack on when you’re in a rush,” McDaniel says. Try these 31 healthy snacks for grown-ups.
Prep for the next week
“Weekends are perfect opportunities to plan ahead for the week. Schedule workouts, plan meals, and do some advanced prep for weekday eats. Wash and chop vegetables, cook whole grains and proteins in large batches, and portion out healthy snacks for grab-and-go,” recommends McDaniel. By spending a few hours of the weekend in preparations, you’ll make it much easier to act healthfully when the weekdays kick in.
Remember that weekends count
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“For many people, the weekend is a time to take a break from the standard way of eating during the week,” Taub-Dix says. But acting as if healthy eating is “on” during the week and “off” on weekends is a sure recipe for weight gain. Successful dieters eat the same way seven days a week, according to data from the National Weight Control Registry, a collection of people who have succeeded in losing 30 or more pounds and in maintaining that weight loss for at least a year. If your eating plan is unsustainable for an entire week, perhaps you should loosen up your rules and settle for a more realistic approach. Also, note that there are other ways beyond eating to reward yourself for making it to the end of a week. “Think through what might make you feel restored. Does overeating really give you what you’re looking for? Maybe taking a yoga class or walking in the park with a friend would provide better nourishment,” McDaniel says.