It’s Friday night at 7pm. You've just walked through the door from work and breathe a sigh of relief as you realize you don’t need to set your alarm the next morning. You plop yourself down on the couch, open a bag of chips, and allow your brain to shut off as you watch a predictable romantic comedy.
You rise excitedly at 10am the next day to attend brunch with your friends, where you enjoy three mimosas with your Eggs Benedict before going to another friend’s house to watch the hockey game with beer and nachos. “I’ve been good all week,” you tell yourself, “I’ve earned this!” Once Sunday rolls around, your hangover tells you that nothing productive will happen today so you resort to another day of Netflix on the couch coupled with McDonald’s.
The idea that “calories don’t count on the weekend” has become more and more pervasive, yet the side effects can be quite consequential. Of course, the most obvious one is weight gain. While many people might think that they can “get away with” eating to their heart’s content on the weekend, the fact of the matter is that it takes about 3,500 calories to create one pound of body fat. This is a shockingly easy number to meet if you aren’t exercising, eating out constantly, and downing calorie-ridden drinks like beer, mixed drinks, or pop.
Additionally, there’s no question that those Monday Blues you’re feeling today are partially the result of your body retaliating for what you just put it through. After all, it can’t do much with refined carbohydrates, sugar, and processed fats.
Finally, weekend benders can lead to intense feelings of guilt, shame, and anxiety that lead to disordered eating patterns throughout the week. I can’t believe I ate all of that, you repeatedly tell yourself before vowing to only eat salad all week. The cycle of binge eating on weekends is not only costly to your physical health and waistline, but your emotional health as well.
Okay, Kristina, so are you saying I should eat perfectly on the weekends?
No. Here’s the thing: I know a lot of personal trainers and nutritionists out there who would respond to this issue with tough love: You’re not committed enough to your diet plan! You’re not doing yourself any favours! I get where they’re coming from, but I feel as though going out with friends and indulging every once in awhile is an important part of our mental health. Unless you’re an athlete or fitness model, then I don’t see why you need to entirely deprive yourself from the pleasure of enjoying a charcuterie board and glass of pinot noir with friends.
As a result, I apply a harm reduction approach to this topic. Typically used in the realm of substance abuse, a harm reduction approach is based off the idea that, for better or worse, drug use happens, and our goal should be to minimize its harmful effects rather than simply ignoring or condemning them. If we apply it to the topic of weekend binge eating, this means acknowledging that our typical eating habits are probably going to slip a bit, but taking preventative measures to make sure that this slip isn’t too severe or detrimental.
So, read on for my tips on how to set yourself up for success and minimize the after-effects as best you can.
1. Don’t deprive yourself too much during the week.
The biggest predictor for weekend binge eating is over-restriction during the week. The reasons for this are both psychological and physiological: if you’ve been running on empty for five days in a row, your body is inevitably going to rebel by eating whatever unhealthy food it can get its hands on simply because you’re hungry. Simultaneously, you’ll likely start experiencing unhelpful thought patterns like, “I’ve been good all week so I deserve this treat!” Reminder: eating food is not a moral act—that is, eating a food does not make you “good” or “bad.” Delete this harmful idea from your mind and instead just focus on balanced meals during the week.
2. Plan ONE meal in which to indulge on the weekend.
Eating carbs and cheese makes me very, very happy, so I’m not going to deny myself of these simple pleasures. It’s when I start eating carbs and cheese at every. single. meal. of the weekend that I have a problem. Plan in advance the ONE meal you’ll splurge on and follow your usual eating patterns for the rest of the weekend. I repeat: plan in advance. If you have one meal to look forward to, it’ll make eating normally for the rest of the weekend easier.
3. Pick long-term satisfaction over short-term gratification.
Let’s be honest, the reason indulging is so easy is because it feels good! However, I’ve heard so many people say that that momentary happiness is typically followed with shame and guilt. In moments of temptation, remind yourself of your long-term goals. Write them down on a note in your phone so you can look at them when temptation strikes. Tell yourself that even though that molten lava cake looks delicious, putting your health first will make you happier in the long run.
4. Work out on the weekend.
Working out will isn’t just about offsetting any caloric damage that might come; it’s about getting into the right frame of mind as well. When you wake up on Saturday and enjoy a blood-pumping workout, you’re reminding yourself that you’re committed to your health and feel more connected to your body and goals.
5. Sip smarter and keep healthy snacks on hand.
I absolutely adore cider, which is unfortunate given that one can of Strongbow Gold cider has 172 calories and 22g of sugar! Down three of those and you’re at 66g of sugar—as much as about one and a half Caramilk chocolate bars! In taking a harm reduction approach, I might choose to only have one cider and then sip on a more diet-friendly drink like a vodka soda or glass of cab sauv.
Also, given that drinking lowers your inhibitions, it’s incredibly easy to snack on unhealthy foods regardless of how committed you are to your goals. So, have healthy snacks ready and just don't keep junk food in the house on the weekends. My favourite weekend snack is strawberry slices and grapes and salty options like Mary’s Gone Crackers or Somersaults, a delicious sunflower seed snack.
6. Keep yourself busy.
Unhealthy weekend snacking very often stems from being sedentary or bored, so find a fun thing to do that will keep your mind off your junk food cravings. Explore a new part of town, do an escape room with friends, or find a cool trail to hike.
The Bottom Line
I understand from firsthand experience how easy it is to let your diet slip on the weekend. Restricting yourself during the week, telling yourself you’ve “earned it,” and scheduling ten activities with friends that all revolve around food and alcohol guarantee failure. However, even though these habits are fun in the moment, they can lower our self esteem, catalyze weight gain, and make us feel incredibly lethargic come Monday morning. Use these tips to break the habit starting this weekend and I know you'll thank yourself later!