When it comes to weight loss, you might find you do a pretty good job of sticking with a healthy meal plan and workout schedule during the week. Then comes Saturday. Maybe you give yourself a cheat meal to enjoy a nice dinner with friends, take a day off from tracking calories, or finally, give into cravings you just can’t fight anymore. Or perhaps it’s the “Sunday Scaries” that have you reaching for comfort foods.
While there are plenty of reasons you might find yourself overeating on weekends, the good news is there are ways to take back control of your healthy eating habits. Dietitians share expert tips for preventing weekend overeating:
EAT AT REGULAR INTERVALS
When you follow a consistent and balanced nutrition plan (Read: Don’t skip meals), you’re less likely to find yourself hungry and overwhelmed with cravings when the weekend rolls around, says Tiffany Ma, a registered dietitian. As your routine permits, aim to eat about three meals and two snacks every day with a balanced portion of carbs, protein and fat in each. When you feel satisfied (rather than deprived), it’s much easier to avoid overeating.
DITCH FOOD LABELS
If the foods you eat during the week are ‘good’ and weekend foods are ‘bad,’ you may be subconsciously telling yourself you can’t have (or fully enjoy) those ‘bad’ foods. “The more we restrict ourselves with our food choices, the more likely we’ll desire those foods, leading to a cycle of overeating when the opportunity arises,” says Ma. The fix: Understand that you can make all foods fit into your diet, and none are 100% good or bad. Some foods are more nutrient-dense and provide health benefits to keep you strong, while others are less nutrient-dense but can please your taste buds from time to time.
USE THE 80/20 RULE
“Eating perfectly all the time isn’t realistic for most people,” says Talia Hauser, a registered dietitian. One simple way to make it through the weekend without overdoing it is to aim to eat 80% nutrient-dense foods and 20% not-so-nutrient dense foods. This way, you can let yourself fully enjoy indulgences while still maintaining a balanced and fulfilling eating plan.
TREAT YOURSELF THROUGHOUT THE WEEK
When you spend most of your week on an excessively strict diet, a common response is to turn one ‘cheat meal’ into an entire ‘cheat weekend.’ It’s simple: You’re depriving yourself, and no one can (or should) stick with a program like that long term. Instead, find ways to enjoy small indulgences on weekdays, too. “Eat things that appeal to you during the week, such as a piece of dark chocolate or a higher-fat meal, which may help curb the desire to overcompensate at the end of the week,” says Abby Vichill.
DON’T SKIP MEALS FOR SPLURGES
It might seem like a good idea, but depriving yourself of lunch for a heavier-than-usual dinner often backfires and leads to overeating. To ensure you’re not overly hungry when the appetizers arrive, plan for your nights out by simply eating a slightly lighter lunch, and having a small snack before you head out, suggests Jennifer Mohr, RD.
Another simple way to plan ahead: “Set reminders throughout the weekend to drink water so you can avoid mistaking thirst for hunger,” says Claudia Hleap, a registered dietitian. Opt for unsweetened drinks like water, seltzer or herbal tea, and drink before you go out and between alcoholic beverages to avoid overdoing it on liquid calories.
KEEP PORTION SIZES IN MIND
If you tend to get a hankering for pizza, ice cream or other less nutrient-dense foods on the weekend, let yourself enjoy them in moderation. “I recommend taking small portions of your favorite foods so you don’t feel deprived or like you’re missing out,” says Hauser. Try filling up a smaller plate or bowl, splitting a meal with your partner, or asking for a to-go box right when you order at a restaurant where you know portion sizes are huge.
USE A HUNGER SCALE
“Listening to your body’s internal cues for eating is so important, yet so many adults ignore them,” says Hauser. To stop overeating during the weekends, practice gauging how hungry you are on a scale of 1–10 before you reach for food. If you’re a 1 (not hungry at all), pause and think about why you want to eat. If you’re bored or stressed, find something productive to do, like going on a walk, cleaning up, or calling a friend to vent. Ideally, you want to eat when you’re between a 4 and 6 and not wait until you’re much higher, as that’s another setup for overeating, says Hauser.
… AND TRY A FULLNESS SCALE, TOO
The same goes for ending a meal. When you’re about halfway through your meal, take a moment to ask yourself how full you feel. If you’re still hungry, keep eating, but if you’re pretty satisfied, stop, says Hauser. Remind yourself you can always eat more later and put your leftovers out of sight, out of mind.
STEP AWAY BEFORE YOU GET SECONDS
“It takes approximately 20 minutes from the time you’re finished eating for your body and brain to completely process the fact that you’ve eaten,” says Hleap. For this reason, make a habit of walking away from the table for about 20 minutes before you consider a second serving. This can give your body the time it needs to figure out whether you’re truly hungry for more or fully satiated.
REMEMBER HOW YOU FELT LAST TIME
The next time you overeat, jot down some notes for your future self about how you feel physically and mentally, whether you’re bloated, a little sick or disappointed. The next time you feel tempted to overdo it, remind yourself what happened last time and commit to making a healthier decision, suggests Hauser. In time, you might notice certain foods tend to cause health issues like digestive problems or lower energy levels, which may make the decision to eat them less frequently a little easier, adds Vichill. You can also make notes next to your food log in an app like MyFitnessPal.
DEDICATE TIME TO A HOBBY
If you tend to overdo it on the weekends because you’re bored, find ways to focus your attention on things away from the kitchen and food. “Schedule a fun activity to keep your hands and mind busy,” says Mohr. For example, you could learn how to play the guitar, start painting, take a language class online, join a virtual workout group, or go on a relaxing walk in the woods.
MAKE A LIST OF GO-TO WAYS TO DE-STRESS
If stress or anxiety about the week ahead is fueling your weekend overeating habit, make a list of healthy activities that help you de-stress so you can turn to them (instead of the pantry) the next time you get an urge for comfort food, says Mohr. Put your list of stress-relievers in a visible spot like in front of your desk or on the fridge and aim to incorporate two or three each weekend.