Avoid Weekend Weight Gain
How to unwind without undoing your diet.
Happy hour after work on Friday. Dinner out at your favorite restaurant on
Saturday. A home-cooked feast on Sunday.
Before you know it, a weekend of unwinding can turn into a calorie-fest that
undermines a week's worth of healthy eating -- and, come Monday morning, sends
the needle on your scale creeping upward.
"Individual eating habits tend to change dramatically over the
weekend," says Cedric Bryant, PhD, chief exercise physiologist for the
American Council on Exercise. "You tend to see people consuming more
alcoholic beverages and more calorie-dense foods. It's a real easy recipe to
But avoiding the weekend weight-gain trap doesn't have to mean your favorite
Friday-through-Sunday treats are off-limits, experts say. Below, they offer
some tips for enjoying your days off while avoiding the weekend food
The Weekend Trap
Research has shown just how much damage weekend overeating can do to our
"There is a large and significant difference in energy intake on the
three-day weekend versus the four-day weekday, particularly for young
adults," says Barry Popkin, PhD, co-author of a study on weekend weight
The study, published in the August 2003 issue of Obesity Research, found
that Americans 19 to 50 years old take in 115 more calories per day on the
weekend (defined as Friday through Sunday) than on the other days of the week.
Over the course of a year, that adds up to 17,940 extra calories -- or about 5
And, as you might have guessed, it's not healthy foods that we're eating
more of during the weekend. That 115-calorie-a-day difference comes mostly from
alcohol and fat, says Popkin, a professor of nutrition in the School of Public
Health at the University of North Carolina.
Even so, those extra calories don't have to turn into fat, the experts say.
The key is burning more calories than you consume. That means finding active
ways to relax -- like brisk walking, playing tennis, even gardening -- instead
of vegging out in front of the TV.
"People tend to think of the weekend as their time to relax and recover
from the hectic workweek," says Bryant. "What they should do is really
try to make an effort to become more active in their daily pursuits over the
weekend days. Look for as many opportunities to move as possible, so you can
increase physical activity to offset the extra calories you consume."
While physical activity may be the obvious answer, experts say there are
other tricks that can help you overcome the habit of weekend
- Start your day out right. "Eat a healthy breakfast on the
weekend, when you have more time," says Susan Moores, RD, a spokeswoman for
the American Dietetic Association. "You usually eat less during the day if
you start with a healthy breakfast, and you get some good nutrition."
- Don't go hungry to "save up" for a big dinner out.
"Saving yourself backfires -- you usually end up eating way more than you
would have if you ate normally throughout the day," says Moores. "Have
a little bite to eat before you go out to take the edge off your hunger, and
then simply enjoy good food when you go out."
- Savor the experience of dining out. "Allow yourself to enjoy
good food and savor it, rather than overindulge in it," says Moores.
"People forget what the whole eating experience is about -- sitting with
friends, enjoying your time together, and relaxing."
- Eat slowly. "It takes 15-20 minutes for your brain to signal
your stomach that it's full, so take your time," Moores explains.
"Whether you're at a party or eating out on the weekend, remember to slow
down when you're eating."
- Start with soup. "Take your time when you order at a restaurant,
and start with soup," says Moores. "Then, have the waiter come back so
you can order an entrée -- you'll order much less than if you ordered all at
- Halve your restaurant entrees. "Splitting an entree with a
friend is a great way to make a significant cut in calories on the
weekend," says Moores.
- Don't skip dessert; share it. "Make it special," says
Moores. "Choose something that is really delightful to you and split it
with a friend. Keep an eye out for portion sizes, and if the dessert you want
is huge, ask the waiter to slice it thin or split it with the table -- but I'm
all for dessert."
- Avoid overdoing it with alcohol. "If you can cut out one or two
drinks per day on the weekend, that will save you 100 to 150-plus
calories," says Moores. And, she explains, people who drink more tend to
eat more as well. So drink alcohol with caution, if at all.
- Remember your waistline. "Wear a tighter pair of pants when you
go out on the weekend," says Moores. "Wear something that's not
uncomfortable but that reminds you there are limits to what you should
- Find a substitute for soda. "Use water to satisfy thirst, rather
than soda, which many people drink more of on the weekends," says Bryant.
"Not only are they consuming a tremendous amount of calories, but soda is
high in fructose, which stimulates the appetite."