You’re good about eating healthy during the week, but on the weekends? Well, that’s another story.
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“The week often brings stress and a strict diet mentality. Then the weekend signals relaxation. People often associate eating and food with stress relief,” says registered dietitian Lauren Sullivan, RD.
But she has the antidote to weekend binge eating. Follow her tips for healthy eating all week long.
Why do I eat so much on the weekends?
There are many reasons people eat and drink too much on weekends. And interestingly, Sullivan says that diet culture is often to blame.
“People get so in tune with being regimented about how they eat during the week that it gives them perceived freedom on the weekends to eat whatever the heck they want to,” she says. “Some people call them ‘cheat days.’ Others say, ‘It’s my day off, so I shouldn’t have to think about it.’ It takes the pressure off.”
Six ways to stop weekend overeating
Sullivan says it’s a myth that you have to eat like a bird to maintain a healthy lifestyle and weight. Instead, adopt these six habits to transform into a weekend eating warrior.
1. Just say no to cheat meals
No cheat meals? Say it ’aint so. But before you close your browser window, Sullivan says it’s more about eating consistently than banning certain foods.
“Cheat meals are not good for your body. They can lead to weekend binge eating and overeating, which is not healthy. People who overeat can become physically bloated and feel sick. They can also develop eating disorders,” Sullivan explains. “When you get compulsive about being strict during the week, it sets you up for a free-for-all, which is not healthy for your body or mental state.”
It’s also hard for your body to process too many calories at once. Instead, the body stores them. “So you go from these periods of your body getting what it needs and having a consistent metabolism to storage mode, which is how people gain weight.”
The solution? Have a small treat when you want to throughout the week. Then, you’ll be less likely to go overboard on weekends.
2. Practice mindful eating
Mindful eating means not scarfing your food as fast as possible but, rather, slowing down and enjoying the good vibes that your food gives you.
“Your mouth waters because you smell something that takes you back to your childhood, or you eat something that has a wonderful mouthfeel. Savoring flavors and making an event of eating allows you to recognize fullness and stop eating when your body has had enough,” Sullivan says.
“So have that piece of cheesecake. When you truly enjoy those first few bites, you may find you don’t need to eat the whole thing.”
Mindful eating also means planning ahead. “If you know you’re going to have a more extravagant dinner, maybe have a lighter lunch or increase your activity throughout the day. Or look at the menu before you go to a restaurant to figure out what you want. Being mindful about your choices means getting an extra 300 calories in a day won’t make or break your diet.”
3. Be consistent
When it comes to weight gain, it’s not just what you eat, but how consistently you eat. “People tend to save all their calories for nighttime, so they don’t eat anything throughout the day. Then, by the time dinner rolls around, they’re famished. But the body can’t mindfully eat because it just needs food,” says Sullivan. “You’re so physically hungry that you overeat the food you didn’t allow yourself to eat throughout the day.”
Instead, start your day with a well-balanced breakfast and don’t skip meals. Being consistent gives you more self-control in your food choices and the moment.
4. Start a food journal
Don’t underestimate the power of a visual. “I had a client who gained weight over the last year, and swore they were eating everything the same. When they started logging their food, we saw that they had added a new nighttime snack routine. If you can see it, then you can change it.”
5. Adopt healthy habits
Sullivan recommends incorporating healthy habits into your life. “One study compared parents who drank sugar-laden drinks and those who didn’t. The parents who drank sugary beverages had a much higher incidence of obesity, as did their elementary school-aged kids. And about 70 or 80% of people who have obesity as kids will have obesity in adulthood,” she reports. “One major way to prevent this is to avoid extra calories from sugar.”
A great healthy habit for snacks and meals, Sullivan says, is to include 5 portions of vegetables and/or fruits per day. That can help you feel full on bulky, low-calorie items.
Exercise is another healthy habit that will help. “But don’t do it to burn off the calories you ate. Do it to keep a healthy body.”
6. Slow down
When you eat, your brain and stomach are having a conversation — but it can take a while. “It takes 20 to 25 minutes for your brain to give you that satiety feeling and your stomach to distend. When you eat too quickly, you don’t recognize fullness before you overeat.”
To see this process in action, look no further than Thanksgiving. “People eat a whole plate of food in 10 minutes and then have a second helping because they don’t feel full yet. Then they eat a piece of pie, and suddenly, the food coma hits.”
Ultimately, Sullivan says it’s important to liberate yourself from old-fashioned food rules. There are no “bad” foods, so eat them in moderation when the mood strikes — even on weekdays. Food can be both fuel and fun, and staying consistent with your eating habits throughout the week is key.
Food freedom gives you more choices — and fewer reasons to weekend binge eat. “If you still feel an urgency or compulsion to eat, you may have a binge eating disorder that a behavioral psychologist or doctor could help you with. But often, it’s a matter of setting yourself up to be healthy and not go overboard. Nothing’s off limits if you’re mindful about what you’re doing.”