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Are your weekends ruining your progress?

I wanted to talk a bit more about the benefit of having a flexible approach to ‘dieting’ and how doing so can mean allow you to make progress whilst still ‘having a life’. So many people nowadays have this all-or-nothing approach to healthy eating. More often than not the ‘all in’ approach comes after a holiday or binge where we have eaten considerably more food, and more junk food at that and /or alcohol. Then comes this sense of guilt and we decide to cut out everything we perseive as ‘bad’ from our diet so that we can get back on track. However, what if that ‘track’ we are getting back on isn’t sustainable. What if it is causing us more harm than good?

Picture this:

Monday – Friday we have our meals all planned out, have our breakfast ready before work, maybe even get a run or a gym session in beforehand as well. Our lunch is super healthy, with some lean protein such as turkey or chicken, loads of veggies, or a salad. No carbs though, god forbid we add in some carbs to our lunch, I mean, that turns to fat sure!?

We might attend a group fitness class in the evening, a Bootcamp or CrossFit session, or maybe just head of to the gym. At home that evening and a healthy dinner is on the cards; some more lean meat, more than likely chicken or turkey, again veggies or salad, except this time some of us (hopefully) will allow some carbs on our plate – finally!

We make sure to drink plenty of water, drink some green tea – in the hope it might actually have those magical fat loss powers we see people posting about all over Facebook. Every little helps, right?

No chocolate, if we do it has to be 99% dark chocolate and classed as a ‘treat’. Half a square in we realise it tastes like crap and we don’t even want it anymore, I mean we’d much prefer a bag of Maltesers or something, but that’s a big no-no because chocolate and junk food are the enemies, we are eating clean remember!!

So we make it to Friday, feeling great about ourselves because we have done so well all week when in actual fact the reason we feel great is that we know the weekend is upon us and we can finally indulge!

Friday evening comes, we might go out for food with friends or a partner, eat what we want because, you know, we worked so hard all week, it’s a sad state of affairs if we can’t treat ourselves after all. You know what else, add a bottle of wine to that meal as well, we deserve it!

Saturday we might still exercise, maybe attend a class or head off to the gym ourselves, go for a run, or play a sport. Post-workout food isn’t the usual turkey burgers, green beans & baked sweet potato, oh no. It’s the weekend, we might treat ourselves to lunch in town, maybe have a cheeky slice of cake or something sweet whilst on a coffee date catching up with friends. “It’s the weekend! I work hard all week, okay!”.

Saturday night comes around and we are ready for a night on the town. We start off ever so civilized with vodka, lime & soda, or a gin & slimline tonic (we’re being good, see). Five or six drinks in and those strawberry daiquiris in the local are looking unreal, sure we’ll try just one, we’re basically drinking no calories here anyway with our gin/vodka!

Restrict – Binge – Guilt – Repeat

Sound familiar?

Time to hit the nightclub and its shots all around with anyone who is in the vicinity of the bar. We don’t even care at this stage; we’re having a greaattt time! Seven, eight, nine drinks later and we have lost count, we are outside the takeaway halfway through a margarita pizza whilst stealing some chips from a friend. Home time.

Sunday morning’s hangover hits us like a brick wall and we don’t even think twice about last night’s damage, all we want is a nice greasy fry! “Sure I’ll be back on track tomorrow”.

Mammy makes THE BEST hangover fry! No exercise done – sure Sundays are a day of rest, how bad if we can’t relax for the day. The sweet tooth is out in full force as well! Cadburys dairy milk and a bag of Doritos on the sofa watching the trash tv it is!

Sunday evening fear hits us worse than the morning hangover and the thought of prepping your food for the next day/week is painful, but you know what, we can’t fall off track so we get it done anyway and feel great about ourselves. We have been doing this for a few weeks now and thought we would have lost a bit more weight but maybe we’re just big-boned and anyway, this weight loss thing takes time apparently. We are being consistent though, the results will come!

Monday morning comes round again, +1lb on the scales…..” How?!, I was so good all week, I wasn’t even THAT bad over the weekend. My body just cannot lose weight; I have tried everything!! I’ve been on track for a good 3 weeks now!”. We give up.

Sound familiar?

Okay, I may have exaggerated a bit but you get what I’m saying. We work hard all week, a few treats at the weekend and the progress just isn’t there. We blame the system and give up until we feel bad enough to try it all over again.

So what actually happened? Let’s break it down.

Let’s say for argument’s sake we should be eating 2,000 calories a day and this will mean we should be losing ~1lb fat per week, going by the exercise we are doing as well as other factors of course.

So we stick rigidly to that 2,000 calories a day from Monday-Friday, or should we say Monday-Thursday.

A meal out on a Friday night might look like around 700-800kcals depending on what you order. Add a few glasses of wine in there and you are adding another 300-400 kcals minimum. Not to mind that I am sure breakfast and lunch were had as well. Let’s say breakfast was 400kcals and lunch was 500kcals. That’s 2,100 kcals if we had nothing else aside from those 3 meals and 2 glasses of wine. 2,100 isn’t bad at all.

Saturday – regular breakfast, maybe 400-500kcals, lunch out in town – maybe another 500kcals then the coffee and cake will add on another 400-500kcals easy. We are at 800-1000kcals already. Dinner might be light enough, let’s say we kept it to around 500kcals.

That means so far on Saturday we are at 1300-1500kcals before heading out for the night. We are being good so it’s G&T’s to start with or vodka & soda – both around 100kcals each per serving. Five or six of those is 500-600kcals before the strawberry daiquiri which can be on average 220kcals, that’s a total of 2,020kcals for the day (being nice) if we stop there. The damage wouldn’t be too detrimental.

That’s not how the story goes though and we all know that!

Let’s add in the 2-3 shots of Sambuca at around 100kcals each, the extra 3-4 drinks at 300-400kcals, and the small pizza afterward; possibly around 800-900kcals if we eat the lot.

So far Saturday has racked up a whopping 3,600kcals approximately – that’s 1,600kcals over our daily calorie goal of 2,000kcals, and that’s being very kind.

I won’t even go through Sunday but let’s say it’s another 3,500kcals including a fry, Sunday roast, sweets, and crisps to cure the hangover, etc.

So, Friday, Saturday & Sunday have now taken us 3,200kcals over the total we should have had for the week.

Bear in mind that if you want to lose 1lb of fat in a week, you should be in a deficit of around 3,000kcals from food/exercise.

We have gone over by that amount and more which means we might well have put ON ~1lb of fat for the week, after all our efforts all week too.

This is just a very basic and general example that I think some people might be able to relate to and hopefully, some people can see the damage that can be caused by being super restrictive throughout the week and then binging at the weekend.

I always talk about why it’s important not to class any specific foods as ‘good’ or ‘bad’, and not restrict ourselves from foods or food groups, including alcohol, as this will lead to an unhealthy relationship with food/drink. Guilt and self-hate can come from trying to be too strict and not being able to sustain it. Common in people who fall into the binge-restrict cycle.

Learn to have a diet whereby most of the food you eat is good, wholesome, and nutritious food such as meat, fish, eggs, vegetables, fruit, grains, etc., but also allow yourself the foods you enjoy.

If you eat 2,000kcals a day and are super strict then end up binging at the weekend, then maybe it would work better for you to give 10% of your calories per day to a food/drink you like. That’s 200kcals you have to choose something you like. A bag of maltesers is around 187kcals – just saying!

In order to see progress, keep our sanity and be able to sustain a healthy lifestyle we have to get to grips with our food and see that it doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing approach! The ‘clean eaters’ who restrict themselves from all things nice might look at you funny for allowing yourself something you enjoy in your diet, however, you will be much more likely to sustain this in the long term. If you have a big weekend coming up, something as simple as dropping 1-200 calories per day mid-week can help give more flexibility at the weekend but remember that if you have a goal in mind, you have to weigh up the cost: benefit ratio of what is worth it in your mind. Sometimes that is the night out with friends and we have to be aware of that, accept it, and enjoy it – without following it with guilt.

The studies are there to show it. In 2002, a study from the ‘Appetite’ journal showed that subjects involved in rigid, restricted dieting reported much higher rates of disordered eating, body dysmorphia issues, and mood disturbances, while flexible dieters once again suffered these conditions much less and had lower BMIs. (1)