It's Sunday afternoon and you have the impending workweek hanging over your head like a dark, ominous cloud. Not only that, you're feeling guilty about the bar food you ate Friday night and the proceeding hangover food you ate Saturday morning.
Many people report that they are more successful with their diet during the week than on the weekend. They prep their overnight oats and balanced lunches for the week, but when Friday night hits, all bets are off.
So, what's the reason for this popular "weekday dieting" trend? And more importantly, how can you fix it?
Well, I'm here to tell you! Keep reading.
The Rationale Behind Weekday Dieting
Most of us have a pretty regular routine during our workweek. Wake up, drink coffee, exercise, take a shower, get to work, etc. There might be slight variations day to day or week to week, but generally speaking, the weekdays are kinda the same.
This routine is what drives our ability to stick to a diet during the week. We are already used to our habits during the week and we can easily tack on eating a salad or going for a jog.
Not only that, many people associate their workweek routine with things they have to do not things they want to do. So as long as they are writing reports, listening to long conference calls, or inputting data they might as well add what they consider to be another not-so-pleasant activity - healthy eating.
Then, when it comes to the weekend, it's finally time to do the things you want to do. Hooray! But along with your weekend sweatpants and long Sunday naps comes weekend eating. It's the type of eating you're more likely to want to do because it's foods that satisfy cravings for carbs and fats and sugar.
2. Dealing In Extremes
Many of us have sat around on a Sunday afternoon and vowed to eat only healthy foods this week to make up for the junk food we ate over the weekend. And so we say no to happy hour on Tuesday and bring a salad for lunch to work on Wednesday, and we even skip Friday morning bagels.
But after 5 days of being hyper-focused on diet, the cravings for unhealthy foods get even stronger and harder to ignore. And even though you said no all week to tempting foods, Friday night comes along and guess what happens? You say yes.
And all of a sudden agreeing to one cheesy appetizer becomes finishing a whole pizza and drinking 4 beers. You have gone from one absolute extreme to another. And it's hard to ever return to moderation. So you spend weekdays as an organic-eating, gym-going, no-dessert-having person and your weekends as the exact opposite.
Getting out of the cycle of extremes becomes a huge challenge.
3. Decision Fatigue
Along with dealing in extremes, decision fatigue can make it hard to stick to a healthy diet from the weekdays to the weekend.
Each day we make hundreds of decisions. Some of our decisions are bigger, like should I apply for a new job? And others are small, do I want to wear a light jacket or a heavier jacket? Some decisions we aren't even aware we are making, like I will drive down Main Street to get home.
Even though many of these decisions aren't difficult, they still drain our energy to keep making decisions.
Imagine you have a pitcher full of water. Every time you make a decision, water is poured out. Big decisions require you to pour out more water and smaller decisions less water. By the end of the day or end of the week, how much water do you think is left? Not much.
So at the end of the workweek when you are sitting down with friends at a restaurant your decision fatigue may prevent you from weighing your options and making a healthy choice. Instead, you are likely going to pick the thing that you believe will satisfy you the most in the current moment (spoiler, this is not often a healthy option).
4. I Deserve a Treat
It's been a tough week. Your boss kept piling on more work, your roommate left the kitchen a mess, and your car is making a weird noise. But despite it all, you made it through the week. And now you want to treat yourself.
There are no inherent issues with having a reward program. You should celebrate your victories! However, this does become a problem when your treat is consistently unhealthy food. It's an even bigger issue when you reward your week of healthy eating with a weekend of unhealthy eating.
I have worked with clients that talk about either rewarding themselves with food over the weekend or using food as part of their de-stress routine after a hard week. And while it may feel good in the moment, they tend to regret it once Sunday rolls around.
How To Fix It
Do any of the reasons or rationales above sound familiar to you? And do you wish you could change the pattern?
You can! Here are a few tips for improving your weekend diet to align more closely to your weekday diet and ultimately help you feel better.
1. Commit to an Activity Saturday Morning
I meet with a running club every Saturday morning. It prevents me from staying up too late on Friday or eating or drinking too much because I know I have to be up and moving by 8:30am. You don't have to join a running club, but you get the idea.
Make it difficult and unappealing to indulge Friday night by committing to an activity Saturday morning. Some type of exercise is a great option but it could also be a trip to a museum or volunteering, or anything that you like to do.
It also doesn't have to be too early, but it should be within an hour of when you usually wake up. Not only will this prevent bad Friday night habits, but it will also kickstart good habits for Saturday.
2. Shop Ahead of Time
Get in the habit of shopping for food before the weekend arrives. Because once you get home from work on Friday night it's going to be a lot more appealing to order a pizza than go to the grocery store. Set yourself up for success.
Convenience is a big part of our decisions. And if you keep healthy food in the house, it will be more convenient (and cheaper) to prepare it yourself than ordering food or going out to eat.
3. Decide Ahead of Time
You can avoid decision fatigue by making food choices earlier on during the day. When you first start your day, your decision pitcher of water is totally full and ready to use. So, plan your meals early in the day.
If you are meeting friends for dinner Friday night, look at the menu of the restaurant early on Friday morning. Decide what you will eat when you have plenty of decision energy to steer you towards the healthier choice.
4. Choose the Right Rewards
Sometimes it's okay to reward yourself with unhealthy things. Maybe you get a big promotion at work and you want to celebrate with steak and champagne. Great! But, if your reward for making it through your workweek is consistently heavy meals or calorie-dense beverages, you ought to rethink your system.
Pick two or three non-food or drink related rewards like buying yourself a new item of clothing or booking a massage. You can build a reward system that is totally unrelated to food.
This also applies to rewarding yourself for eating healthy. It's pretty counterintuitive to use junk food as a reward for eating healthy during the week. But plenty of people do it! Instead of saving all your reward foods for the weekend, spread them out over the week in moderation.
Breaking the Cycle
I am by no means saying that you can't enjoy yourself on the weekends. But if you are trying to live a healthier life or lose weight, the weekends might be the reason for your lack of progress.
Consider the potential reasons for your inconsistent eating habits on the weekends. Where could you stand to improve? Even a small change at first is plenty. Just be consistent.
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