“Cheat meals” and “cheat days” might feel like a well-earned reward, but they may be doing more harm than good when you’re trying to make sustainable lifestyle changes. In this article, dietitian Nicole German Morgan dives into the scientific evidence.
10 Strategies to Stop the Weekend from Derailing Your Weight Loss Goals
Do you ever feel like weekends hold you back from your weight loss goals? Join the club! You have a great week keeping up with all your weight loss goals, then, the weekend hits. That new routine gets thrown off course. Family demands, gatherings with friends, chores, and the simple need to relax suddenly compete for your time. That’s why we all need actionable weekend weight loss plans.
Top 10 Strategies to Stop the Weekend from Derailing Your Weight Loss Goals
- Plan your calendar: Thursday or Friday evening is a great time to plan out your weekend. Stock up on groceries and check your calendar. The idea is to plan around upcoming weight loss obstacles. For example, if you’re going to be very busy on Saturday and Sunday with no time to cook fresh, healthy food, prep on Friday so you’re set for the weekend.
- Regulate your sleep: Keeping a steady sleep routine, even on the weekends, may be helpful for weight loss. That’s because it’s common to relax our sleep habits or change our sleep schedule on weekends. This changed schedule can result in fewer hours of sleep on the weekend or affect sleep on Monday. Poor sleep is consistently linked to an inability to lose weight.1 In addition, “weekend recovery sleep” cannot make up for poor sleep during the week.2
On weekends, set a bedtime alarm on your phone to remind yourself when it’s time to sleep. Perhaps give yourself a little flexibility, but stay mindful of your overall goals.
- Stay mindful on Saturdays: Research shows a common weekend trend that sabotages weight loss goals: Compared to weekdays, people often eat more calories on Saturday and reduce activity on Sunday.3 Let’s reverse that trend! Aim for eating well on Saturday (perhaps with a compromise, see #5 below) and heading outside on Sundays, which leads to …
- Get active on Sundays: Exercise is a great way to release stress and tension as well as burn calories. Plan a relaxing activity such as a long outdoor walk that will help you clear your mind and boost endorphins for the upcoming week.4
- Ditch the “cheat meal” mindset: Instead of thinking about Saturday or Sunday as your “cheat day,” consider a weekend compromise. Do not splurge on every meal for the entire weekend, but do make a compromise with one or two meals. This allows you to enjoy your weekend without feeling regret come Monday morning. For example, if you want a burger and fries, pick the burger or the fries and not both. Or, choose the burger without the bun! Find an area to make a compromise.
- Stress less: Did you know that high levels of stress may influence weight gain and obesity?5 Pick one activity or tool you can add to your weekend routine with the goal of stress reduction. For example, add a relaxing bath, listening to music, calling a friend, or reading a good book! You might be surprised at the effect.
- Eat your fruits and veggies: Try this weekend challenge: Before dinner on Saturday and Sunday, eat at least one serving of vegetables and at least one piece of fruit. This can get you on the road to increasing your daily intake of fruits and vegetables.
- Don’t drink your calories: Watch the booze. U.S. Dietary Guidelines recommend a maximum of two drinks per day for men and one drink per day for women.6 And nope, you can’t save up these drinks for the weekend.
- Meal prep for Monday: Weekends are the perfect time to think about meals for the next week! Set up online grocery orders (if applicable), gather one to two new recipes for inspiration and create that grocery list. Shop and/or pick up food by Sunday afternoon so you can get have meals ready to go by Monday.
- Be true to yourself: Not all of these strategies may be applicable to you. However, find at least one strategy to focus on and go from there. Be realistic and know what you can handle for your weekend. Even starting with the smallest of changes can make a big impact.
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Beccuti G, Pannain S. Sleep and obesity. Curr Opin Clin Nutr Metab Care. 2011;14(4):402-412. doi:
- Depner CM, Melanson EL, Eckel RH, et al. Ad libitum Weekend Recovery Sleep Fails to Prevent Metabolic Dysregulation during a Repeating Pattern of Insufficient Sleep and Weekend Recovery Sleep. Current Biology. 2019;29(6):957–967.e4. doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2019.01.069
- Racette SB, Weiss EP, Schechtman KB, et al. Influence of Weekend Lifestyle Patterns on Body Weight. Obesity. 2008;16(8):1826–1830. doi: 10.1038/oby.2008.320
Exercising to relax. Harvard Health Publishing, Harvard Medical School. 2011
- Geiker NRW, Astrup A, Hjorth MF, Sjödin A, Pijls L, Markus CR. Does stress influence sleep patterns, food intake, weight gain, abdominal obesity and weight loss interventions and vice versa? Obes Rev. 2018;19(1):81–97. doi: 10.1111/obr.12603
United States Dietary Guidelines 2015–2020