Ah yes, the weekend – the magical time between Friday (or Thursday if you’re awesome like that) and Monday that’s filled with excitement and endless possibilities.
Oh yeah, and dietary debauchery as well, and it’s absolutely killing your fat loss results.
I hear it all of the time: “I was doing so well during the week but fell off hard during the weekend.” I don’t know what it is about weekend that leads to many people looking in the mirror Monday after Monday wondering what the hell happened over just a few short days, but I do have a few Einstenian theories.
Let’s face it, dieting can be hard, so it’s helpful to know that on Wednesday you just have to last a few more days before you can ease up on the gas pedal a bit and get your mind right before jumping back onto your diet on Monday. I completely understand it. It’s nice to be able to go out with friends without having to worry about your intake as much as you do during the week.
You also have the untamed Wild West nature of the weekend. Unless you’re Beyonce or a travelling assassin for hire, odds are your weekdays have a pretty consistent level of structure. You know you’re going to be at home for a certain amount of time before going to work, and once there you know roughly how long you’ll be there before heading somewhere else and so on until you end up back in bed. With these variables in place it’s much easier to keep your diet in check as opposed to the weekend when the normal structure of life disappears and the likelihood of going buck wild with your food intake increases.
Then finally we have the scenario where you become your own worst enemy.
The way that a lot of people structure their diet is based entirely around the deprivation mindset and the belief that there is no room for treats and “non-diet” foods – a Spartan-like rigidity and adherence tends to accompany this style of dieting.
I don’t have any issue with this way of doing things if this is just how that person rolls, but what often happens as a result is that when the weekend rolls around they feel like they deserve to eat those foods that they’ve blacklisted (and eat more food in general) because they stuck to their diet so well during the week. So they eat, and because they’ve deprived themselves for so long and they know that they won’t be eating like this again for at least another week they eat a bit (read:a lot) more of it than they otherwise would have.
So how does the weekend slow down fat loss in the real world?
First we’ll start with the optimal scenario. Let’s assume that during the week you’re crushing it like the boss you are and by Friday night you’ve been in a deficit of 3,500 calories (roughly a 700 calorie deficit per day), earning yourself 1lb of fat loss. Awesome!
Now Saturday and Sunday roll around. You plan to stay the course, but you end up eating 500 calories over your maintenance each day. Because of this, you can go ahead and subtract 1,000 calories from that 3,500 calorie deficit you created during the week, putting you at 2,500 calories burned in total which will net you a little more than half a pound of fat loss for the week.
Not bad at all.
Now let’s talk about what usually goes down.
Let’s assume that during the week you think you’re crushing it diet wise, but due to not moving as much as you think you are and not tracking your intake as well as you should, sneaking extra bites of food here and there, by the time Friday night rolls around you’ve only accumulated a 1,750 calorie deficit, which is half a pound of fat. That’s cool though, because you still have two more days to put in work, right?
It’s weekend time, and once again you end up going over your maintenance by 500 calories on both Saturday and Sunday – go ahead and knock 1,000 calories off that 1,750 calorie deficit you already created, putting you at 750 calories for the week which ends being a face-palm worthy .2lbs worth of fat loss. This becomes even more painful once you do the math and realize that at this rate it would take another 4 weeks before you even saw 1lb of fat loss.
This is the very definition of 3 steps forward/2 steps back, and there is only one thing to say about that situation:
How To Not Become Another Weekend Statistic
1. Be extremely diligent during the week in preparation for the weekend.
If you’re one of those people that no matter how much sense it makes to change your weekend eating habits but isn’t going to actually do it, then this option makes the most sense for you. If you know you’re going to be in food heaven during the weekend, then the only other variable that you can control is to hit your deficit hardcore during the week and make sure that you’re on top of tracking your intake.
Think of it as preemptive damage control.
This way, even if you end up going over your calories a bit on the weekend, you’re still in a pretty decent deficit for the entire week. Strength training on the weekend helps a bit as well in the sense that you have nutrient partitioning on your side (some of the additional calories going towards muscle repair).
Just know that this strategy alone can only take you so far and at some point, depending on your results and if you want to speed them up, you’re going to have to bring change to the weekend.
2. Rock out for 5 days, maintain for 2.
If you cant handle an aggressive deficit during the week, then this is a good option that gives you the best of both worlds: you can choose a less harsh deficit Monday-Friday and then on Saturday & Sunday you can simply eat at maintenance. This way you can still accumulate a pretty decent weekly deficit which is great because you’re eating to maintain on the weekend and therefore you aren’t backsliding and erasing any of the gains that you’ve already made.
I would also make sure that you include some delicious, traditionally “non-diet food” into your meal plan during the week so that you don’t feed into that sense of deprivation, decreasing the chances of you going wild with such foods on the weekend. This is something that I suggest implementing during any diet.
3. Use Intermittent Fasting
I’m a huge fan of intermittent fasting as both a diet strategy and a long term lifestyle choice, but it can also do wonders in the short term. For example, you would eat a sizable meal on Friday night before bed and on Saturday go about your day, holding off eating your first meal for as long as you can. If you have to eat sooner rather than later, turn it into a game and see how little food you can get away with until you go out to dinner; make your first meal a small portion of your overall calories (I.E. if your caloric budget for the day is 1800 calories, eat a 200-400 calorie meal with lots of protein and fiber for satiety which will help hold you over).
By doing this, at the end of the end of the night you’ll still have room for another 1400-1600 calories which is an amazingly satisfying amount of food, unless you go out of your way fill that quota with crap, but that’s another issue entirely. Rinse and repeat on Sunday.
Does it suck to have to watch what you eat on the weekend while everyone else around you eats whatever they want? It all depends on your mindset. It sucks more to have an entire weeks worth of results crippled by two days worth of dietary weakness. It also sucks to have it take 5 months to lose only 5lbs because you kept repeating the same weekend errors over and over again.
At the end of the day an uncontrolled weekend can absolutely ruin a good week, and if you think otherwise then you need to get your head checked. This is America, baby, home of the Luther Burger! Life is full of compromises, and if you want to lose fat at any appreciable rate of speed you’re going to make some one way or another.
Get in there, make it happen, and get on with the rest of your life.
“Suffer now and live the rest of your life as a champion.”
– Muhammad Ali
Photo Credit: Naomi Ibuki
Great article and so relevant to me this weekend. What did it for me was going round to the in-laws for lunch where one of my relatives has made the creamiest trifle you’d ever seen, and yep, I nailed it.
This was having been extremely disciplined only the day before by turning down drunken shenanigans, with friends. *hangs head*
I’m 6 weeks into a 12-16 week cut and aiming for 1lb a week over the duration of the diet so I can’t afford to wipe out a weeks worth of effort in one meal. The results of this indulgence won’t be in until my measurement day which is at the weekend but I’m hoping to claw some of it back this week. Last ‘weigh in’ day I was on target.
Despite the trifle incident I’m pretty sure I’ve had my ‘ah-ha’ moment on this particular cut and I’m focussed on weekly results only and analyzing results and being positive in my responses. This is something I’ve never done. Usually on a diet at about 4-6 weeks in I look in the mirror and go ‘What the hell!? I’m 167lb what on earth am I dieting for?’ and then go an equally unsuccessful bulk. Something is different here, I can feel it but can’t explain it. Probably best not to question.
Roger Lawson II says
Thanks for sharing your story, man. That’s an important realization to have – the being positive in your responses part. Many times one small slip up that’s minor in the grand scheme of things leads to a cascade of “f*ck it, I already messed up so why not keep going?” moments. Recover and keep on rollin, dude!
I can attest to creating a calorie “deficit” on the weekends or any day really. Just because you are on a diet or a cut doesn’t mean you have to avoid restaurants completely. If you know you will be eating out or having a drink, leave some wiggle room in your calorie budget!
Roger Lawson II says
Damn skippy! One of my proudest moments is making room for a full slab of ribs with some sides on my diet. *sniff* it was a thing of beauty.
Great article and fun to read. It reminded me how important it is to know my intake (actually counting them). I tend to spot-check instead of consistently track. Not ideal, but it helps with a rough guide.
I’m currently using Intermittent Fasting to cut body fat and it is working, slow but sure. It also helps create some margin when you know …. Life is going to happen!
Roger Lawson II says
I like to think of spot-checking as the bumper pads (kinda like in bowling) of nutrition – do it often enough and you most likely won’t be so far away that things get out of control without you noticing.
Great post, Roger! I’ve recently come to similar conclusions, after years of failure due to the weekend binge.
My strategy to prevent the weenend from negating my weekday progress has been as follows:
1. IF on weekends, with a 6-hour eating window.
2. Accumulate a larger deficit on the weekdays and eat a little over maintenance on the weekends
3. Drink at least 4L of water
4. Do my most intense cardio (soccer, swimming) on the weekends to create a deficit
People may talk about calorie-cycling, but since the weekends are my weakness, I can’t implement that in my programme. I believe I still can achieve sexification without it!
Tammy Sena says
Great article Roger and so on point. I have been slacking this summer with tracking what I have been eating and was not suprised to see the scale up 4 lbs yesterday. I need to get back tracking at least Monday- Friday so I can treat myself a bit on the weekend.
Look forward to the dance class starting in December so I can dance off my weekend calories.
Roger Lawson II says
Tracking, at least until you know hit your goal and/or are able to do it more intuitively (which is pretty difficult), is the way to go. It’s the thing that people avoid the most but it’s what will get them to the goal faster – it breaks my heart.
Btw, the dance class starts September 17th, so hopefully you sign up before December 😉
Tammy Sena says
OOPS not sure why I said December.. LOL..
I will be starting in September for sure…
Keith J says
Been reading your stuff for a while! Awesome article, hits so close to home it practically broke my window!! I was working with JC a while ago and am still on his plan and it is def working but the weekends are always a struggle (some more then others) He actually did drop my cals a bit during the week to leave some extra room for the weekends so that’s been good. I just LOVE to eat man… I mean food is love for me… and all of my friends/family/in-laws know it.. and so they all show me “Love” (read food) whenever I see them! I have started shifting my training schedule to have at least one session fall on Sat or Sun to lessen the impact of the extra cals a little. I def wanna try the IF strategy on the weekend and see how I do. I may give it a go this weekend cause I have a Labor day gathering with the in-laws and my girl has already told me “prepare to eat some yummy goodness”! Keep up the great work man!
Roger Lawson II says
I’m with you on the loving of food tip. If cow’s weren’t meant to be eaten, they wouldn’t taste so delicious – AM I RIGHT?!
JC is the man, so there’s no doubt that if you make it happen with what he’s putting you on then you’re gonna reach Sexification status in no time.
Totally agree on weekend strategy. I’d even argue that IFing it easier on the weekends.
Sigh. Yep that’s pretty much it. Mental note. I need to up my weekend game. It’s overhaul time.
Roger Lawson II says
Boss up on the weekend like you do during the week, and the sexy will undoubtedly increase – guaranteed.