Fri-yay hits, and that means you finally have time for dinner out, a Netflix binge, happy hour with pals. The problem? Well, to state the obvious, we eat more and move less. If your pants feel snug on Monday morning, it’s not just your imagination. Most people have a weight cycle that involves losing a bit on weekdays only to gain it back over the weekend, according to recent research out of the Cornell University Food and Brand Lab. A separate study found that adults ages 19 to 50 consume an extra 115 calories on each weekend day, as well as more fat and alcohol, compared with Monday through Thursday. Now for the reassuring news: All it takes to stay on track through Sunday is a little advance planning. Use our guide to figure out the day-off traps you’re falling into (hitting snooze on that Saturday alarm, going overboard on celebratory drinks). Then take the pros’ advice so you stay on track and start every week strong.
2 of 7Getty Images
The problem: You recharge on the sofa
Being a couch potato could be worse for you than sitting at a desk all day, new research suggests. Scientists at the University of South Carolina found that reducing sedentary time by just 20 minutes on Saturdays and Sundays helped overweight people lose 1.6 percent of their body fat over a year; they didn’t find the same connection with sitting less on weekdays.
How to fix it: Don’t allow the weekend to turn into one drawn out television-and-snack session, says Samantha Rigoli, RD, a nutritionist and corporate wellness consultant in Brooklyn, New York. Instead, pick three little treats: “If you want to watch a show and you want to order dessert and you want a glass of wine, fine,” says Rigoli. “Just spread out those rewards over the whole weekend.” Also, create mini interruptions during a TV marathon, says Bonnie Taub-Dix, RD, founder of the blog Better Than Dieting. After one or two episodes, “get up and go for a walk, take the dog for a stroll, or just do something in between binge-watching.”
3 of 7Getty Images
The problem: You play catch-up with sleep
Sleeping late on weekends may sound like a good idea, but it can disrupt your circadian rhythm, explains Phyllis Zee, MD, director of the Center for Circadian and Sleep Medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago. Your circadian rhythm plays a role in regulating the hunger hormones leptin and ghrelin. An imbalance in these hormones may crank up your appetite or cravings for fatty food, studies have shown. What’s more, constantly feeling the need to sleep in on the weekend is a clear sign that your body is sleep-deprived, adds Theresa Piotrowski, MD, medical director of the Adult and Pediatric Weight Loss Center in Ayer, Massachusetts. Sleep deprivation can lead to elevated levels of cortisol, which is linked to increased visceral fat, she says.
How to fix it: Do your best not to let your bedtime and wake-up time stray more than two hours from your normal sleep setup. And don’t hit the bagels and scones at breakfast, even though your sleep-deprived body is likely to be craving carbohydrates as an energy source. Instead, wake up and get your blood sugar under control with a balanced breakfast, suggests Dr. Piotrowski. Try a vegetable omelet or a bowl of oatmeal and berries, as opposed to sleeping more and giving in to pancake cravings, which only perpetuates the vicious cycle. The caveat: If you’re feeling burned out for weeks on end, speak to your doctor about your fatigue to see whether you should consult a sleep specialist, adds Dr. Piotrowski.
4 of 7Getty Images
The problem: Weekends are spent in supermom mode
Let us guess: Saturdays mean playing chauffeur as you schlep your kids from one sporting event to another. Of course you want the kiddos to have something nutritious to fuel them, but what about you? “Moms are often so focused on making sure their kids eat a healthy meal, and that can be at the expense of taking care of themselves,” says Jessica Fishman Levinson, RDN, founder of the consulting practice Nutritioulicious.
How to fix it: Stash nutritious on-the-go snacks everywhere. When you’re not armed with portable bites, you succumb to the birthday party slice of pizza or snack-bar eats that pack more calories than the munchies you’d bring from home, says Levinson. Taub- \Dix likes to keep Kind bars in her backseat. “Or I’ll put almond butter packets and a piece of fruit in my purse or on the counter at night so I don’t forget them,” she says. Another idea: Pack your kids’ snack bags with stuff you like, too. “I’ll find myself sneaking bites from my kids, so I’ll throw in half a PB&J on whole wheat bread and I’m set,” says Levinson.
5 of 7Getty Images
The problem: Friday through Sunday is one long, fattening party
Beware of those margarita goggles. “Alcohol impairs your ability to make wise food choices, like when you stay out drinking and end up at the pizza place,” says Levinson. Several studies have suggested that drinking alcohol before a meal can increase food intake later on. Also, research shows that "social jet lag" ups your risk of being overweight. "Social jet lag is the term for the change in your sleep schedule between workdays and weekends,” says Dr. Zee, “and it often results from pushing back bedtime so you can go out with friends.”
How to fix it: Always remember to eat when you drink, recommends Dr. Piotrowski. “Foods high in protein in particular will help stabilize blood sugar,” she says. Nibbling while you imbibe doesn’t have to be boring—or a recipe for weight gain, adds Levinson: “Find a cute tapas bar and pick a few veggie plates to share, or go to a place where you can order something healthy and special, like a tuna tartare.” And don’t forget to turn in within two hours of your normal bedtime. You’ll be helping your body help itself stay slim.
6 of 7Getty Images
The problem: You take weekends off from exercising
“I see this habit all the time with clients,” says Holly Perkins, a certified strength specialist in Los Angeles. “But say you have a crazy week where you have to skip days, then you have the attitude that you don’t work out on the weekend—you’re all off.”
How to fix it: Any movement is better than none, says Perkins, so start by changing the habit. “Wake up and put on workout clothes immediately for motivation, then start Saturday with 10 minutes of stretching, or do ab exercises on your floor,” she says. “Gradually adding tidbits of exercise behavior will help you break the mind-set that weekends are for bending all your rules.”
7 of 7Getty Images
Signs you're slacking too much
Any of these sound familiar? If so, you may be undoing all your good (weekday) work.
1. Your food log is inconsistent. For three weeks, document your meals and snacks, water intake, and energy levels every day. Then compare your weekday stats with your weekend ones. Any evidence that you relax your food rules during days off? Try writing yourself a menu in advance for the full week to take out the weekend guesswork.
2. You don't mark up your calendar. If you don’t keep track, you may not realize how much you dine out and drink on the weekends. Insert your full weekend schedule into your smartphone calendar so you know where you’ll be for each meal, plus when you’ll need snacks. “Sometimes we actually have to write these things down to get them done,” says Taub-Dix.
3. You feel like crap on Monday. Using your food and energy log, assess your state on Mondays. Do you start the week groggy? Bloated? Headachy? “Coming off a bender will not have you entering Monday at 100 percent,” says Perkins. Then suss out whether you’re partying too much, skipping vital nutrients, or in need of a yoga class.