The Weekend Diet

Your days off don't have to be your dietary downfall.

By Kathleen Zelman, MPH, RD, LD
WebMD Weight Loss Clinic - Expert Column

Monday through Friday, we juggle work obligations and family activities, and rush to get dinner on the table. Then when the weekend finally comes, we kick up our heels, shift into relaxation mode -- and enter a dietary danger zone, where healthy eating and fitness routines may get cast to the wind.

Whenever I analyze someone's dietary intake, I look at two weekdays and one weekend day because people eat very differently on weekends. Our more relaxed weekend schedules leave time for frequent trips to the kitchen for snacks, restaurant meals, parties featuring high-calorie hors d'ouevres and alcohol, and the list goes on.

But your days off don't have to undo all your hard work during the week. Here's some advice to help you relax without falling off your healthy eating plan.

The 80/20 Rule

There are two basic schools of thought on handling your diet over the weekend. The first strategy is to follow your usual healthful eating plan carefully and get to the gym daily during the week -- so that when the weekend comes, you can splurge a little.

This doesn't mean throwing caution to the wind and eating a whole pie in one sitting. It simply means enjoying some of the calories you've saved during the week, maybe in the form of a glass of wine or a serving of your favorite dessert. Think of it as the 80/20 rule: 80% of the time, you stick to your healthy routine; the other 20% is your flex time, to indulge in whatever suits your fancy.

Yes, you can have your cake and eat it, too, as long as the slice is small -- and you keep up your activity. You need at least 30 minutes of activity each day, whether it's walking, gardening, or doing an exercise video. Strap on a pedometer and let the steps you take while doing errands or shopping add up (strive for at least 5,000 steps). Getting some exercise almost every day just makes you feel better. As hard as it can be to get started, you never regret lacing up your sneakers.

This approach is my own weight management strategy. I find it easier to be diligent during the week knowing that I can indulge on the weekends. It gives me the motivation and discipline I need to get to Friday.

The Weekend Warrior

The second approach is to use your extra weekend time to prepare healthy meals and catch up on the exercise that gets squeezed out of your schedule during the week.

You can spend more time at the gym or increase the intensity of your regular routine. But be warned: While it's fine to pump up your activity, tune in to how you are feeling and stop if you are overtired or in pain. Going overboard can result in injury.

With a little advance planning and a few hours to spare, you can stock your freezer with easy meals for the upcoming week. Batch cooking once a week can save you time and money. During the week, it allows you to get healthy meals on the table in minutes. And it can save you money both at the grocery store, where you can buy in bulk, and at the drive-through (which you'll have no need to visit).

Staying on Track

Weekends are supposed to be enjoyable, with free time to spend on yourself, family, and friends. And there's no reason why you can't enjoy the weekends while continuing to make progress toward your weight loss goals.

Successful losers eat breakfast every morning to help control frequent trips to the kitchen for snacks. So start your day with a healthy breakfast like a bowl of high-protein, high-fiber cereal topped with fresh fruit, and skim or low-fat milk. Feel free to enjoy eggs on the weekends; just limit the high-fat sides such as biscuits, bacon, and gravy. Replace them with lean ham, fruit salad, and whole-grain toast.

Don't let your portion sizes creep up while you're relaxing. Have a large vegetable salad with light dressing before dinner to help fill you up. If you're still hungry after your healthy meal, drink a big glass of water and wait 15 minutes. Still hungry? Eat vegetables or fruit.

Be sure to drink unsweetened beverages and water, or small portions of other beverages, to help control your liquid calorie intake. Calories from sweetened beverages, including coffee, tea, soda, juices, and alcohol, contribute as much as 20% of the calories in our diets according to a recent study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

Jump on the scale one morning during the weekend to keep yourself on track. Researchers say that people who weigh themselves often do a better job of controlling their weight.

To add to your weekend fun, turn your favorite activities into a workout. Weekends are a great time to dig in the dirt, play tennis, throw the football, or take the dog for a run. Combine spending time with family or friends with a fun activity, like a long walk or bike ride.

Enjoy your weekends without letting them undermine your weekday progress. A little caution will go a long way toward keeping you fit and fabulous!

Published April 6, 2006.


Kathleen Zelman, MPH, RD, is director of nutrition for WebMD and the WebMD Weight Loss Clinic. Her opinions and conclusions are her own.

©2006 WebMD Inc. All rights reserved.


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