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4 Causes of weekend overeating (and how to fix them)

Weekend overeating and “letting loose” is a thing for almost everyone, some more so than others.

You make it Monday through Friday with everything on track, but then once the clock strikes 5 P.M. it’s like a full moon has come out and you transform into some insatiable werewolf that looks for sugary food and bad decisions to sink it’s teeth into.

Sometimes it slowly creeps up on you, almost unnoticeable, while other times it’s like the start of a race where you rush to see how much you can eat before Monday morning rolls around again.

In Sleekgeek’s Precision Nutrition coaching program we call this “Weekenditis“. Below are 4 causes along with some suggestions on how to deal with it.

1. Trying to be perfect.

Most of us like rules and guidelines because they help us feel in control and right on track. Often times the stricter the better, especially if we don’t trust ourselves or aren’t confident in our ability to live a healthy lifestyle. The problem with this is eventually you crack or slip up – and the weekend is usually a pretty convenient time for that.

We often start hectic diets or workout plans when life is going perfectly (or at least well enough), but at soon as things get complicated or messy we can no longer keep up.

SOLUTION: Aim for progress, not perfection.

Perfectionism is not the same as striving for excellence. The one is destructive and the other is constructive.

The perfect diet or most effective workout plan is useless if you can’t stick to it. The “decent” plan that you follow is better than the “perfect” plan that you quit.

Start small, slowly, and reasonably. In fact, choose a strategy that is so easy that you literally cannot fail, even when life is going to hell. Then, aim for a high level of consistency and compliance before bumping up the intensity bit by bit. Think about getting 1% better every single day (this is an “always something” approach as opposed to an “all or nothing” approach).

This might mean being a bit less restrictive with your nutrition, allowing yourself to enjoy some foods that you like in moderation so that you don’t miss them or fall into temptation when your guard is down on the weekend. It might also mean lowering the intensity of your workouts slightly during the week so that you aren’t exhausted by the time weekend rolls around and more likely to be able to do something active on the weekends.

2. Having an “all-or-nothing” rather than “always something” mindset.

Many people think that in order for a diet or exercise plan to work, it needs to be followed perfectly. But this is not true at all.

This is usually just a way for nutrition coaches or personal trainers to shift the blame from them to us. It’s easier for them to say “Well, you didn’t follow the diet 100% so that’s why you didn’t get results.” than to say “It looks like I asked too much of you too soon, let’s go back to the drawing board and see how I can work with your current abilities and challenges.

Before you think you’re off the hook, it’s also a way for you to protect yourself from blame too. You can deliberately self-sabotage so that you can blame the diet or exercise plan  for being too strict or hard rather than accepting responsibility to make it work for you. When you follow the “all-or-nothing” approach it means one tiny screw up justifies overeating and starting from scratch because you’ve screwed the whole thing up.

For example, you go out with friends on Saturday afternoon and because you can’t have your pre-planned chicken salad that is portioned out down to the exact calorie, you may as well go just eat whatever you want because even the second best option available is not good enough.

It’s kind of like getting 1 flat tyre on your car and therefore decide to go and deliberately slash your other 3.

All-or-nothing thinking gives you two options: Perfect or crap, with the later being more likely over the long-term.

SOLUTION: Operate along a spectrum of possible options.

Rather than only focusing on “perfect” meals or workouts, just do your best with what you’ve got.

Think in terms of “pretty good” or “not too bad” options. Find the best choices that you can make with your current abilities and challenges so that you can keep the momentum going rather than starting again from scratch.

Instead of slashing your three remaining tyres, pull out the spare. It’s not perfect, but at least you can still get to your destination!

It’s great to have a plan to follow and aim for, but for the greatest long-term success you need to be willing to accept less than perfect sometimes and rely on your long-term consistency to pick up the slack.

3. Trading good behaviour for bad behaviour.

This one is pretty simple, it’s kind of like being in prison or 5 years old: If you are a good boy / girl then you get time off your sentence or nice sweeties as a reward.

You were “good” all week, and so you give yourself permission “bad” on the weekends. You feel that the world owes you something and that you deserve a reward for your efforts. You might even find that this is also pretty common after you experience a bit of succes. For example, you lose 2 kilograms and then “ease up” a bit or “treat youself”.

Quitters never win and winners never quit.

SOLUTION: Grow up.

Trading off “good” and “bad” is for convicts and little kiddies! How about you just “do your time” and act like a grown up instead?

Come back to me in 5-10 years of good behaviour time when you have undone the past 5-10 years of bad behaviour and your reward will be a rocking new body with incredible health.

The world owes you nothing and you owe yourself everything. You need to take complete responsibility for your actions (both good and bad). If you really feel the need to reward yourself, then do it with non-food rewards, and if you experience even the slighest bit of success then use that to fuel your motivation to work even harder!

4. Rationalising with yourself.

During the week we tend to have a familiar and comfortable routine. There are less unexpected surprises and we have to make less hard decisions.

However, weekends present all sorts of opportunities for justifying eating junk or skipping workouts. It doesn’t matter whether they are valid reasons or not, we find a way to justify them.

Maybe we ate badly because we were busy. Or we ate badly because we had such a lazy day with nothing going on. Maybe we didn’t get a workout in because we were traveling. Or we didn’t get a workout in because we were stuck at home with none of the cool latest gym equipment. Maybe we had family time or social meals. Or maybe we ate all by our poor lonely selves.

It doesn’t matter what it is. Any excuse will do. Poor you! Victim of circumstance!

When you get into the habit of rationalising all of the time you tend to not even try at all or you give up at the slightest sign of resistance. This is a dangerous and slippery slope.

SOLUTION: Notice (and challenge) the stories you’re telling yourself.

We have all of these convenient scripts that we follow that help us rationalise bad behaviour or why we aren’t successful. Most of the time we don’t even notice them.

The thing is, there are people out there who are busy, or bored, or traveling, or confined to their home, or big on family and socialising, or terribly lonely who ARE still able to eat good food and get in regular workouts with ease.

These people just have different “stories” about themselves. They don’t think about good or bad luck, good or bad genetics, good or bad finances, good or bad circumstances. Instead, they focus on being resourceful, on problem solving, and on being fully responsible for their own lives. 

It’s kind of like being an optimist versus a pessimist. Optimists will look at any given situation and see all things that can go right, while pessimists will look at the same situation and only see all the things that can go bad.

As they say: “Life is not about waiting for the storm to pass… It’s about learning how to dance in the rain.“

A final thought that I want to leave you with is how weekend habits and routine play a huge role too.

Sometimes there isn’t a complicated or psychological reason why you keep overeating. Instead, perhaps it is really simple: You don’t have a plan for the weekend.

Most people have a pretty solid plan to follow during the week. It’s tough sometimes, yes, but there is a plan. And once you are in routine or habit it’s fairly easy to stick to the healthy breakfasts, better choices at work, going to gym on the way home, and early bed times. Maybe not always, but hopefully more often than not.

But when it comes to weekends, many people have nothing. It’s free-for-all. No planning. Almost all spontaneous activities (or complete lack of activities).

Healthy, fit people do things like parkruns, family breakfasts, hikes, try new recipes, spend time with healthy like-minded people, still go to gym or yoga, and plan/prep/goal set for the week ahead, and so on.

Time can be tight during the week. This can make fitting in time to cook healthy meals and do active things hard. That’s why when healthy and fit people look at the weekend, they see the abundance of time and opportunity to do all of these things that are at the top of their list of priorities.

I know it’s tempting to see Weekends as your time to relax and let loose – that’s OK, but it doesn’t mean you can’t still do a bit of planning and have a basic routine that helps to keep you on track.

It’s all about choosing your “normal” and what you consider to be normal behaviour. Some people choose TV and takeaways to be their weekly dinner routine, others choose gym and lean protein with veg. Likewise, you get to choose your weekend routine too!

Neither the week nor the weekend needs to be military strict. It doesn’t mean you can’t be spontaneous, or that you can’t have a lazy Sunday, or that you can’t have a burger and beer with friends on the weekend. You can choose how far you want to go. But one does need to still have a plan and make an effort to some extent, or align one’s expectations with their actions. You get out what you put in.

If I had to rate my healthy lifestyle efforts during the week on a scale of 1 – 10, I would rate it at about a 9.

If I had to rate my healthy lifestyle efforts during the weekend on a scale of 1 – 10, I would rate it at about a 7 or 8.

So I am a bit more lenient during the weekend, but I still have a plan and I still make an effort. I don’t let it slip all the way down to a 0 – 3 out of 10.

This is done by having a good weekend routine that matches my values and goals. It is in line with the fit and healthy person I want to be, while still giving myself a bit of freedom to have a good time and be spontaneous

Oh and one more thing: Following the Only One Bad Meal Rule is absolute GOLD for on the weekends! Don’t let one small meal snowball into a weekend or even week-long binge.

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