If your scale is fluctuating more than the stock market, what you do on the weekends could be at fault. Kicking back and being less vigilant about what you eat and drink even just two days out of the week can add up to an almost nine-pound weight gain over the course of a year, according to new research published in the journal Obesity.
Researchers at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis followed 48 overweight adults for a year, tracking daily food intake and weight. Even from the beginning, they found a striking difference in what people ate during the week compared to the weekend: On Saturdays, people ate well over 2,200 calories, while Monday through Friday, the average calorie intake was about 2,000 calories. The amount of weight they were gaining based on these extra calories—about .17 pound a week—could translate to about nine extra pounds a year.
Lead researcher Susan Racette, PhD, and her colleagues then divided the participants into three groups: 19 subjects were put on a calorie-restricted diet, 19 were instructed to follow an exercise regimen, and 10 were asked not to change their behavior at all. Over the course of the year, members of the caloric restriction group lost an average of 17.6 pounds, the exercisers lost about 14 pounds each, and the healthy-eating control group lost just two pounds. Upon closer inspection, however, the weekends still posed a problem and thwarted weight-loss efforts.
"Those in the calorie-restricted group would have lost over .6 pounds per week, but because they overate on the weekend, their weekly weight loss was about .5 pounds per week," Racette says. And those in the exercise group actually gained weight over the weekends.
Even though they were asked to keep food diaries, many people in the study didn't realize that they were consuming more calories on the weekends. This could be because of the types of food they're eating (high-calorie on-the-go options), the lack of structure in their days, or the laid-back mind-set that many of us adopt on our days off. Whatever the explanation, this study suggests that one reason why people who go on diets often don't lose weight as fast or as easily as they first predicted is due to overeating on the weekends.
If you think your weekend might be sabotaging your diet efforts, here's what you can do:
- Weigh yourself twice a week—either Friday and Monday a.m. or Thursday and Monday a.m. There's nothing better to keep you on track than knowing that you have to face the scale come Monday morning.
- Try to stick with the same meal patterns you follow midweek on the weekend.
- "Bank" calories: If you know you are going out for dinner and will overeat, cut back even more the day before and after to compensate.
- Limit your alcohol consumption. Alcohol is a diet double-whammy; it's not only rich in calories itself, but it also reduces inhibitions and increases appetite.
- If you exercise, don't give in to your raging appetite afterward; it'll erase the calorie burn (and then some) of your workout. Instead, fill up with lean protein and whole grains.
- Pack fruit and healthy snacks or lunches if you're going to be out of the house all day, so you don't have to rely on food-court and concession-stand choices.
- If you need to cheat on the weekend, plan what and when you're going to cheat, enjoy it, then get back on track. One indiscretion won't set you back—but a weekend of multiple indulgences will.
By Julie Upton, RD