Diet & Nutrition

How to have a healthier weekend

Tips and tricks from an expert on how to avoid those sneaky weekend calories.

Most of us get a little more relaxed about our eating habits over the weekend – but don’t let all your good work go to waste (or waist!)… Here are some common traps to avoid.
The Trap: The Four-Day Weekend
It starts with Thursday night drinks, continues with takeaway for dinner on Friday, then goes all through Saturday and finishes with Sunday brunch. All of a sudden nearly half of your week involves ‘weekend treats’.
Escape tactics:
- Only consume kilojoules you love. Eating everything on offer is a recipe for weight gain if you overindulge every single time, so think about what changes you can make and how you can cut back.
- How about swapping one or two alcoholic drinks on Thursday nights with a soda?
Yes, you may be really looking forward to your Saturday night Thai curry – but you could easily skip the rice that comes with it.
- Or try this idea from consumer behaviour psychologist Dr Brian Wansink, who suggests using the Rule of Two when eating in a restaurant: opt for a healthy main course, and then add two splurges – so perhaps a side of hot chips and a glass of wine, or a dessert and some bread. And that’s it.
- Finally, always reset your habits on a Monday with super-healthy eating and stay that way until next weekend. Wansink has found this to be the biggest difference between people who gain weight after weekend indulgences and those who don’t – gainers sneak treats into their diet during the week too.
The Trap: Hanging around the kitchen
A handful of chips here, a piece of cheese there, the odd biscuit from the tin as you unload the dishwasher – being close to your kitchen at the weekend can lead to a lot of mindless nibbling.
Escape tactics:
- “Setting yourself an eating routine will give you boundaries that keep you focused,” says psychotherapist Dr Karen Phillip. “Say you’ll have breakfast, lunch, one low-fat snack and dinner – and that’s all. Also make a rule that you only eat seated at the table, not wandering round the house or standing in front of the fridge. This really focuses your attention on what you’re consuming.”
- Rearranging your kitchen can also help. Putting snacks and less healthy foods away in the cupboards makes you less likely to reach for them. And avoid keeping household items such as bathroom cleaning products or scissors in the kitchen – the more times you go in there, the more likely you are to eat.
The Trap: TV bingeing
We eat more when we’re distracted by the television. “You don’t concentrate on the food, you don’t taste it as effectively and so you can miss subconscious signals that tell you you’ve had enough,” says Phillip. Before you know it you’ve consumed an entire packet of chips or biscuits.
Escape tactics:
- Ban packets from the living room – we’ll eat 45 per cent more from a big packet than a small one when distracted. If you’re peckish, walk into the kitchen and consciously make a snack of a controlled size in a bowl rather than bringing the packet to you.
- If it doesn’t feel right not to be dipping into something, Phillip suggests keeping your hands busy doing something like knitting or crafting. “Or, have a cup of water near you to sip which can fulfil the same need as food,” she says. “It can also help to sit in a different chair, which can break the association of eating and watching.”
- Finally, choose what you are going to watch carefully. Watching something you find boring on television leads to faster eating than watching a show you truly love. Sad films also lead to an increased need to munch.
The Trap: Munchies when you’re drinking
Weekend drinking can lead to weight gain. “Alcohol contributes energy to your diet with little other nourishment and inhibits the part of your brain which controls rational, sensible decisions,” says dietitian Jacinta Sherlock.
Cue midnight fridge raiding! The problem is compounded the morning after when blood sugar drops, causing raging hangover hunger.
Escape tactics:
- Keep to a sensible intake of two standard drinks, which will stop you slipping into ‘bad idea’ territory and minimise the risk of a hangover the next day.
If you do overdo it, the ‘aperitif effect’ recently discovered by scientists says we find it harder to resist the smell of food when we have alcohol in our system, so keep healthy snacks around when you’re drinking.
- As for the morning after, reach for a meal containing protein and nourishing fats. “It’s the best combination for keeping appetite in check,” says Sherlock.
Eggs are particularly good – they contain a substance called cysteine that helps neutralise acetaldehyde, the compound which causes many hangover symptoms. A
nd get your fat from avocado – it contains vitamin E which helps counteract the drop in immunity that comes after drinking.
Take it easy
After a busy week, it’s easy to use food as a way to relax and stress can cause the body to release excess cortisol, a hormone that increases your appetite. Treat weekends as a way to unwind, and book a massage or do yoga.
The trap: Late nights
Sleep deprivation is a big trigger for overeating. It interferes with levels of appetite hormones, meaning we don’t feel as full from our meals as we normally do. And the later you stay up, the more opportunities you have to reach for treats.
Escape tactics:
- Try having an early night – getting the right amount of sleep reduces snack cravings by up to 62 per cent, say researchers at the University of Chicago. If you can’t manage to get to bed early and you’re still tired, then focus your meals around foods with a high-satiety factor like fibre-packed fruit and vegetables, soups or lean proteins like chicken or fish, or foods with healthy fats.
- It’s better to counteract your extra hunger by choosing filling foods than simply eating bigger portions. Picking this mix of foods is also likely to lead to a healthy balance of macronutrients – protein, fat and carbs. “And the more balanced your macros are during the day, the less likely you’ll be to crave extra food late at night,” says eating psychology coach Michelle Powell.
- If you’re regularly troubled by late-night snack attacks, Powell suggests spending two to three days tracking your food intake through an app like MyFitnessPal. She recommends aiming for a balance of 40 per cent protein, 30 per cent fat from healthy sources and 30 per cent carbs.
The Trap: Super-long workouts
Saturday or Sunday mornings are the perfect time for long leisurely cycle rides or runs of an hour or more, but exercise can be an appetite trigger for many people.
Escape tactics:
- One reason we tend to munch after a workout, especially a long one, is because the body isn’t effectively fuelled beforehand. “Eat something that mixes wholegrain carbohydrates and some protein like peanut butter on toast about an hour before you exercise,” says nutritionist Anita Bean, author of Sports Nutrition for Women.
“Then, if you’re exercising hard for more than an hour, take in 30-60g of carbohydrate while you train – 40g of raisins gives you what you need and is easy to carry.”
- Also watch out for an effect called moral licensing. This is the idea that because we’ve done something good for our body, it’s okay to do something bad – like eat all the food in sight. Reward yourself for your effort with a bath or another non-foodie treat instead.
Words: Helen Foster
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