15 Ways To Stop Weekend Weight Gain – How To Enjoy Your Weekends And Still Lose Weight

Table of Contents

Monday mornings for dieters are like a perpetual groundhog day of guilt, shame, and penance…

Research from Cornel Food & Brand Lab confirms that weight fluctuates throughout the week. On average, people weigh the least on Fridays and the most on Saturdays.

Yup, weekend weight gain is a real thing. 

If I were a betting man, I’d bet that this fact doesn’t surprise you. What may surprise you is the conclusion of the researchers…

They state, “Weight variations between weekends and weekdays should be considered normal instead of signs of weight gain. Those who compensate the most are likely to either lose or maintain weight over time. Long-term habits may make more of a difference than short term splurges. People prone to weight gain could be counselled about the importance of weekday compensation.” (Obesity Facts, 7, 36-47.)

We’ll unpack this at the end, for now, let’s go back to the weekend discussion…

How is it that we can live super healthy during the week and end up feeling “fat and unhappy” come Monday morning?

“Why did I eat that entire pizza?”

“Why did I drink that entire box of wine?”

“Why did I sit on the couch and watch a marathon of Lost for the 42nd time?”

You’re still reading, so I’ll assume that this is resonating with your experience of life.

Don’t worry; we’re going to get to the bottom of this issue for you…

By the end of this article, you’ll end Monday morning melancholy. Here’s how…

First, we’ll redefine your relationship between weekends and weight loss. Trust me; you’re going about it all wrong.

Next, we’ll discuss the two core reasons why your weekend debauchery is hurting you.

We’ll end with the 15 Power-Tips for turning your weekends into an ally rather than an enemy.

Before you know it you’ll be getting your freak on without your spanks on!

Your Weight Loss System Should Not Take The Life Out Of Your Lifestyle.

Early in my career, I had the opportunity to work with a paediatrician named Dr Pam Compart.

As we were talking about the state of treatment in ADD/ADHD, she said something that gave me goosebumps…

She said, “I will never prescribe a treatment that will take the spark out of a child’s eye.”

I found that profound in a world where every creative child gets a narcotic drug to “calm them down”.

Here’s why this is relevant…

Most weight loss programs take the spark out of life. The paradigm in the fitness world is to white-knuckle your way through life with hopes and dreams of a beach bod.

I don’t know about you, but I want to be happy and joyous. If the cost of a beach-body is my happiness, I’ll pass.

Weekends are a time to relax, recharge, and be able to enjoy life without the shadow of work demands. Weekends have the potential to enhance your experience AND your lifestyle. You can’t stand idly by and let some phantom head-critic convince you that you can’t eat or drink anything fun.

Moral of the story: Your weight loss system should not take the spark out of your life. A lifestyle designed to make you live longer should not make you wish you were dead.

Fun and weight loss are not mutually exclusive concepts. Your odds of success with weight loss go way up when you are enjoying the process.

Here’s what you won’t hear from us…

We won’t tell you to “suck it up”.

We won’t point you out in a crowd and yell, “Failure!” if we see you enjoying a glass of wine or a piece of cake at a weekend social event.

We won’t tell you that you can be fit or you can be fun, but you can’t be both. Our hypothesis is, you should and even MUST be both to succeed.

When changing your lifestyle, nothing you do should steal the twinkle from your eyes. It should make that twinkle burn brighter. That’s not to say it will be easy, but your life should get better, not worse as you get fit and healthy.

Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to enjoy every weekend and wake up Monday morning feeling rested, energized, fit, lean, and healthy.

…and guilt/shame-free.

Do you accept?

Two Important Insights About Weekends...

The first insight is the weekday version of yourself is different than the “weekend you”. The “Weekday You” is responsibility-focused. The “Weekend You” is recovery-focused.

You have different modus operandi when you wake up on weekdays than you do when you arrive home on Friday night.

You wake up as Jerry McGuire on Monday morning screaming “SHOW ME THE MONEY”. Your mindset is ready for responsibility and action because it’s your livelihood and survival.

Saturday morning, you wake up like Garfield the cat mumbling, “Show me the couch.” No judgement, that’s just the mind wanting a break from the responsibilities of the week.

The differences don’t stop at your goal. You also live in a different environment. You’re usually home on weekends and at work on weekdays. Even if you are retired, work from home, or are a stay at home mom or dad, weekdays at home are still “work-focused”. It’s like you live in a workplace during the week.

When your environment changes, so too do the set of cues that trigger habits. As the environment goes, so goes your habits.

Finally, you have a different set of standards on weekends than you do on weekdays. Could you go to the office and lay down and take a nap on the floor? No, of course not. That would violate the standards of work.

Weekends bring a new set of goals, standards, and the environment. These differences make it challenging to stick to a weight loss plan.

To keep the weight loss momentum going through the weekend, you must build a weekend strategy. You can’t attempt to carry your weekday strategies over to the weekend.

Here’s the second insight…

Living healthy during the week only to let loose during the weekend is a recipe for fat loss failure. Here’s why…

If you add up all the weekend days including Fridays, that’s 12 days out of 30! That’s almost half the month. If these 12 days look like a scene out of National Lampoon’s Animal House movie, your waistline is in trouble.

That doesn’t even take into account the “Metabolic Hangover”…

"Metabolic Hangover" - Why Weekends Destroy Results

We mentioned that three days out of the week translates to 12 days of the month. If you eat and drink to excess on these days, you lose 12 days of fat loss time.

There’s more bad news; your metabolism may take up to 48 hours to get back into fat loss mode once the debauchery ends.

Now, you’re spending 20 days out of 30 in a subpar metabolic state. That’s catastrophic for anyone working hard to lose weight.

And now, to the, “What can I do about it” part of the article…

What follows are 15 Power-Tips for rocking your weekends. Don’t try to install all tips at once. Read through all fifteen and choose one or two to act on then iterate on those changes over time.

Weekend Power-Tip #1: A Rocking Weekend Starts With a Rocking Week. 

People almost never end a week of diet debauchery saying, “I’m going eat great and exercise lots this weekend.”

Your weekdays set the stage for the weekend and vice versa, when you enjoy a healthy and fit week, your odds of having a good weekend go up exponentially.

A word of warning though…

Don’t fall victim to the “Halo Effect”…

The “Halo Effect” occurs when an unhealthy choice follows a healthy decision in the name of “I deserve it”.

To succeed, stop viewing healthy living as a punishment that deserves reparations.

To consistently be healthy during weekdays, you must learn to keep your lifestyle simple. When lifestyle rules get too complicated, it drains you, which sets you up for a weekend of debauchery. You think, “That was a tough week; I need to relax, and I deserve it!”

Stop building a life that you need to escape. Simplicity is the remedy for such a circumstance. The simpler the life you live, the less likely you will need to run from it.

Stop depriving yourself during the week. We don’t want the weekends to seem like the ultimate release. Get what you need during the week, so you don’t need to binge on the weekends.

Weekend Power-Tip #2: Optimize Your Life For The Weekend (Your "Weekday Ways" Won't Work)

As I stated earlier, when the weekend rolls up, your life changes…

You have a different goal (recovery), environment, and set of standards.

A lot of the nuts and bolts are the same: water, healthy food, lots of activity, but how you install them into your life changes. Exercise may fit into your morning schedule during the week and may not on weekends when you sleep in late. It may be harder to eat a healthy dinner on weekends, but easier to eat a healthier breakfast.

Your life is very different on weekends and requires you to rework the way you show up to succeed.

Since your environment is different on weekends, weekday habits may not fire on weekends. To form a habit, you need a cue, action, and reward. The cue is the activator; without it, the pattern doesn’t fire. When the environment changes, you lose many of the signals that activate a habit.

To remedy this, you must build new habits that fire on weekends based on new cues that occur in your weekend environment. For example, during the week, your exercise habit may fire the moment you awaken. During the weekends, your exercise cue may need to change because you wake up later.

Keep your routine as close to the weekday routine as possible; change it only where necessary.

One simple tip is to make preemptive plans. For example, schedule a yoga or workout class every Saturday. Not only will this improve your activity on Saturday, but you’ll also be less likely to let Friday nights go bad. You’ll be less likely to drink yourself into a stupor when you’re scheduled for a yoga class the next morning.

Weekend Tip #3: Set a Hard Line For Alcohol

If you aren’t a drinker, skip this tip…

We, at Cut The Fat, are not anti-alcohol, but our job is to show up for the future version of yourself, not for you of today. If you drink too much, too often, then it will stall your weight loss, and your health will suffer.

Using alcohol to recharge and relax is not as effective as you think, and it has side-effects. Those side effects can carry over for days. For example, many people use alcohol to sleep. Although you may sleep longer by drinking alcohol, the quality of sleep suffers. So, you sleep longer and wake up feeling tired.

When you drink in excess, you think you’re recharging and relaxing, but in truth, you’re escaping.

I don’t know about you, but anytime I felt the need to “escape” I wasn’t relaxed. It’s a mirage. Like using alcohol to sleep, using alcohol to relax only makes you think you’re resting.

When you go to an event or party, go with a plan. A plan is especially crucial for alcohol. For example, “I’ll drink two glasses of red wine tonight.”

We all know alcohol lowers our inhibitions. It can lead to feeling a little ‘too loose’ about food/fitness choices and cause you to throw caution to the wind.

A hangover can rob you of an entire day of recovery, fun, fitness, and leave you dragging into Monday.

Another simple hack is to add in water between drinks. If you feel pressure from friends, club soda with lime is also an acceptable choice. Nobody needs to know what is in your glass!

Instead of meeting friends for drinks come up with some alternatives. Meet for coffee, play Tennis, try an escape room.

Remember the point is to have memories, you can’t do that if you blackout.

Weekend Power-Tip #4: The First Thing You Do In The Morning Will Set The Pace For The Entire Day

Start with hydrating. We, at Cut The Fat, use our water bottle as our tether to our future, healthy selves. When we break from our plan, we always embrace our water bottle, it forgives us, and we move on. 

Start every damn day with a healthy breakfast. Your first meal of the day will set the stage for the rest of the day. 

The first meal is a prediction of what’s to come for the rest of the day. 

Try some of these ideas: 

  1. Veggie frittata
  2. Apple cinnamon steel cut oats
  3. Poached eggs
  4. Avocado toast with turkey bacon.

Weekend Power-Tip #5: Eating Out Doesn't Mean You Need To Order Junk

Remember the basics when it comes to eating out. Fill your plate with loads of veggies, lean protein, and healthy fats. We call this eating with meal syntax.

On the weekends, you don’t have to eat perfect meals; you need to make the best choices you can at the moment.

Some days you’ll want to eat pizza, so, eat pizza! Enjoy yourself. Ask yourself, “what’s the healthiest version of pizza that I can order and still enjoy?”

Remember your goal, to finish your meal guilt and shame-free. When you determine your plan ahead of time and stick to the program, you achieve this goal.

If you say, “I’m going to order pizza and enjoy it with my family”, that’s a decision, and you should allow yourself to enjoy it. Finish your pizza meal with a smile on your face and leave the table free from shame.

Shame doesn’t come from eating something unhealthy; it comes from letting yourself down. When you tell yourself that you’re going to eat a salad and end up eating the pizza, that’s when shame rears its ugly head.

To make the best choices possible, look at the menu before you choose the restaurant. If somebody else made the dinner plans, look at the menu ahead of time. You’ll make better choices.

Weekend Power-Tip #6: Look for Lateral Shift Opportunities

A lateral shift is a food that satisfies your cravings in a healthier way than a portion of food you currently want or crave.

A lateral shift must deliver at least 80% of the satisfaction you would receive by eating the other food.

For example, if you want a chocolate sundae, it’s unlikely that you would feel satisfied by a bowl of apple slices. In this case, apples would be a vertical shift rather than a lateral shift.

A bowl of vanilla yogurt with dark chocolate chips could meet your needs and thus is a lateral shift.

A lateral shift for pizza might be a cauliflower crust pizza loaded with veggies. Portobello pizzas are also an excellent potential choice.

The litmus test is to finish the meal or food and say to yourself, “That was good! That was satisfying”.

Remember, lateral shifts are better, but rarely perfect alternatives. For example, shifting from regular soda to diet soda would not be perfect, but it would be better.

As you get healthier, you will make lateral shifts to lateral shifts. For example, as you get fitter, you might move from diet soda to sparkling water. You may even progress from sparkling water to plain water! Don’t force it; let it happen on its own time.

Weekend Power-Tip #7: Take advantage of weekend farmers' markets. Load up on local, fresh fruits and veggies.

Farmers’ markets usually happen on weekends. Shopping these markets solidifies your identity as someone who values health.

Shopping farmers’ markets can be fun, healthy, and get you out of the house. Try it out; you’ll dig it. A side benefit of heading out to markets is a natural increase in walking. In our article, “Walking For Weight Loss” we talk about the importance of walking, this goes double for weekends when you will normally eat more.

Weekend Power-Tip #8: Stop Obsessing...Enjoy Yourself!

Healthy things don’t have an excellent reputation for being fun things…

Look for opportunities for active fun. Get your friends and family involved in weekend activities. Prove that healthy can be fresh and fun.

My observation is that healthy people are often more fun than unhealthy people.

Here’s the bottom line…

You can spend your recovery time on a couch or swinging on a swingset. You can sit in a beach-chair (if you’re lucky enough to live near a beach) or you can go swimming or play Frisbee in the sand.

Look for opportunities to have fun IN MOTION.


Weekend Power-Tip #9: Use Some Weekend Time to Prepare for an Impressive and Healthy Week.

An hour or two on the weekend can buy DAYS of peace of mind during the week, especially if you stress over healthy food.

Hit the supermarket, prep a few days of meals, schedule your exercise for the week, and ready your gym bag.

Don’t spend your entire weekend in the kitchen, but use an hour or two in the weekend to ready your life for the week ahead.

Weekend Tip #10: Never End the Weekend Feeling Like a Screw-up...Here's How.

Everything we do, we do for one reason and one reason only, because it seemed like a good idea at the time.

Even when you make seemingly bad choices at the moment, it seemed like the right thing to do. Learn from it and move on.

Let go of the “I’ve already screwed up, so what’s the point” mentality.

If you enjoy a dessert or a few drinks out on a Friday or Saturday night, make sure you’re doing it because you CHOOSE it. Take responsibility for that choice and move on. We don’t want you stressing about making a choice and then feeling guilty about it.

If you do it, own it and move on.

One dessert or a couple drinks out with friends will NOT sabotage your entire week! Enjoy that time free from bad feelings and MOVE ON shame-free! Remember, we change best by feeling good, not by feeling bad.

Weekend Power-Tip #11: Channel Fit Person

For those of you who are new to Cut The Fat Podcast, Blythe is unapologetically health-minded. She has a reputation for bringing her salad dressing to restaurants. She is also “that person” who brings healthy food to cookouts.

Bringing junk food to a party is neither memorable, nor does it serve you. Like Blythe, become known for a particularly tasty, healthy meal. Bring a healthy option with you to get-togethers, one that is a lateral-shift as we discussed.

Weekend Tip #12: Beware of the Gateway Drug Called "Friday"

Don’t allow Friday to become a gateway to the weekend debauchery. Also watch out for “Almost Friday”, also known as Thursday.

Think, Balance/Counter Balance—Friday Fun to Saturday Success. Try not to string, debauchery days together.

I’m a realist; I get that there will be days when you will let loose and decide that it’s going to be a “dance on the table” night.

So be it…no judgement here, but don’t string debauchery-days together. Enjoy it and then back on plan.

Weekend Tip #13: Aim for Good, Not Perfect.

Weekend habits take time to change, focus on better weekends, not perfect weekends.

Life isn’t either perfect or total crap. You live life on a spectrum; you don’t have to choose between 0 or 10. Experience the full range, not just the extremes.

Just because it’s a weekend day doesn’t mean you need to choose unhealthy foods. If you eat a large salad for lunch each day of the work week, why not just ride that wave and do the same on Saturday?

Our goal here is to eat as healthy as we can on the weekend without feeling restricted. So, make good choices when you can. When you want to eat something less healthy, choose the top of the bottom of the barrel, enjoy it and move on.

Weekend Power-Tip #14: Keep Your Water Bottle Tethered to You EVERY DAMN DAY

It’s stupidly simple but so important. Water is the harness to your healthy self. Whenever you strategically retreat to your “less-than-healthy” ways, water brings you back. Whenever you wake up face down in an empty pizza box, water brings you back.

Think of it as cleansing the body and cleansing the soul. So you messed up, grab a 2 liter bottle of water and sip at it all day. Water helps the body to recover, and it acts as the cue to go back to the healthy way.

Don’t ignore this one; drink your water every damn day!

Weekend Power-Tip #15: Rationalizing is a weakling's weapon. Extreme responsibility is a warrior's weapon.

I have heard it all…

  • I’m too busy. 
  • I’m not busy enough. 
  • My husband keeps bringing home Kentucky Fried Chicken. 
  • My wife keeps bringing home Kentucky Fried Chicken. 
  • I travel too much for work. 
  • I’m stuck home all day from COVID. 

Trust me; it’s never-ending. There will also be something else to blame your eating or lack of exercise habits. 

Busyness, boredom, travel, work, the family don’t cause overindulging, over-imbibing, or slothfulness. Rationalizations are a convenient script we all use from time to time to let ourselves off the hook. 

Start asking yourself what’s REALLY going on…are you emotional? Are you sad? Are you stressed? You will start to notice a pattern of these behaviors, which is the first step in addressing them. Then say these words, “What will I do THIS time?” 

“I’m stressed; what will I do this time?”

“I’m bored; what will I do this time?” 

“Hubby brought home KFC; what will I do this time?” 

“Stuck home for another day due to COVID; what will I do THIS time?” 

Own it. Learn from it. Change it. Move on. 

You are responsible no matter what. That is all. 

Weekday Compensation Trumps Weekend Splurges

Going back to the research out of Cornell University on weekend weight gain, it appears that what you do Monday through Friday matters more than what happens on the weekend.

That’s not to say that you should let loose on weekends. The fact remains, most people have a fat-storing problem rather than a fat burning problem. In other words, as long as you don’t over store fat, you will be able to compensate through a healthy metabolism.

The more you do to store less on weekends, the faster and more effective your fat loss lifestyle will be.

In essence, you don’t need to be a drill sergeant on weekends; your mind and metabolism can compensate. As long as you wake up Monday morning and get right back on the horse, your healthy habits will win out. You can continue your weight loss journey and enjoy a net loss on the scale.

Your goal is to enjoy yourself on weekends in such a way that doesn’t lead to excess fat storage and get back to healthy habits as soon as possible.

You can enjoy your weekends and still lose weight. Now you have fifteen tools to do that!

Gain Weight On Weekends
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