You know the story: you're on track from Monday to Friday, hitting the gym and eating healthily, but come the weekend you, well, fall off the wagon a bit.... it has us all pondering "How much damage can I do on the weekend?" .
And it's pretty hard to think about our goals when a G&T dangles before us!
So how damaging is it for your body, health and mind to be a saint all week and a full-blown sinner at the weekend? Well, it really depends on what kind of results you're looking for and just how bad you are on these days off...
How Much Damage Can I Do At The Weekend After Being Healthy All Week?
Does it actually make a difference to your weight?
For most of us, the odd treat here and there at the weekend isn't going to do too much damage. A study conducted by the VTT Technical Research Center of Finland suggested that small weight gains during the weekend and can be rectified during the other 5 days of healthy eating.
The study looked into adults and their weight fluctuations before and after weekends - they all peaked in weight on Sundays and Mondays, but a third of the participants were still able to lose 3% of their body weight.
Hmmm, seems to suggest that all is not lost and people are able to rectify weekend weight gain during the working week.
Ok so what about my health in general?
Another aspect of weekend eating to consider is whether eating more flexibly can actually benefit you and your health. Individuals following a calorie controlled diet during the week often will indulge in a "treat" or "cheat" meal during the weekend. But those 'treats' can easily spiral out of control once you get that sweet taste of the forbidden fruit (or more probably, the forbidden fats and sugars).
Any eating patterns you adopt should be long term and sustainable, and will incorporate all sorts of food groups - including treats!
"We can eat all the treats??!" we hear you cry!
Hold up. Not quite.
If you cut certain foods out permanently (especially your faves), invariably you will end up craving them and will likely slip up and binge further down the line. And besides, the odd doughnut, burger or pizza is good for the soul - right?
Plus, these cheeky bites can even help boost your boost metabolism!
Fat cells give off a hormone called Leptin which is the stuff that tells our brain that our energy stores are full and it's time to STEP AWAY FROM THE DINNER PLATE. However if we cut down on our food intake for a prolonged period of time, this can lead to a decline in these Leptin levels. So treat meals can help keep your leptin levels from falling too low, especially if they contain lots of carbs (hello, pizza!).
All sounds good - so all treats have some form of benefit to my body?
If your treat meal contains booze, then sadly, this is where the benefits end. Whilst a good dose of carbs can increase leptin production, alcohol has the complete opposite effect, which could hamper your progress.
But what happens if I get carried away on a whole weekend binge?
It’s important to note that when we talk about relaxing your diet at the weekend, we are talking about keeping treats in moderation. NOT a full-blown, all-you-can-eat three day feast.
Studies have found that the repeated cycle of eating healthily in the week and bingeing on junk food every weekend can be very damaging to your gut health – specifically your gut microbiota. These microbial cells that live in the human gut influence metabolism, nutrition, immune function, and have also been linked to obesity.
Get the nitty gritty of how a diet of two extremes can affect your health:
A study carried out on rats compared the microbiota of:
- Those given continuous access to a healthy diet.
- Those given continuous access to a junk food diet.
- Those given a varied diet (health for 4 days a week, junk food for 3 days a week).
Not noly did the rats on the varied diet gain more weight than those on a healthy diet, the profile of their gut biota also showed similarities to the rats that only ate junk food - the damage to gut biota was the same regardless of how healthy the rats were consecutively.
THUS suggesting that bingeing at the weekend really does undo all your healthy habits in the week.
The majority of the evidence seems to suggest that the odd treat won't do an irreversible amount of damage to your good work in the week. But if you consistently and continuously follow a pattern of extremes (healthy weeks followed by boozy, binging weekends) then your health will not benefit. If anything, this will pause any progress or even set you back a few steps from hitting your goals.
The most successful changes that you can make to your lifestyle are those that are sustainable and that you can sustain. When it comes to a weekend treat, moderation and common sense is key.
Life is made to be enjoyed so never deprive yourself, but also never fool yourself into thinking a heavy binge sesh will speed your metabolism! Allow yourself some treats, have a lie-in, let your hair down a little, but then get back on track. Keep your eye on the goal!