Ah, the weekend. Such promise, such possibility… and usually, the point at which all our healthy eating goes right out of the window.
But let’s make something clear: there are no victims of circumstance when it comes to weekends… or holidays, or social events for that matter. We all have a choice, we just need to decide what’s most important to us.
If losing weight is our priority, we can choose to stick to our routines and try to make healthy food decisions as best we can.
But if being sociable is more important, we can also choose to enjoy life’s little moments in the full knowledge that it might take us longer to reach our health and fitness goals – and that’s OK too.
It’s the choice between taking the toll road direct to your destination or taking the scenic route.
So this is for those who are taking the scenic route. It’s for the people who are happy to relax the rules every now and again. It’s for the weekend warriors making a conscious decision to have a blowout. It’s for the party-goers tackling a food-focused social event, or anyone wondering how best to minimize the damage of a forthcoming holiday.
Check out these 5 simple tricks that could make all the difference:
Traffic light your social life
When your social life is lighting up, try introducing a traffic light system.
It doesn’t take long, but it’s super easy:
Red is for those events where indulging isn’t going to be important to you. This would work, say, for an office event you’re going to out of obligation, or a quick coffee with a friend. You’re still going to be sociable, but you’re consciously going to stick to a healthier way of eating because you’d rather ‘spend’ your calories elsewhere.
Amber means you’re happy to let your hair down a little, but there are limits. You’ll make healthy choices when you can, but you’re not going to turn something down if it’s offered to you. I use this one for when I visit my parents’ for dinner. I’ll eat (and enjoy) whatever they cook for me, but I’ll stop when I’m full, I won’t reach for seconds, and I’ll try and fill up on the healthy stuff first.
Green is a pass you can give yourself to enjoy yourself however you like, no holds barred and no regrets. Woohoo!
Why it works: By assigning a level of importance to social events or activities, you’re taking back control over when you indulge and when you hold back. You’re likely to consume far fewer calories at amber and red events than you would otherwise, which means you can enjoy your green events all the more. And because there’s inherent mindfulness in making these decisions beforehand, you may find you naturally make better decisions, even when you’re indulging.
Set some ‘non-negotiables’
If you’re determined that your weekends should be enjoyed to excess, try committing to at least 3 healthy ‘non-negotiable’ rules you will stick to, NO MATTER WHAT.
Here’s an example of my non-neogtiables (NNs) for this weekend:
NN 1: I will drink at least 2 liters of water every day
NN 2: I will exercise for at least one hour
NN 3: I will have a side of veggies or salad with at least 2 meals
As long as you stick to your NNs, you don’t have to feel restricted in any other area of your weekend.
Why it works: By setting some simple non-negotiable commitments, you’re giving yourself some very loose parameters that will help you to feel in control and stay mindful of what you’re doing, without feeling like you’re missing out.
And not only are you doing yourself a favor by upholding some healthy habits, you’re also automatically mitigating some of the worst of the excesses – if you’re drinking more water or eating veggies, you’re naturally limiting your intake of the less healthy stuff.
Never two in a row
This is a great tip for holidays when you want to indulge in your family’s food-based traditions, but you don’t want to write off the whole day to sitting in a food coma.
In practice, this just means sandwiching an unhealthy meal between two healthy ones (mmm… sandwich).
Having a boozy cookout to celebrate Fourth of July? Go nuts! Just be sure to start the day with a healthy breakfast, and make sure your next meal after the cookout is healthy too.
Testing the elastic on your pants with a monster brunch with friends this weekend? Excellent! Eat whatever you like, but make sure your evening meals either side are on plan and include plenty of lean protein and veggies.
It’s super simple. Just commit to following an unhealthy meal with a healthy one. And no lardy snacks in between.
Why it works: By deploying the ‘never two in a row’ rule, you get to enjoy an event or meal to the max, safe in the knowledge that you’ll be back on the wagon the very next time you eat. No guilt, no need to write off a whole day or weekend because of one unhealthy meal – just enjoy it and move on, as planned.
Beware of the booze
I’m going to keep this short because it’s pretty straightforward: Alcohol is a diet killer. It’s not just the calories in the booze itself, it’s also the subsequent food cravings and the effect it has on our capacity to make rational decisions. If you want to minimize the diet damage, try choosing a less calorific drink to stick to all night and keep drinking water throughout.
Why it works: Alcohol is loaded with sugar and calories, and it’s astonishingly easy to pile on weight just from booze alone. Being aware of your intake and making smarter choices puts you back in control.
Take a tip from the Four Hour Body
Why not take note of Tim Ferriss’ Four Hour Body cheat-day tips?
Your mileage may vary with this as it’s designed to be followed as part of the Slow-Carb Diet, but the principles are pretty sound:
His first recommendation is to start the day with a healthy breakfast high in protein and soluble fiber, like eggs and beans. It’s a smart move because it helps to curb appetite and reduce the number of ‘cheat’ meals you can consume.
Next, try to drink caffeine and citrus juice with each meal. They help to encourage gastric emptying, while also keeping your energy high.
Finally, try to squeeze in some exercise – Tim recommends a short set of kettlebells at the gym, but any workout should be fine.
And if you really want to go the whole hog, you can bust out some squats and wall presses for 60-90 seconds just before you eat, and do them again around 90 minutes after each meal.
Why it works: These tips might sound bizarre, but the idea is to get all the less-than-healthy food you consume to pass through you as quickly as possible. Of course, you need to be prepared to go back to healthy eating the next day – it’s not a fix for daily overeating.
If you’re working hard to lose weight, make sure you’re tracking your progress accurately – don’t give up because of bad information! Our guide to tracking weight loss gives you the tools to see a 360-degree view of your progress so you know exactly where you are.