How to Stick to Your Diet on the Weekend

Are you someone who struggles with sticking to your diet on the weekends?

You know the routine:

Monday morning you spring out of bed motivated to crush your fat loss goal. You can’t wait to get to the gym for “International Chest Day” after work; the bench press is your favorite exercise. Broccoli and chicken prepared in six tupperware containers? You’ve got this!

Tuesday is Monday’s best friend. Motivation is still going strong and sticking to veggies and chicken six meals a day is no problem. You’re only six weeks away from that cruise now, so it’s time to buckle down and get serious.

Wednesday you notice motivation is starting to decline a bit. Chicken, egg whites, and more veggies? Maybe you’ll have beef or salmon this evening to spice things up. Workout motivation is still there, but you skip the 30 minutes of cardio because you forgot your headphones.

Thursday rolls around and there is no way you can stomach chicken or egg whites again. You think about making the switch to lean turkey, but you remember it has the same flavor and consistency as a wet sock. You’ve been good all week, so grabbing a burger with your co-workers at lunch won’t do any harm. Plus, you have legs to train that evening and you’ll need those extra calories, right?

Here comes Friday. It’s almost the weekend now! You’ve been doing awesome with your diet this week. Your boss brings donuts for your morning meeting, so you reward yourself with one. You did train legs last night after all. And you’ll probably need those extra carbohydrates for more glorious gains.

On your way home from work, your friend calls and invites you to happy hour. It’s been a long, stressful week and you could use a little downtime with friends, so why the hell not?! You’ll only have one beer and then head home.

One drink turns into two. Two drinks turns into four. Four drinks turns into eight and suddenly it’s Saturday morning and you’re laying in a bed of Taco Bell wrappers with a pounding headache. You skip your scheduled workout that day to nurse your lingering hangover; it’s the perfect time to binge watch “The Walking Dead”.

At this point you’ve already blown your diet; you may as well order a pizza now. Besides, greasy food cures a hangover, right? You can always do more cardio tomorrow.

Sunday’s up next, but it’s not just any Sunday — it’s NFL playoffs Sunday.

You hit the gym that morning before the big game, but the workout is a struggle — you’re feeling like Mickey Rourke’s face in “The Wrestler,” so it’s obvious you haven’t had enough time to recover from the alcohol. The older you get, the longer it seems to take.

Because it’s the playoffs, you head over to your friend’s house to eat wings, throw back a few beers, and watch the game. To hell with the diet — you’ve already gone completely off the rails at this point; you’ll get back on the bandwagon tomorrow.

And then Sunday evening sets in. And so does the guilt. Shame. And self-loathing.

But then you start bullshitting yourself.

You’re filled with justifications as to why you didn’t get it done — work stress, no time for grocery shopping, didn’t want to be the weirdo among your friends.

But you can only lie to yourself for so long before the truth slaps you upside the head and you’re forced to deal with the overwhelming thoughts of starting over again.

Ugh. Gross.

Sound familiar? Yeah, me too.

I rode this crazy merry-go-round for a decade before I finally got honest with myself — really honest — that, despite my best efforts, I wasn’t going to be able to white-knuckle my way into the physique I’d always wanted.

I tried the all-or-nothing approach for years. And failed for years. Over and over again, but what else was I going to do? I’m not a quitter.

I was desperate to figure this shit out, so I threw my hands up in the air, said “Fuck it!” I’m just going to eat what I want when I want. I don’t care if I gain 20lbs anymore, it has to better than feeling like this.

I didn’t know what I was going to do; there was no plan. I just knew I couldn’t keep going on like this and something had to change.

It was beyond frustrating.

How could I be kicking ass everywhere else in my life, but incapable of maintaining any level of self-control around food?

There had to be another way. And I was determined to find it.

But in order to do that, I had to dig deep and take an honest, uncomfortable look at myself and figure out why I was using a food as a crutch in the first place.

Ew, feelings. Gross.

Photography by Ryan McGuire
Photography by Ryan McGuire

A few things that I learned that will help you, too:

PERFECTION IS A TRAP

Prospective clients often ask me to create them a detailed meal plan with a list of foods that are on the “naughty list.” They want me to slap the cookie out of their hand.

But I nope that request every single time.

Why?

Because perfection is a trap.

There’s no such thing as the perfect diet. And a diet is only as good as the individual who is following it — and last I checked, no one is perfect. The nutrition strategy that’s best for you is the one that you can stick to consistently. And that’s going to be different for everyone.

Attaching moral judgement to food choices by labeling them “good” or “bad” has a tendency to impact how we feel about ourselves when we consume them.

You are not a “bad” person because you had a piece of cake at your cousin’s wedding. It’s just food. You have a lot more to offer the world than a number on a scale or a waist measurement. You bring value into people’s lives by being a good friend, sibling, and co-worker; don’t allow velvet cake with cream cheese to diminish your self-worth.

Telling ourselves that we can’t eat certain foods breeds obsessive behavior that has potential to flourish into a full blown eating disorder.

I may not have wanted that slice of pizza, but as soon as you tell me I can’t have it, I’m suddenly willing to do illogical and horrible things just to cure the craving — like running a marathon.

Restricting ourselves from certain foods will only serve to perpetuate the problem. What you resist, persists.

In a healthy relationship with food, there is room for ALL foods.

So, perhaps instead of villainizing sugar, fat, carbs, gluten or whatever this month’s trend is, try to aim for “good enough.”

As I often reiterate to my clients, the goal is practice, not perfection.

Photography by Ryan McGuire
Photography by Ryan McGuire

FOOD RULES

Anytime we avoid certain foods, we’re not only perpetuating the all-or-nothing approach to eating, but we’re also putting these off-limits foods on some kind of pedestal where they continue to breed fear inside us.

On it’s face, being afraid of food is kind of ridiculous, dont’cha think? But, so many of us have the belief that we can’t have certain foods in the house because we can’t trust ourselves with it.

When we create strict food rules for ourselves by altering our behavior around certain foods, we are reinforcing the power that food has over us.

The solution is to treat all foods the same. (No more food shaming?)

Instead of putting them up on that scary pedestal, try normalizing them.

We can do this by removing their labels and confronting the situation head on through exposure. You might overindulge a little at first, but over time you will eventually stop wanting to eat everydamnthing that isn’t nailed down.

And then practice mental awareness. Expose yourself to certain foods and then observe your behavior. Stay aware.

Are you full?

Are you hungry?

Are you satisfied?

And then practice abundance (you can always have more later).

When nothing is ever off-limits, the urgency of needing to eat everything RIGHT NOW subsides.

This takes time. And a ton of practice. Learn to be fine with never being perfect again. Because you wont be, and it’s learning to be okay with that that will help you succeed long-term.

CHEAT DAYS ARE BULLSHIT

Similar to perfection and dieting rules, cheat days also have the ability to sabotage your physique goals.

Like a kid on Christmas morning, you’ve been anxiously anticipating this moment for the entire week. It is, without a doubt, the stuff dreams are made of.

There will be Netflix binge-watching, and there will also be BBQ ribs, fries, potato salad, and homemade chocolate chip cookies. And of course, who could forget — your favorite seasonal beer.

And then as the day continues to press on, you realize you’ve only got a few more hours left, so you had better fill up another plate, because tomorrow is Monday and you’ll be back on that chicken and broccoli grind for the next six days.

Sure, some folks can get away with the weekly cheat day and keep their caloric intake within a healthy range, but it can be a slippery soap for most.

if you’re feeling deprived from your favorite foods, then this is your big chance to show champion hot-dog eater, Jimmy Chestnut, that he’s not the only one who can consume 10,000 calories in a sitting.

From what I’ve witnessed in fourteen years of working with clients, the vast majority of individuals who are dieting and utilize the cheat day approach very seldom achieve their fat loss goal. Even if they go into the day with the intent of only having one “cheat meal,” it often turns into a massive binge that persists into the late evening hours. Similar to the Pringles slogan, “Once you pop, you can’t stop!”

More self-loathing. Frustration. Guilt. Shame.

Instead, try spreading these less physique-friendly foods throughout the week so you’re not feeling so deprived. When we know we can have access to all foods all of the time, it removes their power. We don’t need to eat all of it in one sitting, because we know it will be available to us tomorrow, too.

Photography by Ryan McGuire
Photography by Ryan McGuire

BE KIND TO YOURSELF

Okay, I know what you’re thinking — more ‘woo, woo’ type-shit about self-love and living an abundant life, right? Yeah, I know. That subtitle would probably be my cue to hit the exit button, too.

Just hear me out for a second, though. Because if you’ve already tried everything, then this might be the missing piece to the puzzle.

And the truth is, this self-acceptance, body image stuff is hard — it may even be why you’re dieting in the first place, so let’s not be so quick to write it off.

Dieting doesn’t come without its challenges, but beating ourselves up for not being able to get our eating habits under control is not the answer. And neither is overexercising and adding more cardio to punish ourselves, by the way.

Exercise should be fun, not a form of punishment.

I know it sucks when we’re stuck in the vortex of self-sabotage. Particularly when we know better…but our relationship with food is often complicated, messy, and riddled with those icky things called emotions.

So, why is this so damn hard? And why can’t we do better?

Well, it starts with self-acceptance and taking ownership for our actions. You’re not going to get it right every time. And that’s okay. You’re doing the best can. And that’s good enough.

As long as you continue to persevere, it will get easier.

But you can’t give up. No matter what. If you ate everything in the kitchen, forget about it; it’s done. Now it’s time to roll up your sleeves, focus on what you can control, recommit, and get back to work. You always have your next meal to get it right.

But first, forgiveness. And forgiveness starts with self-compassion.

Allow yourself to be human.

Speak kindly to yourself and realize that there’s a pretty big asshole taking up residence inside your head and that jerk shouldn’t be allowed to bully your body. Would you let that voice talk to your friend that way? Then why do you put up with it when it comes to yourself?

As soon as you begin to embrace the understanding that there is more to you than calorie and carb counting, then the madness will come into focus and you’ll realize that you were the source of your happiness all along.

When food and exercise are no longer the stars of the show in your highlight reel, you will drop the obsessive behavior and realize your self-worth is not measured by how “good” you did or didn’t do on your diet that day.

Create meaning in other areas of your life.

Maybe you’ve always wanted to take an art class, learn another language, or how to play the guitar? Whatever it is that interests you, give it a try. It could be your new passion. For me, it was taking my first jiu jitsu class at 36. Who would’ve thought choking people could be so much fun?

Learn to trust yourself.

You don’t have to white-knuckle your way through fat loss. You can have your cake and eat it too while still making excellent progress on your physique goals. Just aim to eat mostly healthy foods most of the time.

It really is that simple. Practice, not perfection.

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