I can predict whether or not you will successfully lose weight by how quickly you can answer the following questions.
1) What are you going to have for breakfast every morning of the workweek?
2) What are you going to have for brunch every day of the workweek?
3) What are you going to have for lunch every day of the workweek?
4) What are you going to have for a mid-afternoon snack every day of the workweek?
5) What are you going to have for dinner every day of the workweek?
If you already know the answers to these questions as you read them, I can almost guarantee you will be lighter come Friday. Unfortunately, here is where your weight loss plan will hit the fan. Fact: most weight is gained during the weekend.
A recent study done at Washington University School of Medicine tracked people’s lives before and after trying to lose weight either through calorie restriction or exercise (not both – this is key as you’ll later realize). Prior to the intervention, these average Americans were actually losing a little bit of weight during the weekdays, but gaining it all back and then some over the weekends. The net weekly weight gain was a paltry 0.044 pounds per week (less than 1/20th of a pound), which equates to gaining 2.3 pounds per year. That does not seem like a lot, but such small weight gain sneaking up on you over the years is part of the reason why you tend to gain weight, not lose it, over time. It’s “under the radar” weight gain.
Now here is where it gets interesting. A year after everyone tried to lose weight using diet or exercise (again, not both), while both groups lost weight during the weekdays as expected, the dieters stopped losing weight on the weekends and the exercisers continued to gain weight on the weekends! In fact, the exercisers gained 33% more weight on the weekends than before they started exercising!
Now, don’t go thinking this study shows exercise leads to weight gain, or use this an excuse to skip exercise (it’s Sunday as of this writing, and I am heading to the gym in 10 minutes). By the end of the study, both groups did lose weight, just slower than expected. These are the lessons that can be learned from both types of weight loss interventions.
1) The calorie cutting group stopped losing weight on the weekends, but did a better job than the exercisers in no small part thanks to tracking their total calories. That means tracking your calories can help you avoid weight gain better than if you just exercised.
2) Meanwhile the exercisers on the weekends when faced with the choice between chicken and veggies or beer and pizza probably thought “Bring it on! After all, I’ll burn it off...” But clearly, that was not the case. That means on average, we are deluding ourselves when we justify overeating with the old “I’ll burn if off with exercise excuse.” If you and I are like the people in the study (hint: we are), we tend to mindlessly overeat more than we burn. That is, unless we write down everything we eat like the calorie cutters did.
So what does this all mean?
1) Write down what you eat, especially on the weekends when you are the most likely to gain weight.
2) Continue to plan your meals on the weekends. Your body does not know it’s the weekend and that it should not count that sundae you just ate.
3) Continue to exercise, but do not believe you will burn off any overindulgences with exercise, as you and I tend to overeat more than we burn off. See exercise first as a technique to build and maintain muscle mass as you lose fat and water only, and second as an additional way to burn calories. The latter is instead of subconsciously using exercise as a way to overeat and not pay for it, because as the study above showed, that backfired big time.
In other words, don’t be a weekend weight-gainer.
- Aaron Snyder
1) Racette SB, Weiss EP, Schechtman KB, Steger-May K, Villareal DT, Obert KA, Holloszy JO., “Influence of weekend lifestyle patterns on body weight.” Obesity (Silver Spring). 2008 Aug;16(8):1826-30. Epub 2008 Jun 12.PMID: 18551108 [PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]