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Diets through history
February 6th, 2014
11:24 AM ET

Relax, weekend weight gain won't kill your diet

You've been eating well all week: oatmeal for breakfast, a salad for lunch and grilled chicken with vegetables for dinner. Then the weekend hits. Suddenly your taste buds want French fries at the bar and Mom's cheesy lasagna is calling your name during Sunday dinner.

Not to worry. A new study suggests small weight gains on weekends are normal, and as long as you can compensate during the week, indulging a bit may even help you lose weight long-term.

“There is a clear weekly rhythm to weight variation for most people,” says one of the study authors, Anna-Leena Orsama, a research scientist with VTT Technical Research Center of Finland. “On the weekends there is more variability and unpredictability in what we eat.”

The study, “Weight Rhythms: Weight Increases during Weekends and Decreases during Weekdays,” was published this week in the journal Obesity Facts.

The study

Researchers analyzed data from 80 adults, ranging in age from 25 to 62 years old, who recorded their weight each day after waking up.

The participants were grouped according to their weight changes over the study period: weight losers who lost at least 3% of their body weight; weight gainers who put on at least 1%; and weight maintainers who stayed in between those minimums.

The results

All three groups, the losers, gainers and maintainers, recorded higher weights on Sundays and Mondays than other days of the week. But those who successfully lost weight had lower weights during the week, with their lowest generally recorded on Friday.

This shows they managed to compensate for the weekend gain during the work week, researchers say.

Limitations

The sample size for this study was relatively small. Only 10 people were in the gain group; only 18 were in the loss group. The data was also all self-reported, meaning the study participants could have made a mistake or purposefully altered their recorded weights.

Also important to note is that the researchers are talking about slight caloric increases. This is not a free pass to eat your weight in cookie dough.

The takeaway

Long-term habits may make more of a difference than short-term splurges, the study authors say. And a flexible eating pattern - i.e., allowing yourself that brownie or beer on Friday night - may help you sustain overall healthy eating habits over time. Weight loss success depends primarily on your ability to compensate for those splurges on other days of the week.

“The big difference between those who gain weight over time and those who lose or maintain weight is directly related to the way they eat from Monday to Friday," said Cornell University behavioral economist Brian Wansink, one of the study authors.

"Some indulging during weekends makes no harm but for successful weight loss it is important to notice these rhythms and take steps to reverse the upward trends."


soundoff (25 Responses)
  1. kzooresident

    I always hated the Monday weigh-in & eventually just quit doing it. Glad to know I'm not the only one.

    February 6, 2014 at 12:31 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Ally

    Not a big shock. That's exactly how Weight Watchers operates. It's not about eating nothing but carrot and celery sticks everyday. It's about indulging where you choose and adjusting the other days/meals as needed to continue a slow weight loss.

    Want a slice of cake and a glass of wine at your friend's birthday party? Fine. Just eat lower calorie meals before and after. The more food you can eat and still slowly lose weight or maintain the more likely you are to make it a lifestyle change and not binge.

    February 6, 2014 at 12:37 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. orionstyles

    No mention of Tae bo?
    !

    February 6, 2014 at 12:48 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. ralph jenkins

    so you're telling me a long-term lifestyle change is better than a short term diet blitz for overall health and well being?

    Ya Don't Say???????????? Groundbreaking!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    February 6, 2014 at 13:13 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Joey

    Oh god, I don't know why the mainstream media continues to feed ignorance when it comes to food and weight. It's physiologically IMPOSSIBLE to gain OR lose noticeable weight over a period of a few days by losing fat or muscle mass unless you're burning thousands of calories per day more than you're eating. The weight that fluctuates has to do with WATER WEIGHT, and our bodies retain more water the more carbs and sodium we ingest. So yes, if you're indulging on more unhealthy foods over the weekend, your body's going to store more water weight and you could gain several pounds. This doesn't mean you suddenly packed on 3-6 pounds of fat! Jesus Christ people are so ignorant in 2014.

    February 6, 2014 at 13:30 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Anne

      Calm down, psycho.

      February 6, 2014 at 16:32 | Report abuse |
    • Zena

      Nonsense! It has nothing to do with water and everything to do with what's still in my colon from my weekend eating binge, which is why I weigh less on Tuesday. Or don't you ever have a BM? Fastest way to lose weight is to take a laxative–every flight attendant knows that!

      February 6, 2014 at 16:58 | Report abuse |
    • Chris

      Yeah, take a chill pill. (Unless they make you retain water.)

      February 8, 2014 at 01:40 | Report abuse |
    • Murray

      Sorry Joey, it is possible to gain a few pounds over the weekend. On Friday I weigh 165-166 lbs then on Monday I will weigh 168-169 lbs. This has been a pattern for years.

      February 8, 2014 at 21:28 | Report abuse |
    • Get a grip

      Nobody said that, so take a breath before you have a stroke, Joey.

      February 9, 2014 at 11:35 | Report abuse |
  6. matt

    Not news to me! I lost 30 lbs and am down to my goal weight by eating a low card diet on weekdays and having pretty much anything I want on weekends – without exercise.

    February 6, 2014 at 13:52 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Brad

    Huzzah! Beer's on me Saturday!

    February 6, 2014 at 14:00 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. mickinmd

    I've lost 61 lbs in 15 months and once or twice a week I'll have a restaurant meal or carryout food: Chinese or a double footlong hotdog with chili or a gyro platter or a meal plus chili from Wendys or a pizza, etc.

    The MAIN thing is to limit the Calories of my breakfast and lunch to just as much as I need to NOT snack until after dinner – and drinking a lot of water is healthy and helps. I then – when not cheating – limit my total to the amount computed by the calculators at places like sparkpeople.com or myfitnesspal.com, 2000 Cal/day in my case.

    February 6, 2014 at 14:18 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. Brewerfan

    This is true. I eat well and exercise during the week, then eat the stuff I crave on the weekends, and I've lost over 30 pounds since Jan of 2013.

    February 6, 2014 at 14:26 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Jon Novak

    The reason an increased caloric count on the weekend does not negatively effect an otherwise healthy weekday diet, is because it boosts your metabolism. Your body is reminded that it you are living a "life of plenty", and as a result it is comfortable burning calories and doesn't try to hold onto fat. This is also why a sustained low calorie diet can have a boomerang effect and cause you to gain all your weight back... and then some.

    February 6, 2014 at 14:30 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. jujubeans

    I vote for picture number 9. Jane had great gams. No wonder Ted Turner nabbed her up (until she got old).

    February 6, 2014 at 15:05 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. Rob

    Some of you "expert" commenters don't know what you are talking about. For the overwhelming majority of people, it's just simple math. Everyone has a different caloric tipping point, based on their age, level of physical activity, etc. You will either gain or lose weight based on how much you stray from this number, plus or minus. Energy burned vs. energy consumed. This article basically illustrated that if you spend Monday thru Friday on the minus side of your tipping point, it won't de-rail you if you spend a "little" weekend time on the plus side. You can't cut 1000 calories during the week and then eat an extra 5000 on the weekend without gaining weight.

    February 6, 2014 at 15:29 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. Tyrone Biggums

    This is how I handle my weight loss. I eat light Sun through Thurs. Then I pretty much eat whatever I want on Friday and Saturday (within reason). It works well for me and I don't feel deprived at all. Of course, I add exercise in 3-5 days a week.

    February 6, 2014 at 17:05 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. Bill

    I lost 120 pounds a few years ago. The alimony is killing me but I've never felt better

    February 6, 2014 at 17:09 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. BritHawk

    The needed a study to find this out! What idiots.

    February 6, 2014 at 20:45 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. Fennis

    I feel like this is somewhat misleading. What difference does it make if you indulge a little more on a weekend or week day? Really, there are no secrets to weight loss. It takes some work and dedication to maintain a healthy weight. It will never happen with some magical pill, miracle diet, or short term purge. That is a huge problem with so many people in this country, they want to lose weight without putting in the effort.

    Weight loss (or maintenance) is rather simple. It is difference for every single person, its dependent on your metabolism, what you eat, and what you choose to consume. My wife and I went on a diet around the same time last spring. I lost about 30 pounds in 6 weeks, mostly because I cut out soda, junk food snacks, and stopped eating a snack at night an hour before I went to bed. I also picked up running, and ran 3-5 miles 5 days a week. By the end of the summer I lost nearly 50 pounds. My wife on the other hand tried doing the same thing I did, she lost a little weight, but not much. Then she joined an exercise group that worked on all different muscle groups introducing her to many different routines, and then she lost 30 pounds in a very short period of time. Yet during all of that, neither of us gave up the foods we love, we just ate them in smaller portions. Instead of cooking up 2 chicken breasts for dinner, we would split 1. Instead of loads of rice filled with butter and other junk we would cook brown rice and season it with just a little pepper, and only eat a single serving or about 1/2 cup. We both gave up sugary juices and soda and just turned to water.

    Dieting isn't fun. We all wish we could eat like we were 7 years old again, but as we get older, its time to move away from all the junk food and sugar filled drinks. I still eat fried foods, pizza, hamburgers, or whatever else I want, but its in moderation. Once every two weeks or so at the most. I exercise 5-6 days a week, not insane hour long workouts, but in the winter its 25 minutes on the elliptical and in warmer months its a 3-5 mile run. Its a whole 30 minutes, we can all come up with 30 minutes in our day to help ourselves live a better life. But I also don't save up my big calorie meals until a Saturday or Sunday. That is a recipe for failure and weight gain. Eat what you want, whenever you want. But saving your cravings for a certain day of the week will just lead to overindulging and then you are always going to be working to burn off what you over ate in a day or two. This article/study is really poor advice for people struggling to lose or maintain their weight.

    February 7, 2014 at 09:04 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. David Smith

    did the HCG Diet at Official HCG Store and lost 45lbs in 40 days at https://officialhcgstore.com

    February 7, 2014 at 12:26 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. Did cavemen have weekends?

    This study is pure, unadulterated hokum.

    February 8, 2014 at 15:01 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Yes

      Yes. They did. Next question, doofus.

      February 9, 2014 at 11:34 | Report abuse |
  19. MHubbard

    Personally, I can't "starve" for 5 days. Could not do it when I was 16, cannot do it now. No way could I eat what I want 2 days a week and lose anything.
    The only way to lose weight and keep it off, I found, is to be a little hungry basically all the time.
    That is the real reason why almost no one is ever successful.

    February 8, 2014 at 18:28 | Report abuse | Reply

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