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Avoiding the Weekend Spiral: Eat Healthy on Weekends

By Marc Perry / July 1, 2017

When I worked as an investment analyst in New York City, I maintained a healthy routine during the week. My daily eating routine looked something like this:

• At 6:30am as I skimmed the Wall Street Journal and checked emails on my Blackberry in a cab, I would call in my egg white omelet breakfast to the deli across the street from my office.

• I ate lunch at my desk because I had to keep an eye on my stock screens. While I had several restaurants and meals to choose from, I would always get a lean meat, some veggies, and a starch. Pretty simple.

• As long as I didn’t have a dinner with clients, or coworkers, I ordered in from the same few restaurants at night, keeping the food wholesome and my portions under control.

• I usually had some healthy mid-morning and mid-afternoon snacks as I tried desperately to avoid the allure of the office fridge, which was filled with tantalizing sugary sodas like Sunkist.

Overall, the weekdays went pretty well, despite my intense and stressful schedule because I had a routine. Having a routine allowed me to focus on limiting my portions and eating cleaner foods. But once Friday came around, my willpower quickly unraveled and I would let my guard down completely.

The spiral would start when my company ordered pizza for lunch on Friday. After promising myself I would only have one slice, I would invariably grab 3, or 4 more. I justified that, “Hey it’s ok, I had a tough week and I ate well. I deserve this”. Then I would grab that can of Sunkist from the fridge because eating so much food for lunch made me drowsy. The caffeine and sugary taste of the Sunkist helped kick me back into gear. Later that day around 6:00pm came happy hour with some friends, then dinner, then if I was feeling particularly ambitious, I would head to some bars. On Saturday, I would have a MASSIVE brunch around 11am, lounge around, and hit up the bars yet again that night.

So this was my “weekend spiral” that many busy people with demanding jobs experience to varying degrees. It seems like once the daily grind comes to a halt, any willpower we have can dissipate. I would like to hear your opinion, but for me the lack of structure during the weekends and my desire to use food as a reward and to relieve stress caused the spiral. In this way, I think the weekend spiral is deeply psychological and tied to the stress and intensity of the daily grind.

What should we do to avoid the weekend spiral and recalibrate our mindset?

Here are a handful of suggestions that may help you improve your eating on the weekends:

• Have 1-2 “cheat” meals each week. Maybe it’s ice cream Friday night, or an extra couple beers Saturday night. By choosing one, or two specific meals where you can enjoy yourself and splurge, you can avoid the spiral.

• Be “aware” of the tendency you have to eat poorly on the weekends. Awareness that you have developed unhealthy habits to reward yourself alone can be helpful.

• Find activities that you enjoy that replace the desire to eat a lot of unhealthy foods, or drink too much alcohol. Maybe it’s joining a sports team, a running club, getting more sleep (not really an activity, but helpful), or doing some community service. Stress and lack of sleep are a big driver of overeating, so adding some activities you enjoy can help reduce stress in your life. If you have challenges with stress, this article I wrote about my battle with stress may be helpful for you: My Battle With Stress.

• Make your hardest workout on Saturday, or Sunday. I always train my legs on Saturday, which is an absolutely brutal workout that I dread. But it helps keep me in line so I eat smarter on the weekends. Because my leg workout is so intense, I don’t want to negate all the effort with poor eating later that night, or during the weekend in general.

• You may consider weighing yourself on Monday Mornings as I describe in this article: Track Body Weight with Monday Morning Weigh-Ins. The accountability may help you stay in line during the weekend.

Please share the reasons why you may get caught in this weekend spiral, or any strategies you’ve used to avoid it.

I hope these tips were helpful for you!


  • Mike says:

    drinking and eating with friends has been the hardest part of getting healthy for me, both have become our national past time and avoiding them is tough. I avoid certain friends around happy hour just to make sure my time spent in the gym isn't wasted by one drink turning into a 3000 calorie night

  • Mary says:

    Once you get into the habit of choosing clean foods during the week, it becomes a habit you can carry over to the weekend. The key is to make sure you have plenty of clean foods at home prior to the weekend. If you don't, you will end up grabbing what ever is around. What is worse, you may end up at the bagel shop or pick up a bakery item because it is easy and quick.

  • sara says:

    great insight. i think most of us agree with this. we do end up eating n drinking at the end of the week and the hours spent to burn calories go into the drains...

  • Hank says:

    To me the hardest part of watching what I eat is grazing. At my main meals breakfast lunch and dinner I usually eat reasonably. However, at night I feel like a vulture and will unfortunately eat anything. It becomes important to provide for yourself healthy snacks and keep up a good supply (difficult).

  • Mario Wilson says:

    great article! Being prepared is one of the best ways i've found to having a healthy weekend. If you have healthy food at your fingertips, you will snack on that. If you have junk around, you will eat that as well. Clear out the junk! Great tip on saving the brutal workouts for the weekend.

    • Marc Perry, CSCS, CPT says:

      Thanks Mario, appreciate the comment!