How to Take a Cheat Weekend and Still Lose Weight

Manage Weekend Calories Properly to Lose Weight

weekend calories couple in bed
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Almost everyone is tempted to take a cheat weekend when they are trying to lose weight. Most of us are less scheduled and more relaxed on Saturday and Sunday. We are also more social on the weekend. Often, that means we eat want to more and exercise less.

If your goal is to maintain your weight, the additional weekend calories might not make a big difference.  If weight loss is your goal, a cheat weekend could cause problems.

But there are ways to make it work if you want to take the weekend off from your diet.

Is a Cheat Weekend Diet Plan Effective?

It's easy to eat more on Saturday and Sunday. You're home more often and near the refrigerator.  And you are more likely to visit a restaurant or indulge in mindless social eating on the days when you're not at work.

But the calories you eat on the weekends matter just as much as the calories that you eat during the week. In fact, if you choose not to exercise on the weekends, weekend calories could matter more. 

To lose weight at a moderate pace of 1-2 pounds per week, you need to adjust your energy balance to create a deficit of at least 3500 calories each week.  That means you should consume 500 fewer calories per day (every day), or consume 250 fewer calories per day and burn 250 extra calories with physical activity each day. 

If you adjust your energy balance perfectly Monday through Friday, then eat a little extra on the weekends you probably won't end the week with a calorie deficit high enough to lose weight—especially if you skip exercise.

  If you use Saturday and Sunday as cheat days and you overindulge, you could end up with a calorie surplus and gain weight. 

But if you manage your total weekly calories very carefully, you might be able to end up with a significant calorie deficit—one that allows a "buffer zone" so that you can enjoy a few extra calories on the weekend and still hit that 3500 calorie target deficit.

  However, it can be tricky to get the balance the calories correctly.

How to Use a Cheat Weekend and Still Lose Weight

There are eating plans that allow you to take the weekends off from your diet. The theory is that by allowing for occasional indulgences, you are more likely to stick to your healthy eating program over the long term. Sometimes that works.  Popular programs that incorporate a weekend cheat include:

  • Nutrisystem. This popular commercial diet plan has a Weekends My Way program that is popular for some dieters. The program (available for Costco customers) is a 28 day plan that includes three meals per day, snacks, and Turbo shakes for 20 days. Customers are instructed to cook or dine out on the weekends. However, you are expected to follow the Nutrisystem nutritional plan when you create meals at home or choose them in a restaurant. So, you get a break from pre-packaged diet food, but you aren't necessarily eating high calorie meals. You'll still have to choose healthy lean proteins (SmartFuels) and nutritious carbohydrates (SmartCarbs) when you eat. 
  • The 80/20 Plan. This do-it-yourself eating plan is another popular program that allows for cheat weekends.  But usually the 80/20 plan plans often work better for weight maintenance than weight loss. If slimming down is your goal, it's better to adopt a 90/10 plan to keep your weight loss program on track. That means you choose one day during the weekend to eat slightly more. Or if you really want to indulge, you choose one meal to enjoy fatty favorites and stick to your healthy eating plan for the rest of the weekend.
  • Intermittent Fasting. Certain carefully designed weight loss programs require that you fast on certain days of the weekend, then eat whatever you want on your "off" days. Usually, your fast days require that you consume a very low calorie diet—often a quarter of the calories that you typically consume. This might be 500-600 calories. Then you eat whatever you want on the other days. Most people choose to take weekend cheat days so that they can enjoy Saturday and Sunday eating without guilt. There are 5:2 plans (five cheat days, two fasting days), every-other-day plans, and 4:3 intermittent fasting plans that are popular.

    All of these plans can be successful because they allow you to create the energy deficit needed for weight loss. But again, managing calories carefully is key.

    Cheat Weekend Pitfalls

    Even though occasional weekend cheat days are reasonable, if you feel that you need them all the time, it might be a red flag. A healthy diet for weight loss should be an eating program that you find satisfying enough to stick to for life. If you find that you are still craving cheesecake, French fries, and a huge slice of chocolate cake every single weekend, then it might be a sign that your eating plan needs adjusting. 

    In addition, weekend cheat days are often an excuse to "white knuckle" through the week. In other words, you create a weekly calorie deficit by starving yourself during the week so that they you can binge on the weekends.  This feast or famine approach is likely to cause diet fatigue and you're probably not going to stick to it over the long term. 

    If you are serious about losing weight, then you need to be mindful of what you eat every day—even on cheat days. Ideally, the number of calories you eat on the weekends should be about the same as the number of calories you eat during the week.  The scale doesn't know the difference between a Saturday and a Monday so your diet shouldn't either. 

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