Back when I was (unknowingly) being really restrictive around food, one of the things I would do is save up “splurges” for the weekend. In my mind, this seemed like a totally healthy way to eat all the foods I loved, while still feeling (key word: feeling) like I was in control of my eating and my body.
As you can imagine, that didn’t work out so hot. Because my weekends were essentially a giant “cheat meal,” I used them as a way to overeat the foods I restricted over the week. I was really disconnected from what foods I enjoyed and how food made me feel, since I was making food choices from either a place of restriction (what I was “allowed” to eat during the week) or an impulsive backlash to that restriction. My IBS symptoms were the worse they’ve ever been because my eating was so chaotic. Basically, I felt like shit on the weekends because my stomach was an overfull combination of beer, cheese, and bread, and I felt like shit on weekdays because, well, I was hungry.
Sound familiar? I hear a lot of concerns about weekend eating, even from people who are further along on their intuitive eating journey. It’s a really common thing, not least of which because it’s totally normal for weekend eating to look a little different from weekday eating. Schedules are usually a little less structured on the weekend, with more travel and going out to eat, so it makes sense that the types of foods and quantities might look a little different. Also, for many there’s often alcohol involved - we’ll get to that!
Where this very natural and understandable difference in weekday vs weekend eating becomes an issue is when the guilt/shame over weekend eating leads to intentional restriction the next week. It’s that diet pendulum swinging back and forth, the restriction leading to next weekends binge, and then the cycle starts all over again. We put a lot of energy trying to stop or compensate for perceived overeating, when in reality it’s the restriction that’s causing it.
Also, as I’m talking about binges in this article, I want to point out that the word binge gets thrown around a lot. A lot of times I hear clients tell me about a binge, and when we talk about it, like, they’ve had a cookie. A binge is characterized by eating a significant amount of food in a discrete period of time until one feels uncomfortably full, and it’s accompanied by a sense of lack of control, and significant shame afterward. A diagnosis of binge eating disorder may be made if someone experiences a binge on average, once a week for at least 3 months. It’s possible to experience binge eating without having a diagnosis of binge eating disorder, as it’s also possible to eat until uncomfortably full without it being a binge. Regardless, I think all of the advice in this article will be helpful no matter where you fall.
How to Stop Binging on the Weekend
Stop starting all over Monday.
The first step it to stop trying to compensate for last weekend. When Monday rolls around, sure, it may be helpful to have some kind of plan in place for how you’ll feed yourself the next week, but that plan should not be rooted in trying to undo what you ate over the weekend (or saving up for the next). Here’s an article I wrote about meal planning in intuitive eating for more tips on what that might look like.
Do weekend activities on a weekday.
Although I suppose this depends on what your weekend activities are. Guessing your employer doesn’t want you rolling up 2 hours late and hungover - and probably won’t accept “but I was trying to make peace with food!” as an excuse. If it’s possible, try to do some weekend activities during the week, like going out to eat or having a get together with friends, so you can get some practice outside of the weekend, and to help break their association with the weekend.
Incorporate “weekend foods” during the week.
If you’re binging on the weekends, chances are there are some foods you’re not letting yourself eat during the week. What are the foods you find yourself binging on over the weekend? Try to intentionally incorporate these foods during the week. To help normalize them, plan them in as part of a typical meal. For example, try a baggie of cookies packed alongside your usual lunch salad, fries as your carb source at dinner along with salmon and roasted veggies, or snack on cheese crackers and almonds as a planned afternoon snack. It might feel scary, like you’ll be eating twice as much of these foods, but by planning them in during the week you’re reducing the likelihood of binging on the weekend, and probably eating them in a way that’s a lot more enjoyable.
Don’t forget to eat breakfast…
Sleeping in later on the weekend, it’s really easy to skip breakfast. Try to eat something within about an hour of getting out of bed, whether it’s breakfast, brunch, or lunch.
… And then continue to feed your body consistently throughout the day.
With unstructured weekends, you might find yourself going too long without eating. It doesn’t matter if under-eating is intentional or unintentional, an underfed body can trigger a binge. Meal/snack times may not fall at the same times they do during the week, but do try to eat something about every 3-4 hours, whether it’s a meal or a snack.
Have a way to decompress after work on Friday.
Food can be a way to relax, and that’s OK! But it’s also nice to have other tools in your self care toolbox. Try scheduling a Friday night yoga class, a post-work glass of wine with a friend, or take the dogs to the park.
Plan to have food available on the weekend.
Do you run out of meal and snack food by the weekend? For those who do any kind of meal planning, I find there’s a tendency to plan for the week without thinking about the weekend. That’s not to stay you need to meticulously plan out meals for the weekend (or during the week, for that matter). But it is helpful to make sure you have some foods available at home, even if it’s just leftovers, frozen meals or ingredients for a pantry meal.
Consider how alcohol plays a role in weekend eating. I think it’s important to note that while alcohol lowers inhibitions, if all foods were available to you all the time, you probably wouldn’t be binging when you are drunk or buzzed. If you find yourself consistently binging when you drink, that means there’s likely some level of restriction going on when you’re sober. That said, 3 am drunk pizza isn’t necessarily because of restriction, because pizza at 3 am drunk pizza is also delicious - and if it’s 3 am, you’re probably pretty hungry too. And when you’re drunk, you’re probably not all that in touch with fullness cues, so it’s easy to eat past fullness.
Another thing to be really honest with yourself about is whether you’re using alcohol as an excuse to binge. Are you intentionally drinking more to give yourself an “excuse” to eat the foods you wouldn’t normally allow yourself to eat?
Also, be aware of how alcohol affects you the next day. Alcohol decreases ghrelin, a hunger hormone, so you may undereat and wake up the next morning feeling pretty hungry. It also causes your blood sugar to drop the next day, hence the morning after starchy carb cravings. This explains why me and my college roomies were at Hardee’s almost every Saturday morning. This is totally normal, and in the absence of fatphobia, can be an enjoyable and satisfying eating experience!
If you’re working with a dietitian or therapist, this may be helpful to talk through and come up with a plan for how to handle drinking, but here’s a few tips that may be helpful. First, slowing down with alcohol is always a good idea, regardless of it’s effects on eating. Try sipping more slowly, lower alcohol drinks, or alternating with water. Be sure to eat a substantial meal or snack before drinking, as drinking on an empty stomach can be bad new bears. You might even want to throw a bar or something to snack on in your bag.
Give yourself a big dose of compassion.
So, you ate in a way that you don’t feel so awesome about. It’s OK! Remember, weekends can be tricky with navigating food and eating. One day (or weekend!) of eating is not going to make or break your health. Imagine someone else ate the same food/amount that you did - does it still feel concerning, or are you being hard on yourself? If you did make a mistake with eating, remember mistakes are also a great opportunity for learning! Can you identify any restriction or other factors that led up to the binge? What could you do differently the next time? Might I put in a nudge for giving yourself more freedom around food during the week?
If you’ve struggled with binge eating on the weekends, I would love to hear your thoughts! Does any of this ring true to you?
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