I blame the Americans…
Don’t shout at me – I don’t really.
The first ever recorded 5 day work-week was in the US, New England in a cotton Mill. Shortly after, Henry Ford starting shutting his factories for all of Saturday and Sunday.
It didn’t take long for 2 day weekends to catch on.
In principle, it’s a nice idea and many people live for the weekend. For the fat-loss focussed dieter however, weekends are a treacherous thing to navigate.
I struggled for a long time with consistency over a 7 day period, often failing to balance by desire to socialise and relax on the weekend with my desire to make progress – I didn’t have a plan to effectively deal with them, I just tried and tried until my will power buckled.
Whether you interest in weight loss extends merely to dropping a few pounds for a wedding or whether you’re a competing bodybuilder – one issue remains that always throws a proverbial spanner in the works.
Usually, we find the week to be fairly plain sailing.
Encased in the repeatable routine of a 9-5 existence, evenings that follow a similar pattern and meal times your could run your watch by – most of us find the week to be plain sailing insofar as diet adherence is concerned.
Friday night rolls around, we decompress from work and with everything and everyone else in our life beginning to slow wind down into two days of rest – we kind of expect out dietary rules to do the same.
Periods of sacrifice and reward are tightly sewn into our human psychology and elements of this can be seen in all parts of society – the 5/2 set up of our working week being a prime example.
I’ve worked with countless clients who found the social or personal pressure of the weekend to be a debilitating crux that repeatedly unpicked the work they had put in over the 5 preceding days.
Since our inception, we’ve worked with a wide spectrum of clients ranging from bikini competitors to national level powerlifters and everyone in between.
One fact remained constant with every single client.
All of them have been busy and ambitious people.
This means oftentimes, they’re managing the plan and approach we give them around hectic jobs, demanding families and busy social schedules.
We’re not talking one dimensional gym freaks who #beastmode and #sacrificetowin and give up every semblance of balance in exchange for abs and a bench press.
These are real people with real lives and real commitments – telling them to just “suck it up” or “focus on your goals” simply wouldn’t cut it when it came to managing their desires to make the most of their weekend’s down time.
I think its important to recognise at this point that weekends and the inherent lack of consistency and accuracy that comes with them is not ALWAYS a problem.
When we’re working with casual gym goers of clients with goals that aren’t centred around fat-loss, we tend to use some pretty flexible targets and often favour principles rather than strict rules.
So, it’s only really when someone it seeking fat-loss to have a weight related goal with a deadline does this become an issue to consider.
With the popularity of my “effective and sustainable diet series” I plan to make this a multi-part feature in which I’ll discuss and unbox some techniques and tips to help manage the problems that a weekend can throw at the unwilling dieter.
Approach Number 1 – Stop fighting it
We’ve discussed the idea at length before but at the core of our approach is the idea that a plan should fit your lifestyle, not the other way around.
We’ve come to term this axiom “If It Fits your lifestyle” (IIFYL) and we encourage clients to present every decision with this question before deciding to go through with a change.
Any time that someone is forced to make a decision that they otherwise would have never made, had it not been for the plan is called a “friction point”.
As coaches, our job is to audit the person’s lifestyle to tailor a bespoke approach for them that respects some simple rules, still yields results but also minimises these friction points.
A busy weekend and the inherent desire for some downtime and relaxation is no exception to the above.
If someone has historically met colleagues for a drink on a Friday, eaten a large roast with their family on a Sunday – as soon as we ask them to cancel all of these activities, its only a matter of time before they cave and give into social pressure and temptation.
This will then engender black and white/all or nothing thinking.
Jonny told me not to go for drinks tonight -> I did it anyway so I’ve failed -> fuck it, take me to the all you can eat buffet.
And this is no good, its an unhealthy way to think about a plan that is meant to enhance your life and also an unsustainable approach to expect a client to follow.
Minimum Effective Dose (M.E.D) x (7/7 days) = Optimal approach
Theoretically optimal approach x (5/7 days)
The simplest way to allow clients to still enjoy their weekend is to simply set up the weekdays to facilitate the higher calories. We can take advantage of the more rigid nature of the week to stack the deck and allow some pretty calorie dense weekends while still progressing.
Here are 4 techniques we use with clients who want to enjoy their weekends and not worry too much about the calories/targets on Saturday and Sunday.
Caveat: we do still request clients track bodyweight, calorie intake and sleep where possible. In the worst case scenario, we ask them to ensure they take very comparable readings during the week and use some damage control strategies on the weekend if they would prefer total freedom on the weekend.
1) Calorie smoothing
This one is simple. Take the total weekly calorie target and take anything up to 25% of the weekdays and add this calorie balance to the weekend.
The obvious impact of this, for someone with a 2,300kcal target would be an extra 2,875kcal to spread over Saturday and Sunday, meaning their week would look like:
Monday – Friday: 1,725kcal
Saturday – Sunday: 3,737kcal
Obviously, this is an extreme case and something that should be used with caution of your starting calories are very low. Equally, we tend to ask clients to monitor several variables that track their relationship with during this – this fast/feast type approach can occasionally create and fuel a binge type mentality in clients that we avoid at all costs.
2) Protein only days
In a similar ilk to (1) this seeks to balance the total weekly calorie balance while this time only affecting 1-2 days per week.
We simply take 2 days that are usually separated by at least 1 day of normal eating and deduct all of the carbs and fats, leaving only protein. The calories from those carbs and fats would then be added to the weekend targets as above.
To increase the effectiveness of these days, we sometimes bring protein down to 1.8g/kg (the minimum suggested by the research for a calorie deficit
3) Intermittent fasting
IF or intermittent fasting is another way to reduce calories during the week. An period of fasting could be anything from 16 hours (skipping breakfast) to 36 hours (1 full day and night – we would still advise some protein to be consumed on this day).
4) Increased activity
This is typically either used to bolster a combination of the other approaches or as a last resort. We either advise formal cardio sessions (usually low intensity to minimise recovery impact) or a general increase in non-specific activity – walking to work, walking the dog in the evening etc.
Sometimes the best and most effective way to manage with a busy social schedule on your weekends is to simply let it happen and implement sensible strategies when your routine is a little more predictable to still influence total and average calorie intake.
1. Helms, E.R., et al., A Systematic Review of Dietary Protein During Caloric Restriction in Resistance Trained Lean Athletes: A Case for Higher Intakes. International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, 2013.