What Weekend Cheat Days Do to Your Weight

Monday through Friday, you’re working hard on those healthy habits, spinning smoothies and salads, and stepping it up with your workouts. But if you’re pounding cheeseburgers and sneaking a second scoop of ice cream by the end of the week, you could be sabotaging all of your hard work. Especially during the summer, it’s so easy to let weekends fill up with beers and barbecues. Yes, you totally deserve to treat yourself. But before you completely cut loose, it’s important to think about what happens to your weight goals when one treat turns into an entire cheat weekend.

Yes, Weekend Weight Fluctuations Are Normal

It’s completely normal for your weight to go up and down throughout the week. A study from the Cornell Food & Brand Lab found that on average, people weigh the most on Sunday night, and the least on Friday morning. So it is possible to lose weight during the week, slide back a little on the weekend, and still make progress overall. And plenty of people love their cheat days and swear they couldn’t survive without them.

But! Binge Eating Is a Bad Sign

The problem is when cheating gets out of control. “There’s good evidence that looking forward to a treat can help you stay on track with a healthy diet,” says Ginger Hultin, MS, RDN, CSO, and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. “But too often, cheating can be a sign that your diet is too restrictive, and I worry about the negative connotations. If you’re binge eating or developing a bad relationship with food, that’s a problem.” Here are a few red flags to watch out for.

How Weekend Cheat Days Hurt Your Health

They can destroy your gut bacteria. Alcohol, sugar, and processed foods are a punch to the gut, and a weekend is enough to do damage. One animal study revealed that eating junk food for even a couple of days can be just as harmful as eating junk all of the time.

They can contribute to inflammation. Likewise, bad food choices can lead to inflammation throughout your body, and it only takes a day or two to flare up. “Inflammation happens quickly,” Hultin confirms. “And unhealthy foods put a heavy load on your hormones and liver.”  

They can give you a sugar crash—and cravings. Sugar gives you a rush and drop, and it’s incredibly addictive. Eat one small sweet, and you might be tempted by another. Go crazy for a few days, and you’re setting yourself up for cravings all week.  

They can make you tired. Bloated, achy, and crave-y—is it any wonder you come out of the weekend feeling sluggish? “Binges tank your energy,” explains Hultin. “Especially when alcohol is involved, which can also hurt your sleep, and prevent you from getting real rest.”

They can compromise your immune system. Alcohol can also suppress your ability to fight off illness-causing viruses and bacteria. Even one big night of drinking can lower your immune system for 24 hours afterward.  

They can feed guilt and negative feelings. If the only thing that gets you through the week is dreaming about Friday night pizza, and then all you can think about on Monday is how gross you feel—that’s not healthy. “If you’re overly fixated or suffering from guilt, those are signs of a bad relationship with food,” says Hultin. “Maybe cheat days aren’t working for you.”  

A Better Way to Treat Yourself

If your weekend cheat days feel out of control, or if they’re hurting your body or your mindset—kick those negative thoughts to the curb. Take a more positive approach, by calling it a “treat,” instead of a “cheat.” You might decide that your treat is just one item (an ice cream cone), just one plate of food (barbecue), or just one meal that falls within a certain time frame (dinner at your favorite restaurant). Hultin isn’t worried about the specific parameters, as long as they work for you, and you’re still tracking to your health goals. “My credo is that it’s always okay to eat what your body wants to eat,” she reassures. “What you want is a sustainable, balanced diet, where you can have treats when you want to, and it’s not a big buildup.” The one thing she insists on? You have to make it a mindful indulgence. So slow down, savor your food, and treat yourself to something you truly enjoy. That chocolate chip cookie is going to taste even better.

20 Comments   Join the Conversation

20 CommentsLeave a comment

  • This is a tough subject with high temperatures and lots of outdoor invitations. So, just for once Becky, I think life is too short to worry about weight, or do I tell all our hosts to go jump at a hotdog? Example, if I don’t eat bacon I may live for an extra 8 years, but do I really want to live that extra without bacon? Anyway it may rain next week, so why worry!

  • What if your “cheat days” are within a good caloric range? When I log in cheat day meals my Fit Bit food log will show I am either within range or under budget still, at times I slightly pass in to the over budget range. Would that be bad for metabolism or hurt my diet still in any way?

  • Excellent information to be reminded about…..Being VERY social with friends who are good cooks and FUN to be with, it is difficult to remember to be prudent on food choices.

  • My problem is not the “sensible” W/E cheats. I have type II diabetes and use my Fitbit to motivate me to keep active and control my glycemic readings. BUT once in a while the cravings for a piece of apple pie are … @&$)!?;: Any thoughts besides keeping me in your prayers?

  • Thanks for the article! I find this to be helpful, and very true. Whenever I try a diet/lifestyle that is too restrictive, I find myself having trouble sticking with it, and then plagued with guilt when I “cheat.” However, when I focus on simply eating the foods that are kind to my body, and provide nutrition and energy instead of exhaustion and indigestion, I feel empowered and healthy.

  • One day a week I go out with coworkers and *treat* myself to alcohol, usually 5-7 beers. This is a lot of calories and I only do it once a week, sometimes not at all. I’ve always wondered if that is a big no-no. Turns out it is! Damn.

    • I think that is a lot of booze though I am not judgmental on lifestyle with respect to alcohol. I say that it is a lot based on my personal likes and needs and in the current context of weight control. I take 2 drinks when going out and socializing, my weak spot is all you can eat buffets, cocktail parties or wherever there is an infinite supply of snacks (chicken wings, spring rolls, whatever), fortunately I go only to a few of those.

  • This is a great article I just did a two day binger and I feel horrible but back on track today. I’m going to look up your books. I swam lots these past two days so I could have just been hungrier than usual. Thank you for this article I find it very helpful and I’m actually motivated by this. I’m a spinner too.

  • If my diet does lack in a specific vitamin or nutrient do you recommend a way to figure out what the nutrient is?
    thank you

  • By reading this article, I know no I have a very unhealthy relationship with food I’m in my fifties and I’ve tried them all and nothing seems to work

  • Two years ago I was able to loose 80 pounds. I drove myself hard but if i met all of my goals for the week then every Friday and Saturday I would allow myslef to have those Treat days. However, Friday was only dinner, and usually Pizza and Wings (I LOVE PIZZA AND WINGS) then Saturdays I would eat regular meals but allow myself to eat the Juicy Hamburger w/ the bun and have some sort of dessert, cake, ice cream, candy bar, what ever I felt like that day. Eventually I found myself not even wanting those, I didn’t like the way they made me feel the days following. Then somewhere I fell off my bandwagon 🙁 I gained almost all my weight back that’s when I decided I wasn’t going to do this to myself. We started a biggest loser challenge at work and I’m down 25#. I still have a ways to go. I set my goals small and able to achieve them. I very rarely eat Pizza and wings, and I occasionally look for that sweet treat. I just make sure that I account for it. My favorite treat is Halo Ice Cream it’s a healthier alternative but I still eat it as a treat in moderation. If I feel like i want that candy bar I wait, I drink some water I try a piece of fruit, if for some reason that doesn’t do the trick. I go to the store and I buy 1 candy bar, not a bag and the candy bar I buy is the small 100 calories snickers or milky way. Boom craving satisfied and I didn’t have to eat a 300 calorie bar. 🙂 Now just when if I’m craving a Reeses it was that easy. Point being is I really feel it’s ok to eat whatever it is your craving as long as you can control it. We’re all in this together! Good luck everyone see you on the weight loss side of things.

  • Well, i dont binge for 2 days in a row; however, I do usually binge 1 day per week. I dont drink alcohol at all, but I can eat multiple meals on my cheat day all of which are unhealthy, for the rest of the week I eat healthy meals which are not too restricive, I eat a lot of salads and fruits, I like salads so its no issue for me, I enjoy eating salads. I also exercise 6 days a week, but my exercise is just jogging, if mot walking. Some weeks my weight goes down, sometimes it goes up, I really want to stop binging once a week, I seriously need to try having 1 treat instead of an entire cheat day. To conclude, I do have an unhealthy relationship with food.

  • Having a couple of cheat days a week and eating healthy the rest of the week I believe is still better than binge eating every single day. I lost 15 kgs and dropped shirt sizes without depriving myself of the naughty foods. Cheat days are underrated

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