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Weekend Backsliding?

Researchers say Tuesdays and Wednesdays are the most productive days of the week. Monday tends to be “recovery” day from the weekend, and the rest of the week, well, we’re often coasting along waiting for the weekend to arrive, aren’t we? (Ah, the lure of the weekend: the free time, the social activities, special occasions, the chance to kick back…) But is our cherished refuge also our health’s downfall?

A study [1] from the Washington University School of Medicine suggests that the tendency toward weekend backslide on health goals is a common problem. The researchers assembled daily weight, caloric intake, and physical activity data from participants both before and during assigned intervention programs. The participants included a total of 48 men and women, aged 50-60, whose BMI scores ranged from normal to obese.

Initial, “pre-intervention” data showed that participants ate an average of 236 more calories on Saturday than during the week. To top it off, activity levels on Sunday hit a slump. Researchers found the same pattern after assigning year-long weight loss intervention programs, which included a “caloric restriction” group (20% reduction in daily caloric intake) and an “exercise” group (20% increase in daily physical activity). Participants kept food diaries or wore activity monitors throughout the intervention programs. During this period, the caloric restriction group lost weight during the week but only managed to hold steady over the weekends. The exercise group also lost weight during the week but actually gained weight over the average weekend given the higher caloric intake.

Susan Racette, the study’s author, offered this perspective [2] on the findings: “There is less structure on the weekend for a lot of people, and that can wreak havoc. …A little indulgence turns into a big indulgence. Being vigilant on the weekends is really important for people either trying to lose weight or maintain a weight loss.”

The study seems timely, given the responses of a few Primal Health Challenge participants [3] (and other readers), who have noted that staying Primal on the weekend is tough. We would agree. As the study author suggests, weekends don’t go by the book. Weekends are, after all, about three hour brunches getting caught up with friends, long days at the beach with the kids, an afternoon of errands and home projects, long naps on the couch, movie theaters, dinners out, hosting guests. They’re packed, spontaneous, free form. And that’s the point of weekends really, don’t you think? A break from the day to day grind.

But we think that “grind” shouldn’t necessarily include a good diet and fitness program. Talk about throwing the baby out with the bath water! (Can you hear the siren song coming from the kitchen, the concession stand, or the weekend specials menu?) It’s hard to hold onto the regimen when life becomes, well, so unregimented over the weekend. Nonetheless, if you’re committed to sticking to your goals 100% (like the Primal Health Challenge [4]), it’s clear you need to up your resolve on the weekends. Get up in time to make a decent breakfast. Pack your “lunch” the night before if you’ll be on the run all day. Call ahead or check online for restaurant menus to plan any dinners out. Have a hearty salad before heading out to Batman.

And then there’s the other side of the coin. Though the Primal Health Challenge dares us to go for the gold every time, settling into that personal, sustainable level of Primal can mean simply allowing for Sensible Vices [5] on weekends as part of an overall health and wellness scheme. No, it’s not about letting everything go to pot, but it is about letting loose (guilt-free) to enjoy the best weekends life has to offer.

What are the tricks and treats behind your Primal weekends? Best strategies to share? Most frequent temptations?

Oh, and by the way, Happy Thursday, everyone. Back to the regularly scheduled grind… 😉

Johnny Thirkill [6] Flickr Photo (CC)

Further Reading:

How Our Eyes Deceive Our Appetites [7]

The Original Sensible Vices [8]

Sensible Vices: Round 2 [9]

The Art of Compromise [10]

How to Eat More Chocolate and Drink More Wine Every Day [11]