I used to overeat at weekends. A lot.
I thought it was all part of the fitness lifestyle - stay strict and controlled all week and then let off steam with a good old cheat day (ok, more like 3 cheat days...).
It felt good, until...it didn't.
So I took some time out and learned to kick the habit. Here are 5 things that helped with that.
I used to really f*ck things up at weekends. Seriously.
I worked hard all week - prepping like a ninja and living off chicken, broccoli & rice (hey, that was what I though constituted the holy grail of fitness nutrition back then, ok?)...
But when Friday night rolled around?
It was time to go in. And I went in hard.
Fridays after work often meant a few beers, a pizza, a few more beers, some snacks, a few more beers...
...and I'd even find myself thinking about it during the last few hours of my working day.
(A few times, I just went ahead and ordered a pizza to the office. True story.)
Friday night, when I got to eat whatever I wanted, was the highlight of my week.
My life was kind of stressful. Sometimes my hours were long. Sometimes my boss really p*ssed me off. Sometimes I was just so f*cking sick of broccoli.
Still, the Friday "celebrations" didn't hurt all that much, right? After all, I had been good all week.
Trouble was, my behaviour on Fridays just rolled right on over into the weekend.
Cooked breakfast Saturday morning? Yep.
Extra portions with Saturday lunch? Double yep.
Plate piled high at Sunday roast? Hell f*cking yep.
And that's not to mention the casual beer/glass of wine, or the odd sweet or the little microwaveable pot of chocolatey goodness on Sunday evening because it was "last night before school" (or, in this case, last night before my diet kicked off again.)
Everything was because.
Because it's Friday. because it's Saturday. Because it's Sunday and I know I'm going to go back to restricting myself more than a good looking fella forced into priesthood.
Basically, normal rules just didn't apply on weekends. I was like a culinary weekend millionaire.
I figured I spent all week being semi-miserable, so it was pretty much my right - no, my obligation - to show my tastebuds some love.
This wasn't out of my control by the way - it wasn't the kind of bingeing that might form part of an eating disorder (those are way beyond the scope of my blog posts, and my coaching). It was more like a ritual, or habit.
My friends and family were often all too happy to support this. I think they probably felt a sense of relief to see me loosen up a little and let go of the restrictive nature of my week (early morning gym sessions, rigidly controlling food intake and loads of other stuff). I in turn could feel that, and it made me feel pretty good.
It was nice to be less "the super-controlled gym guy" and more "good old Dorian who likes pizza, beer and weekend shenanigans" from time to time.
And honestly? Looking back, I can realise how deeply unhappy I was with so many aspects of my life. But that's for another time.
Anyhow, on to the effects of all this weekend food-partying.
For a start, I felt like crap.
Emotionally I would often be kind of angry at myself for the lack of control I'd shown. Or I'd feel guilty.
And physically? Man I just felt sluggish, uncomfortable and heavy.
Worst of all though?
It was killing my progress!!!
(Again with hindsight the above things are clearly objectively worse, but that's not how I felt at the time haha.)
See, while a few ups and downs are inevitable when you’re trying to get in shape, if you want to stay fit and healthy, or permanently change your lifestyle, then weekend overeating can seriously derail your goals.
Aside from the obvious extra body fat or stalled performance, there’s other stuff.
The painful effects of inflammation from the junk food. The inability to move properly through a full range of motion. Fighting the urge to cuddle my food baby and take a nap right there on the bench.
I wanted to change, I really did.
At first I tried to level things out.
During the week, I trained harder. Ate less. Tracked calories with an app. I did the stuff I thought I was supposed to do.
But when I tried to carry that on into the weekend, there was always a reason not to. Like a social event, a long day, or a 2 for 1 at the nation's favourite pizza delivery chain.
This cycle continued for quite some time.
So how did I break it? How did I turn into the incredible, nutritionally impeccable fitness machine you see before your eyes as he sips his Spirulina smoothie in the garden on a Saturday morning?
I wish I could give you one simple hack. Some sort of pseudo psychological trick or biological tactic. Just like I wish I really was an incredible, nutritionally impeccable fitness machine.
(Actually, no I don't - because then I probably wouldn't be able to relate to my clients the way I do.)
But the fact is I did quite a few things, all of which contributed on some level to my ascendance to a generally happy guy who doesn't do too much dumb sh*t at weekends anymore.
Here they are:
I binned off the idea of "perfect" and just started aiming for "consistently pretty good" - on weekdays and at weekends.
I’ve seen it in so many clients.
They want to follow the “perfect” diet.
So they follow strict plans all week, all the while worrying massively about when the "screw up" is going to come. But they make it through.
Then, the willpower gives out. They're sick of it. They can't take it anymore. They want to "live a little."
They deserve to enjoy life, don't they?
And as the only options are complete perfection or compete crap (and we've already established complete perfection was a big back of misery), what do we think is going to happen?
Bring on the pizza. Extra cheese please, I'm back to a life of misery on Monday.
However, if we take “perfect” off the table, things can change.
Instead of quinoa salad vs burger with loaded fries, we start to notice the whole host of "pretty good" options that fill the rest of the menu.
Moreover, we can choose whichever one we want, on any day. Fries on Thursday? All good. But salad on Saturday? Well that's also all good. After all, you had the fries on Thursday, so you don't really feel the need to eat them again now.
It's weird. The less "weird and diet-y" we get about things, the less we feel the desperate urge to do the opposite of what we're "supposed" to.
I got rid of strict rules.
Perfectionism and strict rules are like the wicked Stepsisters of living a sustainably healthier lifestyle.
Food rules suck.
And there are so many!
Eat this, not that. At this time, but not at that time. Don't microwave, you'll die. Count this, oh and also count that too. Now read this study. Now change all that stuff you thought was right because it's not anymore.
It's bloody exhausting.
It takes a lot of work. And eventually, you're bound to fall into what I call...
...the "f*ck it" trap.
How does it work?
Let’s say your new diet tells you to avoid carbs. No bread, no rice and a big hell no to the jacket potato. Protein and salad all the way baby.
All week, you nail it. You even picked the croutons out of your salad, for crying out loud.
Then it's Friday. Your friends come over. They order pizza, your order...I don't know, a lettuce leaf with tuna in it or something.
Eventually you just decide to have a slice of pizza. No harm done, right?
But then you think...
The diet is done. It's over. Give me the pizza. Now. And I'll have some of that brownie too, thank you very much!
Cue the sluggishness, remorse and desire to get back "on it" on Monday. (No point starting again on a Saturday, right?)
There's no framework for eating outside of the rules. So even if you stay true to the "diet plan" all the way through, are you really going to do that forever? And if you can't, then what the hell are you going to do afterwards?
This one of the key reasons why I work with clients to help them figure out what things like "hungry" and "almost full" really feel like, and adjust when and how much accordingly.
Well, because there are actually people out there who don't diet at all. In fact, they don't really think about what they eat all that much at all. Yet they stay in a healthy weight range all year round. Weirdos.
Their trick? They seem to suss out when they're almost full, and just stop eating. They do this consistently, all year round. And when they do over-eat slightly? Well, it takes them longer to feel hungry again. So they just tend to eat less the next day. Their calories basically just adjust themselves.
This can be a hard skill to learn, but it's doable.
What do you think might happen if instead of worrying about carbs or no carbs, you could figure out whether you were hungry or full and start/stop eating accordingly?
I let the cheat day go.
(Written through tears)
I loved cheat day. I loved cheat day so hard. It was always Sunday. Sunday was the best food day.
I remember one Sunday, I had just finished a massive pasta dish (I'd already had pancakes with extra maple syrup and peanut butter for breakfast). Mum called and asked if I wanted to pop round for a roast...
...and 20 minutes later I was sat at the table with a full roast dinner in front of me. Extra trimmings.
Then there was the pudding. So much pudding.
I would basically just eat whatever the hell I wanted, and then some more. Because I knew I would have to be "back on track" the next day.
But overall, it was kind of a dumb strategy.
I'd say no to snacks in the office all week long, then eat double the amount I would have eaten anyway just because it was cheat day. And although I wouldn't be hungry the next day, I'd still eat according to my meal plan, shovelling down the food I didn't really want to eat because;
a) I wasn't that hungry and;
b) I was already waiting for the next cheat day
All this meant that over the course of the week, my calories were actually wayyyyyyy off. And my physique was not grateful for the constant fluctuations in intake.
Eventually I realised something:
What and when you eat is up to you — and your hunger and fullness cues. No matter what day of the week it is.
Creating rules like the cheat day completely disempowers you from making the right decisions, at the right time, on your own terms.
I got rid of the cheat day and started allowing myself to eat whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted.
All of a sudden? I didn't really want anything.
Typical, right? The mind is a weird thing.
I took accountability for my decisions. Full accountability.
People get weird and "judgy" about food. Eating "the wrong thing" can often make us feel bad.
So sometimes, we try to quiet that internal judge (or external judge, like the fitness guru on Facebook or our disapproving partner) by making little trades and swaps.
Sometimes it can look a little like this:
"Ok, I'm going to turn down dessert today, because I'm a good, healthy fit person. But then I'm going to nail that triple chocolate fudge cake on Sunday because I've been a good, healthy fit person all week and I deserve this."
Basically, we're just justifying the behaviour. Which is totally natural, and makes complete sense.
But here's the thing: You're an adult. You make your own decisions. There aren't any "food police" officers around to lock you in the "ate too much apple crumble" jail.
Again, playing these little mind games just disempowers you from taking complete ownership and authority over your decisions.
You're in charge. So start wielding that power.
When I started to accept this myself, I stopped stomping my feet like a little kid every time "dieting me" said I couldn't have something, and started letting my (deeply buried) inner adult come out and start making decisions.
I realise I could eat whatever the hell I wanted, whenever the hell I wanted - I just had to accept that there were consequences. If I was ok with them, then full steam ahead . If not? Well then it was up to me to make the appropriate decision.
I'm always encouraging clients to be their own coach. To take ownership over what they do. My role is to give them sound guidance, and to be there for support, but ultimately I can't do things for them.
They have to take charge of their own lives. So do you.
I stopped making excuses.
There are always justifications for skipping workouts and eating the stuff we know won't help us towards our goals.
Especially at the weekend.
It could be anything:
Let's be honest here; there is always a reason to overeat and/or indulge our desires for processed food.
We rationalise things away and completely give up our power to change in the process (see Thing 4)...
...but we never ask ourselves why we are doing what we are doing.
What's really going on here? Are you stressed out? Tired? Relaxed? Happy? Sad? Watching your favourite TV show which you now directly associate with eating an entire pack of biscuits? Is this a craving? Or a habit?
The further we dig into this, the more patterns we'll be able to recognise.
And this instance, knowledge really is power.
Because when we can spot these things, we can start figuring out how to change them (or if we even want to change them).
That last part - the figuring out whether we want to change - is important.
You might be completely ok with your behaviours as they are right now. And you might be perfectly ok with the outcomes that come as a result of those behaviours.
But if you aren't?
Then something should probably change
What that change looks like is up to you. It might be a big, scary change...
...Or it might be a small, simple adjustment.
It might be something you can do all by yourself, or something you need a little more support, guidance and accountability with.
You get to decide what you need, and what will work for you.
Looking for a little more support and accountability?