You’ve been eating well all week: oatmeal for breakfast, a salad for lunch and grilled chicken with vegetables for dinner. Then the weekend hits. Suddenly your taste buds want French fries at the bar and Mom’s cheesy lasagna is calling your name during Sunday dinner.
Not to worry. A new study suggests small weight gains on weekends are normal, and as long as you can compensate during the week, indulging a bit may even help you lose weight long-term.
“There is a clear weekly rhythm to weight variation for most people,” says one of the study authors, Anna-Leena Orsama, a research scientist with VTT Technical Research Center of Finland. “On the weekends there is more variability and unpredictability in what we eat.”
The study, “Weight Rhythms: Weight Increases during Weekends and Decreases during Weekdays,” was published this week in the journal Obesity Facts.
Researchers analyzed data from 80 adults, ranging in age from 25 to 62 years old, who recorded their weight each day after waking up.
The participants were grouped according to their weight changes over the study period: weight losers who lost at least 3% of their body weight; weight gainers who put on at least 1%; and weight maintainers who stayed in between those minimums.
All three groups, the losers, gainers and maintainers, recorded higher weights on Sundays and Mondays than other days of the week. But those who successfully lost weight had lower weights during the week, with their lowest generally recorded on Friday.
This shows they managed to compensate for the weekend gain during the work week, researchers say.
The sample size for this study was relatively small. Only 10 people were in the gain group; only 18 were in the loss group. The data was also all self-reported, meaning the study participants could have made a mistake or purposefully altered their recorded weights.
Also important to note is that the researchers are talking about slight caloric increases. This is not a free pass to eat your weight in cookie dough.
Long-term habits may make more of a difference than short-term splurges, the study authors say. And a flexible eating pattern — i.e., allowing yourself that brownie or beer on Friday night — may help you sustain overall healthy eating habits over time. Weight loss success depends primarily on your ability to compensate for those splurges on other days of the week.
“The big difference between those who gain weight over time and those who lose or maintain weight is directly related to the way they eat from Monday to Friday,” said Cornell University behavioral economist Brian Wansink, one of the study authors.
“Some indulging during weekends makes no harm but for successful weight loss it is important to notice these rhythms and take steps to reverse the upward trends.”