During the workweek you’re pretty good about sticking with healthy habits. You order oatmeal for breakfast, hit the gym during your lunch break and whip up simple, light dinners after work. But Friday night through Sunday, something changes: Weekends mean time to let lose and that translates into eating and drinking too much paired with moving too little. Even when you can anticipate the challenge ahead and mentally prepare, the sabotage keeps happening.
Diet Tricks for a Healthier Weekend
1. Get the mimosa, Bloody Mary or the pancakes.
There’s nothing wrong with indulging in a little something extra on a lazy weekend morning, says Jessica Fishman Levinson, R.D., a New York-based nutrition communications consultant and founder of Nutrioulicious. The key here isn’t to deprive yourself but rather to make smart choices so you treat yourself without going completely overboard. If you’d love a mimosa or Bloody Mary, order one — but then skip the pancakes in favor of egg whites with veggies. If you’re craving fluffy carbs, fine, but skip the morning booze (and go easy on the syrup!).
2. Eat breakfast before brunch.
This might sound like a mistake — why double-down on calories? But if you’re brunching at noon (or later) yet waking up at 9 a.m. (or earlier), it’s the best way to make sure you don’t overeat. The goal isn’t to eat two full meals, but rather to chow down on something so that you’re not famished by the time you join friends at the table. Plus, since you’ll be preparing the food yourself, you’ll know exactly what you’re consuming — calories, fat and all. Some fruit with a half-cup of Greek yogurt should be sufficient to tide you over until the main event, says Julie Upton, R.D., co-founder of Appetite for Health.
3. Sit at a table whenever you eat.
Being home all day often means non-stop munching instead of eating real meals. That sounds harmless enough, but those little nibbles can add up quickly. “Grazing trips up the body’s natural hunger and appetite regulation system so you never feel completely full,” says Upton. “People who graze often eat more calories than individuals who eat three meals and two snacks per day.” So no more eating in front of the refrigerator. Instead, take a few minutes to prepare a real meal (even if it’s just a sandwich) and sit down in the kitchen or dining room while you enjoy it.
4. Order two appetizers.
When you’re dining out you might feel tempted to try multiple dishes on the menu, and that’s normal. Simply satisfy your curiosity and save calories by ordering two appetizers instead of an app plus an entree, says Levinson. Many restaurants will let you turn an “entree” (such as pasta) into an “appetizer” by ordering a half portion, so don’t be afraid to ask for that either.
5. Be picky about the unlimited freebies.
Maybe you’ve heard that you should never touch the bread basket, but is that realistic? Forget perfection and strike a balance. Ask yourself if that bread really looks amazing, and if so, have a piece and don’t feel bad about it, says Levinson. But does it look only OK? Don’t waste the calories then. Same goes for those tortilla chips at Mexican restaurants. (If you’re ordering guacamole, wait for it to arrive before you start nibbling.) When the waiter comes around and asks if you want a refill on chips or bread, make “no thanks” your mantra.
6. Eat healthy foods first.
Weekends tend to be packed with special events like weddings and cocktail parties, which means you’ll likely be presented with an array of tasty (and free!) food. But before you start piling items on your plate, do a lap around the buffet table to check out the offerings. Research has shown that people who do so tend to be thinner than those who just dive right in. Next, start by loading up on the healthiest items first — crudités, shrimp cocktail, fruit — so you fill up a little before you sample the higher-cal treats like quiche and baked brie, says Upton.
7. Order vodka and soda instead of a vodka tonic.
You already know that alcoholic drinks can be calorie bombs, especially if you opt for fruity mixed cocktails. A vodka tonic isn’t a terrible choice, says Levinson, but you might be surprised that tonic water isn’t the same thing as seltzer. Seltzer is just plain water with some bubbles added, so it’s zero calories. But tonic water contains corn syrup — along with about 120 calories per 12-ounce bottle. That isn’t such a big deal if you can stop at one, but if you’re going to be having several throughout the evening it’s worth making the swap. Of course, it’s also smart to alternate between alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks and to eat something (ideally something semi-healthy) before you start boozing.
8. Blab about your efforts.
When you’re gathered with friends around the TV watching sports or a Netflix movie, it’s all too easy to keep noshing on the finger foods in front of you. So speak up beforehand: “Ask the host if you can bring a healthier option,” says Levinson. She also suggests telling close friends how hard you’ve been trying to eat well and being straightforward about asking for their support. “Say, ‘I’ve been working really hard on maintaining my weight loss, or I’m really trying to lose five pounds, so if you see me overdoing it don’t be afraid to give me a little nudge.'”
9. Plan ahead!
“The number one tip I can offer is to plan in advance,” says Levinson. She recommends taking a moment on Friday afternoon to ponder your weekend plans so you can make some choices before you get caught up in the moment. “Allow yourself room to have one special thing that you wouldn’t typically have during the week at each event,” she says. If you’re headed to a birthday dinner, for example, there’s no need to skip the cake…but you might want to forgo the fried calamari app. Going to be watching a big game? Leave room for beer by taking a pass on the chips. Knowing what’s in store and planning for it can make for a more positive outcome.