Are you someone who eats in a reasonable way Monday morning through Friday afternoon? Or from breakfast through dinner? But when that clock strikes 5 p.m. on Friday, or the kitchen closes down after dinner, you start to go She/He-Hulk? You know the drill.
By the time the weekend or night is over, you’ve eaten (or drunk) way too much, often of the foods you wouldn’t normally choose.
You feel crappy. Guilty. Regretful. Ashamed. Bloated. Maybe angry at yourself.
Your workout the next day sucks. You're retaining so much water you can almost hear yourself squishing when you walk.
You put on your loosest yoga pants and floppiest sweatshirt and try to hide.
And any progress you’ve made towards having the body you want was erased thanks to the brief spell of eating or boozing mayhem.
It might even seem like nighttime or weekend eating is so strong, it’s like a recurring disease.
Let’s call it: Weekenditis.
How to catch Weekenditis
Looking to get a nasty case of Weekenditis? Here’s how the virus spreads.
1. Be perfect.
Have an eating routine that is “perfect”. Follow strict meal plans to the last teaspoon Monday morning through Friday afternoon, or breakfast through dinner. Get so sick of the boring, bland, and restrictive eating that you can’t wait to actually eat food you enjoy, all weekend or all evening.
2. Always go 100%.
After you create your “perfect” meal plan or “diet rules”, start worrying about screwing them up.
Create a sense of future epic failure that justifies overeating.
“It’s Saturday, I’m out with my family, and I can’t have my regular pre-portioned perfect chicken salad like I usually do for lunch, so instead, I’ll just overeat a large double-cheese and pepperoni pizza.”
Don’t be reasonable about this. That’s for weaklings and quitters who like being mediocre.
3. Trade off good behavior.
Just like in prison or being five years old, you get time off your sentence, bonuses, and freebies for being a good girl.
One “good deed” gives you license to “sin” elsewhere.
“Good” eating during the week gives you permission to be “bad” on the weekends.
Or “good” eating during the day gives you permission to be “bad” at night.
4. Say “Screw it”.
If you overeat, or eat the “wrong” foods, don’t stop eating. Eat more.
You’ve gone out for drinks and appetizers with the girls. That means screw it, you’ve “blown your diet”, so you might as well keep eating before tomorrow morning.
Doesn’t matter if you’re full. Keep going until your esophagus clogs.
With the Screw It Effect, there are no half measures.
Go out with guns a-blazin’.
5. Have a “Cheat Day”.
Monday through Saturday is your food purgatory. But Sunday . . . oh, Sunday.
That’s Cheat Day. The happiest day of your week.
You wake up Cheat Day morning like a kid at Christmas. Go hog wild all day long, eating all the stuff you didn’t permit yourself during the week.
Then as evening nears, start to freak out. And eat (and maybe drink) even more.
Because tomorrow, it’s back to “the rules”. And strict compliance. And no fun.
6. Live out familiar scripts and stories.
Weekends and evenings are full of great dramatic scripts where you play the hapless victim.
It could be anything.
You were so busy. Or maybe you had nothing going on.
You were traveling. Or maybe you were at home.
You were at work. Or you had no work to do.
You had family/social meals. Or maybe you ate alone.
Anything, any story, will do.
Poor you! So powerless against the great forces of evil!
7. Avoid the void.
It’s late at night. Or maybe Sunday afternoon. Or you're on the long drive home from work.
For a brief time, nobody’s demanding your attention. No boss, no kids, no aging parent. You're blissfully alone. Exhausted, maybe, but relieved.
Now there's a big empty space. What do you do with yourself?
You eat. (Or you drink.) That’s what.
Let’s look at each of these virulent little critters, one by one, and talk about solutions.
Infection 1: Perfectionism
Treatment: Be “good enough”.
The decent method you follow is better than the perfect method you quit.
Be reasonable and sane with your food (and alcohol) intake, and include foods you enjoy as often as possible.
Allow yourself to be "good enough". Because you are good enough.
Instead of "perfect", try for "just a little bit better".
Instead of "the best choice", try for "a wise choice". Or "a kind and loving choice".
Infection 2: All-or-nothing
Treatment: Operate along a spectrum of possible options.
All-or-nothing thinking gives you two options: perfect or failure.
In reality, there’s a continuum. What are the “pretty good” or “not too bad” options?
Is there an option that — again — is "just a little bit better"?
Infection 3: Good-bad trade-offs
Treatment: Come back to your grown-up values.
Trading off “good” and “bad” is for little kids and convicts.
Forget about “good” versus “bad” — instead, come back to your adult values and deeper principles when you sit down to eat.
Be wise, loving, kind, and sane.
Infection 4: The Screw It Effect
Treatment: Learn your own physical hunger and fullness cues. Notice when, where, and how you’re likely to say “Screw it!”
Otherwise known as “disinhibition”, the “Screw It Effect” is actually caused by “food rules”.
Non-dieters (i.e. normal eaters) eat when they’re physically hungry and stop when they’re physically full.
They don’t have strict “rules” about what, when, where, and how they eat.
They eat to their right level of “full” and rarely to “stuffed”.
No matter if it’s Wednesday or Saturday, morning or evening, a family dinner or cocktail party, they eat according to internal cues and their values (say, a stronger, leaner, healthier body).
If you keep trying to follow rigid external rules and prohibitions, it will almost always inevitably lead to overeating crap.
Because once we deviate from “the rules”, as everyone does, we have nothing left to guide us.
Infection 5: Cheat Day
Treatment: Cultivate an abundance mindset.
Some people find the idea of relaxing with eating once per week useful both mentally and physically. If this is you, and it works for you, then we applaud you on finding a worthwhile strategy.
But for most clients, having one “cheat day” means the rest of the week is food purgatory.
Like the Screw It Effect, Cheat Day depends on scarcity.
Scarcity makes us feel anxious, needy, and greedy.
So if someone says “I can only have food X on Sunday”, this might just fuel the idea of overeating food X because they know they “can't” eat X for another six days.
Abundance, on the other hand, allows us to feel calm, satisfied, and fulfilled.
You can know: There's always enough food. And simply say, "Not right now."
Infection 6: Scripts and stories
Treatment: Notice (and challenge) the stories you’re telling yourself.
We all come up with stories to explain why we do things. That's how brains work — they try to make sense of things.
Except brains sometimes focus on the wrong reasons. Tell stories that aren't true.
Our brains may tell us that we eat because we're busy, or bored, or traveling, or working (or not working), or having family dinners (or eating alone), or any number of other "causes" that sound perfectly logical.
These stories make sense.
We can see "evidence" that these stories are "true". ("I always over-eat when I'm at mom's house, so that must mean mom's house is responsible.")
But these stories often start to make us feel like we don't have choices. Like we can't control our actions. Like we're victims of circumstances.
This makes us feel powerless and afraid of ourselves. Or of situations.
(Now we worry about going to mom's house. Our over-eating "because" of mom's house becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.)
The alternative here:
Accept and allow the feelings, thoughts, and urges you may have in certain situations — these may not change.
Notice when we are telling stories or playing out familiar scripts — don't judge them, just notice them.
Consider how much control we actually do have over our actions. Is it absolutely true that mom's house "makes" you eat?
Infection 7: The void
Treatment: Get out of your head and into your life.
The rush and jangling noise of the busy week/day drowns out quieter things.
Like alone-ness and lack of real connections. Lack of meaning. Lack of purpose.
Reaching for a snack or a glass of wine is better than facing the emptiness, or sadness, or loneliness.
We know. It hurts sometimes. Or just feels like nothing.
The antidote: Do something.
If you're lonely, reach out. Help others. Find a way to share your kindness and care, and to build relationships that really matter.
If you're feeling adrift, start chasing a purpose that excites you. It could be a Big Thrilling Project. Or it could be a few minutes of a quiet hobby.
If you find yourself gazing into the void regularly, add meaningful activity to your weekends/evenings.
The activity doesn't even need to be pleasurable. It might even be uncomfortable, like taking a new class.
Importantly: Don't just add more quantity. You probably don't need to be more busy. Or add more noise.
Instead: Add more quality. A few more minutes of something meaningful and soul-filling will go a long way.
Here’s one more way to start treating Weekenditis (or Eveningitis):
Make complete, wise, and loving choices.
A complete choice is one that understands all the trade-offs, now and in the future.
A wise choice is one that steps back and considers the options.
A loving choice is one that is kind and caring — that tries to take care of YOU.
If it happens to be a weekend or evening, and you notice yourself drifting towards a familiar story (like "I need to treat myself"), this is a red alert.
Pause. Take a moment. Breathe.
Let your wise and kind grownup-woman/man brain kick in.
Consider all the options and angles. What will you feel now? An hour from now? Tomorrow?
What are you willing to trade, and why?
Then choose (notice that word) accordingly. And consciously. Think through to consequences.
Decide what your "deal" is. What your priorities are, and what you're willing to trade.
“Right now, I need some stress relief. I feel out of options, so I'm choosing to eat this tub of ice cream. I know I'll feel nauseated and guilty afterwards... but I accept these consequences. Right now, getting a break from my feelings is my priority.”
You’re free to eat and drink anything you want.
YOU choose YOUR behavior.
Just remember that different choices produce different outcomes.
Did you enjoy reading this article? This article is an excerpt from one of the lessons from my Online Nutrition Coaching Program (ProCoach) designed to help my clients achieve health and wellness goals no matter if they live close by or far away. Want to find out more about the program? Check out this link or shoot me an e-mail.
If Online Coaching doesn't sound like you and you don't live in Fairfield County, I also do phone and Skype consultations for out-of-area clients.