As I am writing this, I am sitting with a warm cup of coffee, curled up looking out at the ocean on a sunny Saturday morning! It’s the weekend, finally, and all I can think about is how much I am going to sleep and EAT! I can’t wait to feast this weekend on all those “unhealthy” foods that have been restricted during the week. I saved so many calories by eating less during the week, so I deserve to splurge, don’t I? It sounds crazy, but I know I’m not the only one thinking this way. If this is your mindset from Monday-Friday (or maybe only until Thursday), then you are “living for the weekend” in terms of food. This dietary habit is never a good one to follow! Let me explain why.
The belief that you can “save up” your calories is very false. Our bodies don’t work like that! Each day you require a different amount of fuel based on your activity, body shape, size, workout routine, sleep habits, etc. Restricting calories for 4 or 5 days with the intention of “saving” those calories for the weekend often leads to weight gain and hunger control issues! When we consume less than the daily basal metabolic minimum (typically around AT LEAST 1,200 for females and 1,600 for males) our metabolism stalls which causes less calories to be burned overall, fat to be stored and possibly even muscle to be used as energy. And to make matters worse, after the few days of under eating, if you follow it up with 1 or 2 days of excessive food intake your body will hold onto all of those calories!
Think about it: by under eating you are causing your metabolism to slow down, your body and mind get used to the low calorie amount coming in so it feels the need to slow down how many calories you burn throughout the day. When you suddenly eat a large amount of food, your body is not prepared for this. Your metabolism is at a stand still and as a result, those excess calories will be stored in the body- leading to fat and weight gain. I’m sure this is not your ultimate goal!
So how do we combat this metabolic slow down? By stoking the fire! This, in essence, means you need to EAT! Everyday I encourage you to eat the appropriate amount for your body and activity level. You need to support your body by meeting your daily caloric minimums, if not more, or else the restriction will come back to negatively impact your health and weight goals. There are more ways to boost your metabolism aside from eating enough- some ways include exercise, managing stress and getting adequate amounts of sleep. (I will address these in a later blog, so stay tuned!)
Aside from the metabolic impact that low calorie intake has, eating too little also causes hunger signal issues. By restricting your food intake, you are ultimately telling your body that the hunger signals you are feeling (the lightheaded, grumbly tummy sensations) are wrong. You are telling yourself that your innate ability to sense hunger is false and that your brain (and the diet industry) knows what your body needs more than your own body does. This is so wrong! Your body knows what your body needs more than anyone else. So LISTEN!
Listening to our body’s innate hunger cues is very important for establishing and maintaining a healthy relationship with food and your body! If you are hungry, don’t repress this. Honor it and respond accordingly! Listen to what your body and belly are craving. If it’s a Tuesday night and you are craving some chocolate, then allow yourself to have a small piece! Otherwise, you will obsess over that small portion of chocolate until Saturday when the treat is “allowed” and end up eating the whole bar! To avoid this weekend food feast, its best to spread your treats or “cheat” meals throughout the week so you don’t feel deprived or tempted to overeat them on the weekends. Also, by not eating enough during the week, when the weekend comes you may find yourself famished and unable to stop yourself from eating everything in sight and exceeding your caloric needs significantly! This ultimately undoes all the restricting you suffered through during the week!
Along with metabolic slow down and overeating temptations, you may notice your mood and energy take a major hit as well! By eating too little during the week, you are not providing your body enough calories to function optimally. The fuel you are eating will get diverted to life sustaining bodily functions while your attitude, mood and awareness all decline. You may notice you are grumpy, annoyed, depressed, fatigued, distracted or uninterested in your normal life when you aren’t eating enough! Mood and energy may improve on Saturday when you boost your intake, but I guarantee by Sunday you will start feeling fatigued and guilty from the bloated belly you may have from the excessive (and probably less “healthy”) food choices!
Its good to eat healthy during the week! But its NOT good to limit yourself to only a certain number of calories or foods to achieve this. Your healthy eating habits shouldn’t end on Friday. This week I challenge you to carry your healthy habits into your Saturday morning breakfast, then maybe the next week you can have a healthy breakfast and lunch, then the next week add in dinner! And while you’re at it, why not try sprinkling in a few of your favorite weekend treats into your Monday-Friday meal plan? This may help decrease your cravings for those foods and eat less of them on the the weekends!