Weekends and holidays
There is an attraction and fear surrounding the potential to overeat. On the one hand we crave it, but we also fear the consequences, particularly if we have regained weight in the past. By losing weight and maintaining for any length of time, it would appear we have made some headway with this issue. But it is quite common even among longer term maintainers to occasionally indulge in overeating or binges. Those who do so eat less the rest of the time, depending on how often they binge. The maintainers I know who do this still track the food eaten during the binges.
In addition to how a person eats day to day, the consistency of eating habits throughout the week and across special occasions is also predictive of success. Wing and Phelan (2005) outlines that 59% of the Registry participants ate the same on weekends as during the week. 45% ate the same on vacations and holidays as during the rest of the year. Maintainers who practice these behaviors were 1.5 times more likely to maintain their weight beyond the second year (by the +/- 5 lbs. within goal definition).
So dietary consistency is not a predictor that describes a large majority of maintainers, but it is a predictor that is shown to enhance odds of success. When I finally understood what was meant by dietary consistency, I felt a great weight of anxiety lift as to whether I could successfully maintain. It did not magically mean I would, but it meant maintenance was a matter of education and implementation, not luck.
I did not jump to dietary consistency in one bound. It was something I moved toward gradually throughout my lifestyle transition. Originally I ate on plan all week and binged on holidays. But as we rolled into a month with 3 birthdays in our family, I realized I needed to have a better plan than 4,000 calorie special occasions. I moved to having a binge occur within a single meal once a week, so that one day was 1,000 calories higher than my weight loss level. Eventually it was 500 calories higher, which was actually a maintenance level since my target calorie deficit was 500 calories. That was typically my Sunday dinner.
I do sometimes eat larger meals, but I find that when I do so, it is better for it to be a lunch than a dinner. When I have a large lunch, I am not hungry for a snack and am fine with a smaller dinner. But if you are a late eater and typically have a snack after dinner, the same principle could apply.
There is a theory called calorie cycling that I employed during my transition from weight loss to maintenance. Instead of the weekly maintenance day, I had two higher calorie days a week and lower calorie days that were near weight loss levels. This was very effective at managing weight, and I believe it helped me learn to eat at maintenance levels. However, I also found it a bit obsessive. One of the hallmarks of an eating disorder is whether you spend more than 3 hours a day thinking about food, which I’m afraid was happening when I was in calorie cycling mode. So it did not work for me as a long term plan, but I might use it if I wanted to manage my weight again. I think I experience a certain amount of calorie cycling just by eating in range and alternating between strength and cardio workouts.
Getting back to the question of whether it’s better to binge occasionally or employ dietary consistency, particularly the weekday/weekend variety, I would say it us up to the individual. Is it harder to cut back 5 days a week and let go on 2 (or 6 and 1), or is it harder to eat enough day to day and restrain yourself just on the weekend? My implementation of dietary consistency could use some work. I plan to have the same nutritional goals day to day: calories, water, protein, and fiber from whole plant foods. But on Sundays I often have simple carbs at the expense of quality fiber sources.