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March 28, 2024

Building Healthy Habits into Your Weekend Routine

Dear Melissa—Melissa Urban wearing a light blue jean top and darker blue jeans, cooking on a wooden table top, and smiling at the camera.

Dear Melissa,

My husband and I have weekend “treat days” that include large amounts of alcohol, candy, chips, fast food, and bonding.

For many years I’ve practiced calorie restriction during the week, followed by a free-for-all day on the weekend. This “treat day” consists of way too much alcohol, sugar, and fast food… followed by a hangover day that inevitably includes more of the same, turning my treat DAY into DAYS. My husband and I have enjoyed this free-for-all together; at this point it’s a well-established ritual in our household.

I know this behavior is not healthy, and aside from the bonding, it no longer feels fun or good. Still, I can’t stop myself from migrating back to the comfort of this ritual. My husband is “supportive” by encouraging me to indulge—but breaking this pattern is something I want to do for me.

I need some advice on how to recreate rituals and new, healthy habits in support of a lifestyle change.  Should I scrap my weekly “treat day?”  If so, how in the world do I accomplish that?—H.M., Abbotsford, BC, Canada

Dear H.M.,

You and your husband have created a dynamic where you associate unwinding and sharing quality time with sugar, fast food, and wine. The solution isn’t to scrap the “unwind and quality time”—the solution is to (a) de-couple “quality time” with “foods and drinks that don’t make me feel good,” and (b) end the deliberate caloric restriction during the week, which biologically promotes cravings and overconsumption on the weekend. Let’s tackle these in reverse order, so you can create healthy habits that will support your new weekend routine.

Step 1: End the restriction

It’s likely you’re stuck in a vicious cycle of restriction during the week, over-consuming as a natural response on the weekends, then purposefully restricting even more because you’ve over-consumed. You’ve said this doesn’t feel healthy physically or psychologically, and I believe starting here is the first step in creating a new foundation for your weekend.

To ensure you’re adequately fed during the week (both from a caloric and nutritional perspective), tune into and respect your body’s hunger signals and start eating to satiety. Prioritize protein with every meal, add natural fats for satiety, and include whole food-based carbs that you know work well for your body. Use your Whole30 learnings to guide you here. If white rice crashes your energy or legumes leave you bloated, stick with veggies, fruits, and other carb sources that you know work better. This will allow you to maintain your energy, focus, mood, sleep, and activity levels during the week while feeling your best.

Ideally, commit to at least three full meals a day (no more skipping breakfast), including mini-meals or snacks where needed. Enjoy as many meals as possible without distraction, to create a more relaxed mealtime environment. Use your hunger cues and energy levels as a gauge, eating when you’re hungry and stopping when you’ve had enough (versus when your calorie counting app tells you to stop).

All of this will go a long way towards reducing cravings, and won’t put you in a position where you’re starving, craving sweets, and primed to over-consume on the weekends. This alone should go a long way towards shifting your weekend patterns.

Now let’s tackle communicating all of this to your husband, and reframing how you approach your weekend routine of relaxation and connection.

Step 2: Create new associations

I can understand your husband’s encouragement to indulge. After all, if you indulge too, it makes him feel better about or less alone in his choices. As this is your healthy initiative, it’s up to you to steer this ship in a different direction. Don’t scrap the ritual—just the parts of the ritual that (for you) take away from its intention: feeling better, connecting, and relaxing.

The first step is having an honest conversation with him about why you intend to change your behavior and integrate new, healthier habits into your weekend routine. Make it personal, speak from the heart, and ask for his support. You might say something like:

“I’ve been tired/stressed/depressed/losing self-confidence lately, and I want to make some changes for my physical and emotional health. I’m ready to feel more confident in my body have more energy, and get my mood back on an even keel… but I really need your help. I want to preserve our “weekend unwind,” but the way I choose to eat and drink on the weekends has been making me feel worse, not better. In fact, the emotional and mental repercussions often last for days, which spills over into our relationship all week long. I need to change that part, so would you help me plan other ways we can unwind and connect outside of food and drink?”

As this is something you’re doing for yourself, keep the focus on your behavior, and how you feel. This can reduce any defensiveness that might come up if he thinks you’re not attacking his behaviors. In addition, be as specific as you can about how your treat days make you feel. Perhaps mention how hard it is to navigate your cravings for days on end, how mentally stressful that is for you, how it makes you tired and grumpy and less interested in sex because you feel headachey and bloated. The more honestly and vulnerably you can connect here, the better.

Finally, do ask for his help! Frame this as a “team” issue and recruit his feedback in how you restructure your weekends. This sends a clear signal that your together-time is important to you, and you’d like to come up with ways to connect that feel good to both of you.

Step 3: Rewrite the script

Come prepared with a few ideas for your revised “treat days” in mind. Think about activities that you both enjoy but don’t revolve around food, like hiking, a scenic drive, visiting friends or family, ax throwing, bowling, a bike ride, kayaking or paddling, walking the dog, visiting garage sales, home renovations, or window shopping. You could also brainstorm activities that could include different foods for each of you, like a movie where you each choose your own snacks, or a picnic where you each pack your own lunch.

These should be activities that you both enjoy and find relaxing, while also aligning with your goal of ending the weekend feeling energetic, happy, and healthy. Be willing to compromise though—going to the driving range may not be your idea of unwinding, but if your husband loves the idea and it would keep you both active together, turn that into a once-a-month activity, or take a lesson together.

Step 4: Deal with push-back

Your husband may still want to drink wine and eat Bon-Bons on your “treat” day—and that’s going to have to be okay. He’s an adult and he makes his own choices, so address this up front: “If you still want to indulge on weekends, that’s great—you do you! But knowing that I’m trying to make some changes, please don’t pressure me to join you. I’m committed to doing this for me and for us, and I’m asking you to respect that.”

Then steel your resolve, because you’ve got some deeply ingrained habits and associations to unwind. Journaling, meditating, staying connected to the Whole30 community on social media, and staying active with walks, tidying, reading, or craft projects will help see you through and nurture your new healthy habits.

Finally, I’ll leave you with some tough love (heavy on the love). If you give in after your “I am committed to this” speech, you’ll lose credibility going forward both with your husband and yourself—and this pattern will be even harder to break. Pull this cord in case of emergency: Tell yourself, “I’ve made it this far, and I don’t want to have to start over again. I can do this. I AM doing this.”

As you deliberately choose other ways to nourish yourself, connect, make memories together, and change those old associations between food, alcohol, and “relaxing,” you;ll groove new neural pathways, create new habits, and weaken that longstanding association that is no longer serving you. Let feeling better, happier, more energetic, and more self-confident be the inertia that carries you through.

Best in health,

Melissa


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