Go ahead and eat a few French fries or a couple of bites of chocolate cake - as long as it's the weekend, when diets tend to fall by the wayside only to be resumed on Monday morning, a new study suggests.
"Regardless of who you are, there's a rhythm to the weight you lose," one of the study's authors, Brian Wansink, told Reuters Health. "You're going to weigh the most on Sunday night and the least on Friday morning," he said.
"You don't want to turn yourself into a glutton over the weekend, but realize that this seems to happen to almost everybody," said Wansink, who directs Cornell University's Food and Brand Lab in Ithaca, New York.
He and a team of researchers studied Finnish men and women and found that weekday compensation for weekend weight gain proved the most likely formula for long-term weight loss, they wrote in the journal Obesity Facts.
The researchers analyzed up to 10 months' worth of self-recorded daily weights from 80 adults between the ages of 25 and 62. Participants were separated into three groups: losers, who dropped more than 3 percent of their weight; gainers, who put on more than 1 percent; and maintainers.
Overall, 18 people lost weight during the study period, 10 were classified as gainers and 52 maintained their weight.
Those in the weight-loss group showed a clear rhythm of putting on pounds over the weekend and slimming down during the week. Though the day of the week predicted weight in all three groups, the pattern in the weight-loss group was more consistent than the patterns among people who gained weight or maintained their weight.
"It appears that long-term habits make more of a difference than short-term splurges," the authors conclude.
Wansink's advice to those trying to shed pounds: "Worry less about the weekends, and focus on the weekdays because that's when weight loss occurs. Just start minding your business on Monday morning."
Nutritionist Susan Racette also believes that planned indulgences may help some dieters.
"It can be motivating if they feel this is actually an allowance, and it can help them stay on track," she told Reuters Health.
Racette, from the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, was not involved in the current study but was the lead author of a 2008 study that found a similar pattern of weekend weight gains followed by weekday drops.
The new study is "just more evidence that people do fluctuate in their day-to-day intake, and that's normal in our society," she said.
Dieters who stray from their regimens may beat themselves up or feel guilty and then find it challenging to return to their weight-loss programs, Racette and Wansink both said.
"We can speculate that there might even be a psychological benefit in indulging a little more over the weekend in that it makes your self control on the weekdays a lot easier to handle," Wansink said.
Weekend splurges "may be better for people psychologically, and it may help them the rest of the week," Racette said.
"The key is there are different strategies that work for different people, and there's no one strategy that's going to work for everyone," she said. "But this can be a strategy that can certainly help people."