IT'S SUNDAY evening, and, yet again, you are filled with remorse. You had planned on early morning walks and lovely home-cooked dinners. Instead, you spent the weekend living in a "treat yourself" zone.
A study in 'The Journal of Public Policy and Marketing' found that we consume around 400 extra calories each weekend, and it's easy to see why.
"People often eat healthier during the week, and allow themselves to be more lenient at the weekend," explains Helen Corrigan, a nutritional therapist at Dublin-based practice Healing Corner (www.healingcorner.ie). "This can be a great idea, but sometimes we take it too far and end up undoing the good of healthy eating during the week."
One of the reasons we can feel exhausted after a seemingly restful weekend is due not only to late nights and excess alcohol, but also to the food that we eat – too many sugary, fatty, junk foods wreak havoc on our blood-sugar levels and our moods.
However, a bit of preparation and knowledge can make the healthier choice the easier, more satisfying one.
Friday 6pm: After-work drinks
Between drinks and bar food, you could clock up almost 1,000 calories before your weekend has even begun. "The sugar in alcohol causes our blood-sugar levels to initially go very high, and then subsequently very low," explains Helen. These dips cause you to crave simple carbohydrates and choose foods very high in sugar or fat.
On top of the blood-sugar fluctuations, alcohol also lowers your inhibitions, so it's no wonder so many people end up making a 2am pit stop at the local chipper.
Eating a good meal containing complex carbohydrates (a baked potato, wholegrain bread or brown rice) and protein (lean meat, fish, eggs or beans) before drinking can really help to balance blood-sugar levels in advance and reduce junk-food cravings later in the evening.
Another way to prevent late night cravings is to limit your alcohol intake. "Decide in advance the maximum number of drinks you want to have and only bring out enough money for this and transport home," suggest Helen.
You can also keep an eye on your drinking with visual and physical cues. Studies have shown that something as simple as holding on to the lemon slice or cocktail stick from each drink can help you consume less as they serve as a constant reminder of what you've consumed.
Saturday 11am: Sleeping In
The lack of alarm clock can be bliss, but lie-ins can knock your body clock off kilter. They also often mean that you skip breakfast and wake up ravenous, which leads to overcompensating at brunch.
"Going for long periods of time without food will cause your blood-sugar levels to drop quite significantly, which can be exacerbated by the effects of alcohol the night before," says Helen. This can lead to you waking up craving carby and fatty foods.
Being prepared and having the right food at home is a big step in the right direction. "This way, when you are ready to eat, you'll have some healthy options in place," says Helen.
Craving carbs and fat often leads to a very unhealthy fry-up, but there are ways to keep it healthy and still get your fix. "Have scrambled, boiled or poached eggs, rather than fried, and make them the main part of your breakfast, rather than the rashers and sausages," suggests Helen.
She also recommends opting for wholegrain toast, rather than white to replenish the B vitamins that alcohol destroys in the body. Vitamin C, which is also destroyed by alcohol, can easily be replenished by grilling tomatoes, sautéing spinach or having a glass of fresh orange juice with breakfast.
Saturday 8pm: Movie night
Getting lost in the twists and turns of a gripping thriller can lead you to mindlessly take in a lot more food than you intended. "Cinema snacks are supersized, so you could easily consume all or more of your daily calorie requirements in just one cinema trip," explains Helen.
"A bucket of popcorn at the cinema can contain 1,000 calories, which is 10 times more than what you would get in a regular bag from the newsagent. A large drink can contain around 600 calories, and a large bag of sweets almost twice that."
She suggests tucking into a healthy meal before your cinema trip, so you're not hungrily at risk of falling for the warm, buttery popcorn smell, or selection of pick-'n'-mix and super-sized junk food options available. "Go for a regular bag of sweets or popcorn," she adds.
Sunday 6pm: Takeaway treat
Come Sunday evening, many people are still holding on to the holiday mentality of the weekend. On top of this, the previous day's bad food choices have lead to roller coaster blood-sugar fluctuations, leaving you exhausted, cranky and reaching for the nearest takeaway menu.
Again, preparation is key. A nutritious, filling breakfast followed by shopping for ingredients for a week of healthy eating will get things off to the right start. "When you know you have something tasty and easy to prepare at home, you're more likely to skip the takeaway," says Helen. If you know you won't be able to resist, only keep menus from places that offer healthier options like sushi or low-calorie stir fries.