The Special Day, Happiness, and Cheat Days

One time I ate 12 doughnuts in the span of 24 hours. I didn’t make it fit into my diet or anything. I just went hard in the paint and before I knew it I was balls deep in some awesome doughnuts. Why? Because it was a Special Day.

Is there any greater enemy to the diet than the Special Day? The day that comes around, and provides an unforeseen temptation that is just enough to drive you off the tracks to 6-Pack City and straight into Doughnut Mountain?

In my own personal experience, I’ve seen this sort of thing happen countless times. Someone is kicking ass, they’re seeing results, and then that Special Day comes.

A Special Day is not a birthday or holiday in this instance. Those are different. We plan for these days, which you’ll see makes all the difference.

What I’m talking about is entirely different. A Special Day in this regard is the day that we didn’t plan for, but popped up on the calendar.

A few examples:

  • National Doughnut Day
  • National Tequila Day
  • The coworker brought freshly baked cookies from his grandmother
  • The “I should do something nice for myself” feeling

What do all of these examples have in common? They play on something that Gretchen Rubin, author the best selling book Better Than Before calls the “fake self actualization loophole”.

To understand how it can harm us, we need to understand Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, and most importantly sits at the top. Self-Actualization, or complete acceptance of oneself is the final stage in Maslow’s hierarchy. When we’ve achieved it, we are truly happy.

This is part of the reason I think Rubin nailed it with the title. We’re constantly under the guise that participating in these Special Days will bring us true happiness. Will lead to self-actualization.

Immediately this is setting up for an ugly situation, because happiness isn’t an end point. The goalposts of happiness are always moving. There’s always something else we want that will make us happy.

This can also be tied into FOMO, or fear of missing out. Which is one of the driving forces behind our intense desire to constantly be checking social media, even if we’re in the middle of a conversation with someone. We’re terrified that if we don’t take part in the Special Day we’ll be missing out and depriving ourselves that day.

Will the Special Day make us any happier?

Deep down, is our happiness really going to be hindered if we give up that doughnut on National Doughnut Day? I doubt it. That didn’t stop me from falling victim to this very loophole on National Doughnut Day though. Hell, I even wrote about it and didn’t know what had happened at the time.

By the way, have I told you that I love doughnuts? Because I do.

By the way, have I told you that I love doughnuts? Because I do.

Many of us want to be a disciplined individual who cultivates good habits that we can depend on, the type of person who doesn’t fall victim to the Special Day.

As I once heard said, “we don’t want to run a marathon, we want to be the type of person who runs a marathon.”

We don’t want to go through the grueling training that it takes to run a marathon or be exceptionally disciplined. We just want the end result. The medal, or able to claim we were disciplined enough to have one bite of that doughnut.

What’s ironic is on the flip side we don’t always want to be taking part in that Special Day, either. We just don’t want to miss out. We feel like missing out will take us further away from happiness, whatever that is, so we partake in the Special Day.

In order to change, we have to sacrifice.

The calendar will always be there. There are 365 days in a year, and every single day is some sort of Special Day. Some of those days might not be your kind of special, but some of them are.

The truth is, if we really want to change, we must accept the fact that the calendar cannot intervene in our plans all the time.

Dietary success isn’t a short-term game. It’s a long game that we play with ourselves, which can be deceiving. We think because it’s a long game, that we’re allowed minor slip ups or able to enjoy the Special Day whenever the calendar shows us one we like.

Success in the longterm game means many meals that look like this instead of delicious doughnuts.

Success in the longterm game means many meals that look like this instead of delicious doughnuts.

This couldn’t be more wrong. If we begin to excuse each temporary lapse in discipline we breed inconsistency. It breaks up the momentum of little wins. Inconsistency is the mortal enemy of change. Like all of your goals getting Hulk smashed by that random day on the calendar.

This is the same reason why most successful dieters, people who have lost the weight and kept it off, start by making themselves drink one sip of water, eat one bite of vegetables, or something similar. The goal is so small that it allows them to build consistency, pile up little wins, and start building on that.

Your game plan to fight the Special Day.

I’m a big fan of planning. I have a note pad on me at all times and I live by the calendar on my phone. I’m a planner. I’m not alone here either. There are far more planners than doers amongst us humans.

Don’t believe me? Just think of all the grandiose plans you’ve made in your lifetime that you never followed up on.

Leverage that, and start planning. Plan to fail. Planning to fail causes a subtle mindset shift that still allows you to remain in control of the entire situation. When you’re free spirit you’re no longer in control. You’ve relinquished the reins, and are entering a perpetual cycle of trying to make up for what you’ve done while “not missing out” on anything.

Sure, it may feel awesome to live a life that allows you to do whatever you please on a whim. There’s no denying that, up to a point. We crave structure, though. Planning and control gives us structure.

One of my favorite planning to fail strategies is a cheat day. A cheat day is a day that allows you to plan to fail, and maintain control of the entire situation. You can go balls to the wall with doughnuts, wings, beer, pizza, or whatever else for an entire day. Once the day is over, so is the failing.

But what about moderation?

I’m a fan of moderation. However, I’m personally an abstainer who does better when I place strict rules on myself, and then plan to break those rules. In my experience moderation is learned by first learning how to sacrifice and indulge to excess. This is part of the reason I’m such a big fan of placing rules on myself, and planning cheats.

This sounds an awful lot like binge eating?

There is a major difference between binge eating and cheat days. Binge eating is a nasty issue that plagues nearly everyone at some point or another. Some people wind up having their entire lives ruined by binge eating episodes for periods of time.

Binging is a loss of control. We’ve all done it at some point or another. Cheat days, by their virtue, are controlled by you. If you struggle with binging, or have in the past, then a cheat day is likely not a good choice.

There’s a certain mental reprieve to the cheat day, because you’ve planned for it. You’re not saying, “Oh well. Guess I need to make up for this tomorrow.”

I failed hard on National Doughnut Day, to the tune of over 2,000 calories of nothing but pure doughnut goodness. At the time I was trying to practice moderation, and fell victim to the Special Day. I didn’t want to miss out. I wound up attempting to make up for that splurge by under eating for the entire next week. Not exactly a healthy way to go about things.

Had I planned on failing, I would’ve been in control of the entire situation. I wouldn’t feel like I broke my streak of momentum and little wins. Instead I’d be in control and perfectly fine the next day. It’s amazing what a little control can do for us, isn’t it?