When Is it Time for a Day Off or a Splurge?

When Is it Time for a Day Off or a Splurge?

It’s my friend’s birthday this week. It’s one that ends in a 5. Those 5s and 0s are always a big deal, and there’s much celebrating going on. Dinners out with family and friends with fancy drinks. “I’ve been so good at staying on my food plan lately,” she tells me. “How in the world am I going to survive this birthday week?”

Conversations like this come up frequently in my office. Maybe it’s a birthday; maybe it’s a vacation to Italy. Or maybe it’s just rhubarb season, and you can’t get enough of strawberry-rhubarb pie. Whatever the situation, we all have times when something comes up, and we need to make the decision: Is this worth getting off my eating plan, and if I do, will I be able to get back on?

Here are a few things I recommend:

1. Regardless of what you choose to do, it’s not a “cheat” or a “treat.” Cheating implies doing something wrong or sneaky. And a treat implies that food is a reward. Our society already has so many hang-ups around food that I strongly recommend avoiding words that moralize food choices. I like to refer to it simply as a “choice to splurge,” “planned splurge” or simply a “splurge.” If I’m taking a whole day (like my birthday), I call it “taking a day off,” knowing I’m not going to monitor my sugar intake at all that day. Never a “cheat day” or a “treat day.”

2. Give yourself a beginning and an end. Although the big birthday only comes around once, your friends might want to take a whole week to celebrate. So you’ll want to decide which day (or days) you want to limit yourself to. You also can recommend non-food–oriented activities, such as mani-pedis.

3. Keep a food journal—not when you’re taking time off but when it’s time to get back to your routine. When you take a break from your regular way of eating, it can be hard to hold yourself accountable when you return. Writing everything down for a few days can help remind you of your original plan and keep you on track as you resume your previous way of eating. This is particularly helpful if taking time off has gone further than you originally planned, or if you’re starting to feel out of control of the day off. Food journaling is a great way to refocus and pull yourself back to your plan.

4. Is it worth it? You’re the one who needs to decide that. Although I don’t like to refer to a new way of eating as “a diet,” this is one of the few times that I do. When patients ask me if it’s worth it for them to go off their program while they’re on vacation in Europe or when they’re celebrating their daughter’s wedding, I tell them it’s their decision. But I ask them this: If you don’t splurge, will it interfere with your enjoyment of this significant life event? When you look back on the event in a few years, will you think, “What a great trip!” or will you think, “That’s the time I went to Europe when I was on a diet.” Personally, when I go on vacation, I have a splurge when I find something that I absolutely think is worth splurging on. When I go to a wedding, I have a small piece of cake if others tell me the cake is amazing. The rest of the time, I continue to eat the same way I always do.

5. Remember that every day is not a special occasion. Some people live lives in which events that could be considered “special” occur on a regular basis. I think a good rule of thumb is that there shouldn’t be a reason for a “day off” more than once a month. If you’re taking more than one “day off” or “planned splurge” a month, you might need to reevaluate.

So, Dear Friend, Happy Birthday! I hope you find Blah-Blah-Five to be a wonderful year. Enjoy a little bit of cake and a froofy drink or two. Then get right back on your program, because you’re doing amazing and your health is worth it!