I was brought up Catholic, I was taught to observe the tradition of Lent not only at home but also at school.
Lent is a period of 40 days beginning on Ash Wednesday, the day after Shrove Tuesday (or Pancake Day) and ends on Holy Thursday, the day before Good Friday and Easter weekend.
Traditionally, the period is for us to prepare spiritually for Easter but more recently, people have observed Lent by abstaining from a particular vice, such as drinking or eating certain foods.
Each year, more and more people who have never even been to church are declaring what they are giving up for Lent. There is, of course, nothing wrong with observing Lent for non-religious reasons but what concerns me is that the decision to restrict is often closely linked to diet culture – an obsessive pursuit of thinness that equates to health and moral value.
Most of the things people choose to restrict i.e. chocolate, alcohol, crisps, bread, are the foods our culture has deemed “bad.”
Lent begins right just as our New Year’s resolutions are wearing off so is often an excuse to refocus on goals that are weight-based rather than spiritual. But Lent fasting is supposed to be a spiritual practice, not a weight loss one.
We are all facing pressure to look a certain way which inevitably affects the way we eat. It causes us to want to change our appearance which is far from the values that Lent proposes. The original intentions have been lost in today’s obsession with the ‘ideal’ body.
Using Lent as an excuse to diet can negatively impact our mental wellness, it puts an overemphasis on our size, body image and therefore calorie intake. It does not teach us anything other than how to pressurise and shame ourselves into eating a certain way.
And fundamentally, if you really do want to establish healthy eating habits, placing restrictions instead of understanding why you eat like you, and for such a short period of time, is unlikely to create sustainable change.
Plus, you are most likely to lapse.
The key to getting through Lent without a lapse is to have a genuine, healthy reason which motivates you. By all means, give up up sugary sweets because you want to protect your teeth.
Or, if your goal is discipline, choose a neutral food to give up such as salt or chilli.
Maybe give up social media. So rather than feel obliged to go without food which will only disconnect you further from yourself, why not ‘fast’ from unnecessary spending, gift unwanted items or develop your own spiritual practice (that may involve meditation, writing or playing less games on your phone)?
Or even better, why not give up diet culture for lent? Stop looking for external rules and plans to help you control your eating and start listening to your own body again. Stop seeing foods as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ and start moving your body in a way that feels good instead of as a punishment for eating certain foods.
Realign with your true purpose and find peace within yourself as opposed to constantly fighting your inner food thoughts and feelings
It really is crucial that your reason for doing Lent is about more than losing weight. It is more than being oppressed and conforming to the narrow concept of beauty our society rams downs our throat day in and day out.
As I teach my clients, remaining motivated means finding a true and deep meaning behind your goals.
Restricting foods that diet culture tells us are bad is not the same as fasting for spiritual purposes.
Let’s say ‘NO’ to diet culture and stop chasing an unattainable body image. once we do, we give ourselves a far better chance of self-improvement.
I have already been asked countless times what my thoughts are on people restricting for Lent and my response is always this :
“Think about why you want to restrict that food ask whether it is for significant reasons or is it really another attempt at weight loss?”
Let Lent give you the opportunity to really rebuild the trust and faith in yourself that will lead to longterm success and happiness.