Low-fat Lent

Close your eyes for a minute and…wait, no.

Pretend to close your eyes for a minute and think about the holidays throughout the year—Christmas, Easter, Lent, St. Patrick’s Day, etc.—and what you associate with them.

Now pretend to close your eyes and—I can’t believe I’m about to say this—take out the food. What do you associate with them? Does it change the holiday for you at all?

Let’s get this out of the way and say that I’m a fan of food, albeit of the vegetarian variety, a phenomenon that my Polish kielbasa-loving family has yet to comprehend. Holidays and food are forever linked together for good reason. Food is a wonderful way to bring people together, to keep traditions alive and to share in the bounty of the land blah, blah, blah. I’m all for tradition and food.

Disclaimer done. 

Looking past the paczki, this ramble stems from the fact that quite a few people use food in connection with faith in odd ways.

Let’s take a look at Lent.

I’m not religious, but from what I learned in years of catechism, Lent isn’t about picking up diet habits that were left by the wayside (three weeks after New Year’s resolutions were made) so you can look a bit better for Spring Break.


All around me people who haven’t been to church in months claim to be giving up sugary drinks, dessert, foods that come from restaurants with arches, etc. in the name of the lord.

Call me crazy—it’s been done—but I think religion would prefer you indulge in a daily Frappuccino rather than push someone out of your way as you rush to get the new $500 iPhone (whatever number they’re on now) or “forget” to volunteer an hour of your time once a month.

I know chocolate Easter eggs and helping old people cross the street aren’t mutually exclusive, but isn’t the point of Lent—and the spirit of most religious holidays—more about a pledge to help other people rather than a pledge to avoid certain foods?

If it’s really about self-examination, devotion and focusing less on yourself and more on others, will not eating cookies for 40 days help with these goals?

So just for a minute, remove the food and render it a non-factor for Lent or the like.

Would it change an attitude, an action, the spirit of the season?

Would people be posting Facebook updates about how they’re going to do one nice thing for someone every day instead of how they’re on day three of no donuts? Would they be as excited about giving something as they would be about taking a “bad” food away?

If you want to give something up, I completely understand and respect all those traditions. It’s not about that, as I hope I made clear, but rather about the motivation behind the actions. If I didn’t make that clear and you’re ticked, perhaps for Lent you should give up being oversensitive and lighten up—and I don’t mean give up donuts.

Just some food for thought.

25 responses to “Low-fat Lent

  1. This post is the best lent post ever. I have read a shit load of them.. and yours is the only one I’ve commented on. Amen.

  2. And this is why I’m a jew. But putting my challah aside, when people feel the need to “give up” something, they always turn to something perceived as “bad”. Why not “give up” trying to “be healthy”? or give up 10 min of you usual exercise routine to go write someone a letter. Why not give up saying “yes” when you want to say “no”? Or your best bet, why not just give up on “giving up?”
    I am not religious either, but we Jews like to hold on too things. We’re stingy like that.

  3. I have to laugh at Eden’s comment just because I’m actually giving up “trying to be healthy.” That aside, I agree that it would be more beneficial if people were helping others and the like that you described instead of abstaining from Dunkin’ for a month and a half. To try to justify my own decisions, however,I find that my petty food sacrifices will hopefully help me in the long run become “healthier” in a mental and physical way that will allow me to focus more on my studies and gaining the experience I need to help others rather than wasting all of my waking time worrying about food.

  4. It’s like you read my post about Lent. I don’t even believe in god but I was raised Catholic and am used to doing some sort of Lenten promise. Probably b/c I’m used to it, I have better willpower at this time, so I try to use the time to do something I want to do for myself, but is very difficult for me, like eating better or going to bed earlier. This year I’m trying to go to bed earlier and was hoping it would be something I could sustain after Lent, because I am tired, but I’m failing miserably so far. For me, it actually is another New Year’s. I’m not religious anymore, but I do love tradition. There’s just something comforting about the renewal in the transition from winter to spring (which for me growing up as a Catholic led to Easter) and that makes me like attempting these personally transformative gestures. So that’s why I’m an atheist with a Lenten promise.

  5. I really appreciated this post. and couldn’t agree with you more.
    Just wanted to share a Lenten story:
    On March 4, 1987 it was Ash Wednesday – and I was a strict Catholic at age 15. I also had experienced a rather “traumatic first date” about six month prior… and when I went to Confession before that Ash Wednesday, the Priest (who was about 90 years old) told me I had committed a mortal sin when I revealed in Confession that I had been assualted on that date. I don’t know if the info was misconstrued as I tried to confess to what I thought was my fault, but regardless, that Priest gave me a penance of 10 ‘Our Fathers’ and 10 ‘Hail Marys”… I’d never been given such a penance. So I knew I had really done something wrong.
    So on that Ash Wednesday, I gave up eating sweets… and by the end of Lent, I was barely eating anything at all. I also said that Penance several times a day… every day. Compulsivity had set in. I would force myself to run – saying that penance in my head – holding my hands high above my head so it would hurt more. I would run and run. And bike. And deny food. Anything remotely pleasurable was forbidden – that was the rule – for Lent.
    And that RULE never went away.
    I was first hospitalized (for anorexia) by June 1987. and Spent the rest of my teens, twenties and part of my 30’s in and out of hospitals, treatment centers – and have never NOT been in outpatient therapy.
    I am no longer a practicing Catholic. But every year at Lent I feel haunted. And I hear people doing their food talk, and I can only look the other way and close my eyes – and try to remember that is not a way to get closer to God.

  6. I agree. I don’t think Lent was ever intended to be weeks of dieting, I mean did anyone think of dieting back in Jesus’ day? Probably not because they didn’t have quite the twisted mentality we do now about food, being skinny, and working out for millions of hours. Although I’m technically Catholic (but more like a Buddhist) I’m giving up the internet on weekends. I found myself spending way too many hours reading blogs, commenting, checking on celebrity gossip. Now I can read actual books, get outside, and spend quality time with the husband – probably the way life was intended before Facebook and Twitter.

    • Great comment. Great idea. I can’t give up the Internet on weekends because of work, but I have made a much more diligent effort the past few months to really cut back and get involved more in my own life–especially when it comes to writing.

  7. I respect what your tring to say and agree to an extent. I’ve given up diet soda for Lent, and I’ve never even participated before this year. I kind of just came into it by chance because I woke up and heard that it was the beginnning of Lent that day. Lol! I’m not taking it too seriously, because I don’t think restricing myself of any kind of food related item, would be healthy for me, ya know? But it was hearing about Lent, I took it as a time to really challenge yourself to let go of something that temps you and holds a little power over you. Not to get all “preachy” on you, but I personally relate it to figures in the Bible being tempted for 40 days, like Jesus in the desert being tempted by Satan. That’s just how I perceived the whole point of Lent to be, but it could be different for others….

    • That’s my point–you’re doing it for the right reasons. I’m talking about people who don’t know/care about the “point” and decide it’s a great time to be virtuous and restrain from sweets, etc. 🙂

  8. “motivation behind the actions”
    says it all.

    Have a mindful Lent. And for some, giving up something or whatever the “action” might be is a way to draw that awareness, that mindfulness. What bugs me is when people think its some sort of God transaction.

    Fasting on Friday + putting a quarter in the jar when you swear + giving up donuts = getting to heaven faster???


  9. Pingback: How Our Food Get Screwed | Eden's Eats

  10. Claire Lafferty

    I agree with this so much, and also made a very similar post a few days ago aswell.
    I’m a practising Catholic and for Lent I believe in going on something as much as going off something. So this year I’m doing a bit of both, which I think will help me strengthen my faith and help me have a better relationship with God.
    But I also struggle a lot with my eating disorder around lent. As others have already said, it’s hard to sit around and listen to everyone else going off certain foods. To some extent I know they might be motivated by the thought of losing weight in the process.
    But I know for the sake of my recovery, I can’t even begin to think about restricting a food… or having a ‘bad food’. So for Lent I’m sure my recovery is more important to God than weather I go off a certain food.


    • I can imagine that this would be a triggering time of year for you in that respect, but I would have to agree with your sentiment. Intention is so much more important, and your intention is to take care of yourself so you lead a healthy and happy life. I think everyone would rather have that for you than 40 days of restriction 😉

  11. AMEN! I also come from a Polish kielbasa loving family and I can’t even imagine a holiday without FOOD, FOOD and more FOOD! Especially kielbasa. My Jewish husband has even taken it upon himself to learn how to cook kielbasa just like my dad. It is quite hilarious!

    I also agree that God isn’t going to care if I give up something for Lent so I decided to make myself better by eating better and working out more. I feel that by bettering my health it will be better for me in the long run than giving up chocolate or soda for Lent. Plus I could likely kill someone if I don’t have my Diet Coke in the morning and we all know that won’t get me to heaven!

  12. Great post. I’ve got a close family member who every year, without fail, gives up diet coke and chocolate (her two greatest food loves) for Lent and then talks about how great it’s going to be when she gets to have it again when Lent is over. She also suffers from an untreated eating disorder and this period of restriction seems to strengthen some of her maladaptive behaviors–like God is saying, yes, please focus more on staying unhealthy (at least for her).

    I agree wholeheartedly that being a good person and setting healthy intentions makes for a good life regardless of your religious affiliations. I wish more people would/could be mindful and use things like Lent to really do some good for themselves and others.

  13. Tiffany Lyman-Olszewski

    I am sure I have friends who give up something for Lent for the “right” reasons just as some do for the “wrong” reasons… Honestly, deprivation under the guise of “religion” isn’t that much different from the “religion” (or, more rightly, cult) of an eating disorder. I guess I would question anyone who avoids/gives up/”disciplines” themselves in an extreme manner no matter what their motivation/reason, and no matter what time of year it is.

  14. growing up, I’d give up cookies or chips or whatever because those were things that were sacrifices for me. but once I got to collegeish age, I realized people only gave these things up because they wanted to get ready for spring break…. i cry bullshit. i generally don’t give up things for lent, but add things in. i feel ya on that one. plus, i hate people posting what they gave up on facebook.

  15. Kath (My Funny Little Life)

    I absolutely agree! Two behaviors may look alike at the surface, but be completely contrary with regard to their underlying motivations. Still, sometimes outer changes help to have to inner spirit come to terms – like, for example (trivial example, sorry, but the first thing that cam to my mind), I have a hard time working and concentrating in a chaotic environment. So, maybe I’ll also find it easier to reflect on the *essential* things if I symbolically limit certains foods for some time. Just a thought. 🙂

  16. Yea, I was baptized Catholic, but I’m not religious whatsoever anymore, but one thing I never understood was Lent. Most of the people I was around when I was younger didn’t even go to church, yet they went Ash Wednesday and gave stuff up for lent….like my mom and I (she made me when I was little). I always felt like a hyprocrite or something and felt like everyone else was too. It’s like everyone just does bare minimum I guess so you don’t get ‘damned to hell’ or something. It just all seemed so silly to me. Bet if I asked my mom WHY she is giving up stuff for lent, she wouldn’t even know. She is just sheeping along with everyone else who probably doesn’t know either. I hope that doesn’t make me sound too mean!

  17. I was Catholic up through high school, and although for a couple of years I tried to exploit Lent as an excuse for ED behaviors, when I finally/intermittently tried to start taking recovery seriously I changed my approach along the lines that you suggest. Instead of giving something up, I did a pledge to do something extra each day. One year it was to give 3 compliments a day, one year it was to help my mother around the house for a minimum of half an hour, one year it was to go 40 days without physically harming my younger brother, stuff like that. You make excellent points about how we get caught up in the tradition of something without always examining the meaning/effectiveness of what we’re doing.

  18. My favorite Lent “sacrifices” were always the kids who decided they were giving up veggies or some other ridiculous thing they most definitely would not miss.

    I like your idea of spinning Lent into doing good things rather than avoiding bad things. I’m sure God would approve of that just as much, and it would not only elevate *your* soul, but touch the people around you, too.

    Says the former Christian youth leader turned agnostic. 😛

Talk to me

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s