Post-Pancake Day (Shrove Tuesday, whichever you prefer) all everyone seems to be talking about is what they are giving up for Lent – whether a practising Christian or not, it has become engrained in our culture that we should go through life systematically making sacrifices to break up the times when we gorge ourselves silly. There seem to be three main types of people who I have spoken to on the subject – those who try and fail continuously at dieting and are using this as an excuse to make another half-hearted attempt at losing weight. Then there are those who fancy a personal challenge of seeing if they can give up something for around six weeks, some even do it for charity. And finally, those who use Lent as a way to start a longer project of giving up bad habits like smoking.
The one I seem to hear about repeatedly, it seems to be the only thing on peoples’ minds lately, is losing weight, This seems to be the motivation behind any of these sacrifices whether it is stopping drinking, eating sweets or chocolate, or for those who decide to take up exercise. I have no problem with people wanting to improve themselves or their health, but there is rarely any mention of this. Everyone seems more concerned with losing weight and doing it as quickly as possible by starving themselves or cutting out any treats rather than changing their lifestyle to keep the weight off long term and becoming a healthier person who is stronger and more toned. I really hate the way our society has become so focused on this cycle of gorging and purging – so many seem to go for a “health kick” which sees them working out loads and cutting back their foods to an unhealthy extent or even sticking to a liquid diet. This is crazy and totally ridiculous – how on earth can they possibly think this is maintainable long-term? And if it is not, what is the point when you will only put the weight back on when you return to normal?
Don’t get me wrong, I’m totally in support of those who give up chocolate for Lent and manage to stick to it the whole time – I just don’t understand the point when the same individual will, in my experience, go and stuff themselves silly when Easter arrives. I have a lot of respect for people who completely change their lifestyles – the ones who go cold turkey after smoking 40 a day for decades, the ones who completely change their eating habits and create a new lifestyle with plenty of exercise and the ones who cut back on drinking and partying all the time to take part in marathons. All of these people are so inspiring and should be really proud of themselves because they have committed to a lifestyle change and they have created a long-term plan. I am firmly of the belief that there is no short-term fix for anything and a six-week cutting back of booze, fags or grub is not going to undo a lifetime of binging on all of these.
Of course, just to clarify, I am talking about those who have adapted Lent from the traditional Christian season of fasting and prayer to a time of sacrifice for weight loss. I know that there are many out there who genuinely give things up because of their beliefs and this is also to be respected. However, I personally have little time for those who say they are giving something up for a few weeks – is this really a sacrifice when there are hundreds of thousands, even billions, out there who have sacrifice their health every time they take a drink from a dirty river? I just don’t understand why it is so hard for some people to understand that moderation is the key to a healthy lifestyle – just as you can’t binge on McDonald’s all the time, it is not healthy to live off the same limited foods, to cut out food groups like carbohydrates, or to have a liquid diet. It takes a careful balance of healthy foods, treats and EXERCISE! Of course it is easier if you enjoy healthy foods and working out, but there are many variations of these and it is just a case of finding the right one for you.
I like to think I have found my balance – I eat healthily, drink plenty of water and work out a few times a week, but I also enjoy getting drunk on a night out and going out for a nice meal. I never sacrifice or stop myself from having something I want, I just work harder at the gym to balance it out. This is my motto for life, if you want things, you have to work for them. Quite frankly, if you want that dream body, you need to work for it, not take the easy option. This is why I am not giving up anything for Lent – a) I just don’t see what sacrificing something for six weeks will achieve, and b) I feel that actually I already have a balanced lifestyle and I genuinely don’t know what I would give up! Why not join me? Forget about Lent and make some real life changes, get healthy and fit for life, not just until Easter.
Have you given anything up for Lent? What was your motivation and do you think you will stick with it?
Great thoughts. I’m with you on encouraging those who are not engaged in Lent for spiritual reasons to simply give it up and just work out their issues in some other fashion. Because, as you said, many are likely to fail and, at the end of it all, its just one more “religious experience” that let them down. But beyond that, it’s just completely inappropriate since the fast is primarily a spiritual endeavor. Making it into a purely physical endeavor is to turn the whole thing on its head.
I’m so glad you checked this out Eric – knew you’d have interesting comments to make. You’re right that these individuals should work out their issues another way – it is unfair to bring religion into it and especially to blame religion or to look on it as a failed religious experience when actually their motivations are anything but spiritual. Thanks so much for your comments and for bringing a religious viewpoint into it!
I was used to do it for the challenge, but I don’t anymore. I just try to be a better person every day. The instant gratification yo-yo mentality can become very hard to break once you get into it. I think if it helps people get off a bad habit for a bit, then good for them. Hopefully they learn they can do it and go without it. It also kind of bothers me when people say they are giving something up for Lent when they don’t even acknowledge the spiritual aspect. The purpose of Lent is to purify the soul for Easter. If it doesn’t have a spiritual aspect, then it isn’t really Lent. It is just a 6-week diet before Easter.
That is such a good way to live “to try and be a better person every day”, changing your lifestyle is a day by day challenge and not something that can happen overnight – this is such a healthy and steady way of monitoring progress and making this changes – whether weight loss, healthy living, being kinder, quitting smoking or whatever your goal might be. And I totally agree, this misuse of the spiritual when it comes to Lent is something that I, although not a Christian, find offensive – it is disrespectful. And a six-week crash diet is not good for anyone! Thanks for your comments x