Lent: Supporting or Derailing Your Health?

This post is written by Sarah Patten, a registered dietitian nutritionist with Marci RD.

I hesitate to type these words for fear of jinxing what I’m about to say, but after being pummeled with blizzards for the past few months and experiencing the official snowiest winter in Boston’s history, it seems as though the worst is over and that there is a hint of spring in the air. The sun feels a bit stronger, the days are a tad longer, and we’ve had a couple of days now where the temp feels slightly more tolerable. Things are looking up!

With the onset of spring comes thoughts of flowers blooming, birds chirping, and for those who observe – the lent and Easter season. Lent is the Christian season of preparation before Easter. Traditionally, it’s a time to reflect prior to the Easter celebration. Not all churches observe Lent, but those that do encourage a period of “fasting, repentance, moderation, and spiritual discipline.” Though it’s roots are in spirituality and religion, the forty day period of Lent has somehow transformed in our society for many people to be a time to “give up” or “deprive” oneself of something that they enjoy or feel “indulgent” around. Almost all of us have heard chatter surrounding other’s Lent goals – most typically we hear about people giving up chocolate, fried food, junk food, meat, dessert, eating after 6, or maybe even snacking altogether.

How has this religious tradition morphed into an opportunity for us to create even MORE rules around food? For some, this may be a challenge they choose to embrace with the best intentions. But for others, it appears to be more of a guise to diet and restrict their intake in the name of spirituality.
All of these thoughts came to mind after meeting with one of my clients a few weeks ago, just as Lent was beginning. I have been working with this client for quite some time on healing her relationship with food, rejecting the diet mentality, giving herself unconditional permission to eat, and not basing her self worth on the number displayed on her scale. This client has made tremendous positive progress in her relationship with food and has been increasing her focus on improving her body image and the way she talks to herself. It’s been a pleasure to watch her evolve along this journey, and I was blown away when she came into our session a few weeks ago reporting that upon hearing all of her friends and coworkers talk about what “bad foods” they were planning to give up for Lent, she decided to put a different spin on this period of reflection. Instead of depriving herself of the foods she enjoys, she decided to give up negative body comments and negative self talk for forty days!

I was truly inspired by hearing these words. How fabulous to spend one’s energy devoted to fostering a positive body image and speaking kindly to oneself rather than creating yet another set of temporary food rules. That’s not to say this new challenge has been easy. My client has continued to notice these automatic negative thoughts popping up, but with her heightened awareness, she is able to catch them and reframe them much more quickly. Through our weekly sessions since Lent began, I’ve heard her speak about how much more beneficial it feels to have an encouraging and supportive inner voice rather than a critical and negative internal dialog. She’s hopeful that the changes she’s made in self talk will remain long past the Easter holiday – a profound shift that couldn’t have been accomplished by giving up something like chocolate. Although the season of Lent is approaching it’s end, I would encourage all of us to learn from this example. We all deserve to speak kindly to ourselves and our bodies 365 days/year – why not start today?

What goals, for Lent or otherwise, have had a positive impact on your health?