Do Away with the 40-Day Lent Diet
Lent marks the 40 days before Easter Sunday. During this time, Catholics are meant to fast physically by not eating meat on Fridays and fast spiritually by giving up whatever is keeping them away from God.
Growing up Catholic, this was something I’d always done. But as I learned more about the tradition, I noticed some glaring issues.
Many Catholics I know give up fattening foods and alcohol for Lent, but they do it to lose weight — not because they think it will bring them closer to God. I doubt anyone has a Krispy Kreme shop standing in the way of their attending mass.
These days, religious sacrifice and diet plans have become synonymous. You’d be hard-pressed to find a Catholic who doesn’t give up some form of food or drink for Lent. The business of weight loss is on every TV channel and magazine cover, and they’ve got a diet plan for everyone — because, no matter who you are, improvement is necessary. However, Catholics need to learn to separate dieting from fasting, and physical self-improvement from spiritual self-improvement.
I have no problem with anyone trying to make themselves healthier. But that’s not a regime to follow for only 40 days. Taking care of yourself is a full-time job. And it’s a job that involves more than just one’s outward appearance.
Researchers at Northwestern University reported to Time Magazine that people who went to church or church activities at least once a week were more than twice as likely as people with no religious involvement to become obese, so they may not be completely wrong about needing to lose weight. But Lent isn’t the time to do it.
The New York Times website, just after Ash Wednesday (the first day of Lent), published an article titled “Recipes for Health: Vegan for Lent.” It includes different recipes for 2011’s Lenten season, such as fava bean stew with bulgur and carrots and lentils in olive oil. The article reads, “And while they may be appropriate for a time of self-sacrifice, ‘abstinence’ is certainly not the word that comes to mind when they arrive at the table.” It’s as if they’re glorifying the fact that these recipes make you forget you’re giving up anything at all, as if feeling like you’re fasting isn’t important.
A fine, albeit flawed, cultural example of this, oddly enough, takes place in the 2002 film “40 Days and 40 Nights,” in which Josh Hartnett’s character gives up sex for Lent and narrowly succeeds. Finally, on Easter Sunday, he locks himself in a room with a girl he managed to fall in love with, and they have sex for almost 24 hours straight. No more petty one night stands for this guy. Regardless of what message that’s conveying about the way Lent works, Hartnett’s character has the right idea. He wanted to change his lifestyle and so he went through the necessary steps; he wasn’t just looking for a quick fix. I say A for effort.
The meaning behind Lent seems to have disappeared. Practicing Catholics ought to be a little bit more concerned with their inward happiness than whether or not they’ll fit into a size four dress. What about giving to charity, volunteering or even spending more time with loved ones? The soul needs as much nourishment as the body does.
Lent participants, try giving up smoking, littering or being rude to waiters and retail workers. Give up anything that genuinely hurts other people or yourself, like giving up some of your nightly Facebook sessions so that you’ll have more time to appease others. That’ll make you feel better than being able to button your skinny jeans ever could.