Lent is Not a Diet: 3 Reasons Why You Shouldn't Use Lent to Lose Weight
Lent is the season that leads up to Easter. Catholics use these 40 days for prayer, fasting and almsgiving. Some use Lent as a reason to give up certain foods, start a demanding exercise regime, or attempt to lose weight on a diet all under the guise of dedicating themselves to this spiritual season. Lent is not a diet. It is a time to grow closer to God. While the lures of diet culture and society’s beauty standards tempt us to change our bodies, this season is not an invitation to restrict food and enter into an unhealthy relationship with our body image.
Lent is also a difficult time for those who struggle with their body image or who have recovered from eating disorders. If this is you, you should not give up any type of food for Lent as restricting food can be a triggering behavior. For the rest of you, I still encourage you not use Lent to start your next diet and here’s why:
1. If giving up food doesn’t bring you closer to God, it shouldn’t be part of your Lenten tradition
Are you giving up chocolate because when you do you are saying, “Jesus, I want this chocolate bar, but I will give this up to you as a small sacrifice to remind myself of how you sacrificed your life for us.”? Or are you saying “I'm eating this chocolate bar for you God, and while we're talking, please help me lose X pounds.” I implore you to truly ask yourself why you’re giving up this food, and while I’m at it I’ll remind you that dieting does not work.
95-98% of diets fail because our bodies are not meant to be deprived of food. When you really want a chocolate bar and you choose not to have it, you’ll likely be cranky, hangry, and you won’t be able to think about anything else but that chocolate bar. When you get to the end of the day and say, “Screw it, I’m having chocolate” you’ll likely binge on chocolate and eat to the point of uncomfortable fullness. This restrict and binge cycle is extremely damaging to your health and wellbeing, and it will occur when you’re dieting or on any type of “wellness plan” aka a diet in disguise. Overall, giving up foods you love for Lent will keep you hyper focused on those foods instead of focused on the love you have for God.
2. We do not need to change our bodies to be worthy
Lent is a great time to reflect on God’s love for us. More specifically, His love for us in this very moment. Not X pounds from now, not when our acne clears up, not when our thighs are thinner, not when our skin is less wrinkly, and not when our stomachs are flatter, but rather, RIGHT NOW. I wish people would use the time they spend dieting, counting calories, and obsessing about their looks to do something to better the wellbeing of themselves and others. Instead of focusing your time and energy on losing weight or staying away from a certain food during Lent, I encourage you to spend time in prayer and meditation with God or using the gifts and talents God has given you to do good in the world. Use the Lenten season to volunteer, pray the rosary, or set aside time for journaling. Thank God for the many blessings He has given you, and know that you always have and always will be loved by Him.
3. Food does not have morality
Despite what advertisements tell you about foods being “sinfully delicious,” food does not have a moral value. You aren’t “bad” or “good” for having one type of food or another. Food is just food. Lent is not a diet, and it’s also not a time to prove that you are “good” by not eating a certain type of food you love. This performative act of food restriction doesn’t cleanse you of your sins. Thinking of all foods as neutrally, “good” can be a first step in healing our relationship with food and body image. As we heal our food and body relationships, we can turn away from the damaging effects of diet culture and society’s beauty standards. Instead, we’ll be able to shift our focus onto our true vocations in life.
Instead of using the Lenten season as a time to start your next diet, I encourage you to make it a season of spiritual abundance by adding something to your routine. If you are longing to give up something for Lent, please give up racism, sexism, fat phobia, homophobia, and all other forms of discrimination. Giving up harmful actions will work to make the world a better place while giving up chocolate will make you hungry, angry, and obsessed with your appearance.