Have you ever noticed how many people, women especially, give up some sort of junk food for Lent? I suspect for many of us our goal is physical as much as it is spiritual. We're supposed to give something up, so why not choose something we know we need to cut back on anyway, and then hope to shed a few pounds in the process? It's win-win, right?
Except, in my experience, the "Lent Diet" is often lose-lose instead, and what is lost is not always weight. The (many) times that I have tried this approach to Lent, the healthier eating was never established as a permanent habit. I'd either replace one sort of junk food with another (I gave up french fries, so I'll just eat TWO cheeseburgers instead! I can't eat chocolate, so I'll just switch to vanilla ice cream or cake instead!), or go on a rampage of overindulgence again as soon as the period of deprivation was over.
So I usually failed at Lent all around, losing zero weight and gaining zero spiritual fulfillment. A sacrifice that is selfish in nature is no sacrifice at all. As long as I was thinking mostly about how the "Lent Diet" would benefit ME, I wasn't giving any part of myself to God, or connecting my experience to the suffering and death of Jesus. I had it all wrong, and once I realized that, I stopped doing the "Lent Diet" completely. In recent years, though I've continued to give up food items some years, I've tried to stay focused on the meaning behind my sacrifice, that it's about HIM and not me.
PLEASE NOTE: I'm not saying this makes me a better person or a better Catholic than anyone else. Faith is not a competition. Only God is keeping score, and it's possible for everyone to win. :)
What I'm saying here is that once upon a time, I used Lent as a way to jump-start the diet that I already wanted to do. Then I reached a point in life where I wanted Lent to be a truly spiritual experience, and stopped using it for personal gain. And I'm bringing it all up today because this year I've decided to reinvent the Lent Diet!
See, I've realized that the desire to lose weight and get fit and healthy is not necessarily selfish. It certainly can be, if all we really want is to be cute and have people tell us how awesome and attractive we are. But there many unselfish reasons for wanting to be healthy, including being able to take care of our families, and also simply appreciating the gift of life and respecting the bodies that God has given us!
To that end, I'm going to use Lent this year to start ridding myself once again of some of my unhealthy habits. I'm starting with late night desserts, a bad habit I've been indulging in for over a year now. I eat dinner around 6pm with my family, and then stay up until midnight or later, so I'm usually hungry for a snack around 9 or 10pm. From now on, if I have to eat something after 9pm, it will be a small portion of something healthy. I don't expect this one small change to cause the pounds to start dropping off or anything like that. What I hope to gain from this sacrifice is a gradual change in my attitude toward food. I want to stop using sweets as a way of coping with stress or tiredness, and start being more mindful of my diet overall. If I start by working on just one of my bad habits, hopefully soon I'll be back on track mentally to really work on improving my health.
I do plan to pray when I am tempted, and remind myself of the greater purpose behind this and every act of self-sacrifice. I also plan to take on one or two other Lenten commitments that are even more spiritual in nature -- I just haven't quite finished figuring them out yet...
Think of me tonight around 10pm as I lick the last bit of buttercream frosting from my fork...then let the Lent Diet begin!