Raise your hand if you usually give something up for Lent? Okay now keep it up if that something is usually food. If your hand is still up I'm right there with you. As I have briefly mentioned before I have a challenging relationship with chocolate. My family lives for chocolate and wine...and not just my immediate family but my extended family as well. It's why we get along so well...just kidding, there are so many reasons!
Examples of my love affair for sweets:
Two of my favorite foods made into one amazing cookie...
The salted caramel chocolate trifle I made one year for a family Christmas party.
I went on a slutty brownie spree for a while...almost a solid year
One time we made slutty brownies in my dorm and brought them over to Julie's dorm to watch a movie just because...p.s. look at Olivia's phone (left)...and my face (middle)
Anyways, getting back to Lent. In years past, primarily in high school, I would give up chocolate for Lent. One year Julie and I both gave up chocolate and the first night of Lent we went over to our friend, Sophie's house and naturally had ice cream while watching a movie. We did not even realize that the ice cream was chocolate chip until we got home. So that didn't last long. Being perfectionists we naturally thought it was a sign that we had failed and continued to eat chocolate until Easter.
The next year I successfully gave up chocolate and the year after that all sweets. Now I say successfully only because I managed to go the whole time without eating the "off limits" food(s), but it was far from an overall success. I was moody and thought about chocolate or sweets all the time...and that is what happens when you make food "off limits" or dichotomously identify foods as good or bad.
Side note: How can a food be good or bad? Sure it can taste good or taste bad, but food is comprised of nutrients and nutrients are what we survive off of so in theory they cannot ever be bad for us. In fact, nutrients are life sustaining. Society has taught us that foods should be labeled as good or bad, but this type of thinking can lead to disordered thoughts and disordered eating habits.
In the past during Lent I would label chocolate as "off limits" and ultimately chocolate became my obsession. I would think about it all the time because it was the one thing that I couldn't have. One year when Easter rolled around I ate an obscene amount of chocolate throughout the day. I am not kidding. I rode back to college that night (I had gone home for the weekend) in the passenger seat in the fetal position because my stomach hurt so badly. I had lost all control because my body was like give me all the chocolate because it didn't know when it would see the food again. My body was in chocolate starvation mode (that may be an exaggeration, but I am trying to paint a picture here). If you want an example, I made pancakes that Easter morning with chocolate from my Easter basket AND covered in maple syrup...talk about a sugar high. Then we had an epic holiday dessert and I continuously ate Oreos throughout the day that had also come in my Easter basket (dipped in peanut butter of course).
The Easter pancakes...probably more candy than there is pancake batter...
I am writing this post not because I want to tell you not to give something up for Lent this year. That is your own personal choice. However, I am writing this post in hopes that it makes you think a bit more about why you are giving something up, especially if that something is food. Are you doing it to lose weight? Are you doing it to feel more in control around a certain food? If you said yes to either of those questions, you may want to reconsider your Lent "sacrifice".
Restricting food is a part of dieting and dieting has been shown to actually increase weight in the long run. You may lose some weight initially or while on the diet, but once you go off the diet (because restriction is not sustainable) the research shows that people tend to gain the weight back and then some (Pietilainen et al., 2012). Furthermore, restricting food actually gives the food the power. By making a food "off limits" many people find they are distracted and cannot think of anything else. Research has shown that restriction actually increases the likelihood of binge eating (see my above personal example...) (Andres, 2014).
I propose that rather than restricting a certain food during Lent we make that food available to us every single day. Identify foods that you feel you have no control around or you feel guilty eating. When you find yourself wanting that particular food let yourself have it. Or just simply tell your brain that it is allowed to have that food if you want it. Or you can buy it this weekend when you go grocery shopping. It could take any form that you want.
This year I am going to buy the foods that I want to eat and keep them in my apartment. This weekend I am going to buy popcorn at the grocery store because I have had a craving for that for a few weeks now. While I feel a bit out of control with peanuts lately and guilty about eating them (I ate half a container after having one too many drinks this weekend...) I told myself I could buy more if I wanted to. However, I don't actually want more right now because I am "all peanut-ed out". And that's okay too, but I did give myself the option. And remember, normal eating is flexible. There is no right way or perfect way to eat. Everyone is different and every circumstance is different. But by allowing ourselves to eat any and all foods, we may just improve our relationship with food rather than putting more rules on our eating.
- Pietilainen KH, Saarni SE, Kaprio J, Rissanen A. Does dieting make you fat? A twin study. Int J Obes. 2012;36:456-464.
- Andres A, Saldana C. Body dissatisfaction and dietary restraint influence binge eating behavior. Nutr Res. 2014;34:944-950.