So tomorrow marks the start of Lent for many Christians. A time for prayer, repentance, fasting and forgiveness as they mourn the death of Jesus and prepare to celebrate his resurrection.

Or in modern, non-Christian world; a time when many people give up stuff for 46 days in the hope it might give their healthy lifestyle a boost. Lent seems to have become a second ditch effort for everyone who failed in their New Year Resolutions.

Why you should or should not observe Lent 

Now before we go any further, let me clarify. I am in no way against anyone observing Lent if there is religious or spiritual meaning to it. To be completely honest, I am in no way against anyone observing Lent in any way they chose. After all, you are the best judge of what is good for you, and  practicing self discipline and will power can help build character and break bad habits.

However, if you are in desperate hope that by abstaining from chocolate/ sweets/ alcohol for 46 days you will shift 10 pounds or magically give up your dependence on something for good. Then let me save you 6 weeks of possible pain and misery.

Make habits not barriers

I have helped hundreds of people along their journeys to lose weight and adopt healthier lifestyles. I have also undergone my own weight loss journey, and battled a number of eating disorders. And from this experience, I would say my number one lessons is simply this: most people do not like barriers, and restriction very often leads to binging.

So before you start abstaining from life’s luxuries for 6 weeks, ask yourself why are you doing this? and what will it really teach you?  Does cutting something out ‘because it’s Lent’ really teach you something? Or does it just put a big fat restrictive barrier in place, which you push down and trample all over come Easter Sunday? Wouldn’t you be better to look at your lifestyle, reflect on the less desirable habits and spend the next 6 weeks working out how you can change these long term.

Making Lent work for you

Let’s take for example alcohol. Instead of just going t-total for 6 weeks and find yourself bitterly avoiding all social situations. Wouldn’t you be better to review when or why you drink and work out how to create healthy new habits.  Do you have a glass of wine everyday with dinner? Do you need it? Could you cut back Monday – Friday, and enjoy it at the weekend? Or even just a smaller glass. Maybe you only drink at weekends, but go all out come Saturday? Instead, why not limit yourself to just a couple of drinks, or alternate between alcoholic and then a glass of water. This way you are developing new habits, without the resentment of not drinking ‘because it is Lent’.

Chocolate is the other most common thing people give up for Lent. But why do you feel the need to give it up? If you enjoy chocolate, and you plan on having it in your diet from Easter Sunday and beyond, then wouldn’t you be better to work out ways to enjoy it now. Rather than an all or nothing: restrict and binge cycle. Could you spend Lent trying health new recipes for sweet treats? Many people I have helped, realise they eat sweets when they are bored, often in an evening after dinner. Could you find something productive to do to kill the boredom. How many friends in your phonebook have you ‘not had chance to catch up’ in ages. Well now is the time.

If you are wanting to give your healthy lifestyle a boost, and you think observing Lent might be a good opportunity to do this. Great, but be sure you question your motivation, and your approach. Is complete restriction the best method for long term habit change?

I would love to know your past experiences of Lent, and what you plan to do in 2018.

Jennie x

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Jennie is founder and head PT at set U free fitness. Find out more about her personal journey here, and check out some of her other blogs:

Can  you be fit and fat? 

What happens when you weigh yourself everyday? 

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