As we come out of the season of Lent, many of us are gearing up to have a big cinnamon roll, a nice helping of bacon, and a large mimosa at Easter brunch to celebrate the resurrection, or maybe we’re more focused on the end of the Lenten fasts. Indulgences like sweets, meat, or alcohol are common things Catholics choose to fast from during this season. An interesting article in the Augusta Chronicle says these sacrifices can actually have both spiritual and health benefits. Many doctors believe that fasting can actually be beneficial to your body. Intermittent fasting – alternating periods of fasting with periods of eating – has been studied extensively and has been gaining popularity quickly. People have noticed an increase in discipline, energy, and balance in their lives.
A recent review published in the Journal of the American Medical Association showed that fasting in people who were obese resulted not only in weight loss, but in reduced cholesterol levels and improved blood pressure, among other benefits. According to the National Institute of Health, when this sort of a fast is done healthily, it can boost our metabolism, better regulate our glucose levels, assist in emotional regulation, boost neurological health, better regulate our pain sensations, enhance our cognitive function, and more. So fasting on Fridays in Lent actually may have some of the above health benefits when done consistently. Of course, you may have to deal with short term hunger and irritability, but that is part of the sacrifice!
Now, many people believe that you shouldn’t go on a diet as your Lenten sacrifice. But breaking bad habits through a spiritual sacrifice is something that is good for us. It can benefit us both spiritually and physically. It’s important to ask ourselves what the motivation is behind our Lenten fasts, so we can bear as much fruit as possible with our sacrifice. As long as our motivation is truly to offer up our suffering to the Lord, there is nothing wrong with choosing a sacrifice that will have the secondary benefit of losing weight or improving health. We need to prioritize the spiritual sacrifice, and the proper purpose of Lent.
Benefits Beyond Lent
Experts say it takes about 30 days to form a habit that is likely to become routine. So, many people actually find that at the end of Lent they don’t crave the unhealthy habits they gave up nearly as much as they did at the beginning. This can have a really great benefit, nutrition-wise. Replacing red meat with fish can be a healthy choice, not to mention the savings at the grocery store. And it doesn’t need to be limited just to Fridays, when we’re required to do so.
Many Catholics also choose to add a positive habit during Lent, like going to daily Mass or saying a Rosary. This positive addition could also be in the form of extra exercise or just spending more time outdoors. This season is a time of pruning, of penance, of cultivating a more pure heart, mind, body, and soul. Ultimately, whether we are breaking bad habits or building healthy ones, these don’t need to end when we celebrate Easter. This is an opportunity to take the self-discipline and good habits we’ve built through the last 40 days and turn those into long-term improvements in our daily lives.
Turning Lenten Fasts into New Habits
As we come out of Holy Week, we invite you to treat your Lenten fasts not as quasi-New-Year’s-resolutions. Instead, treat them as intentional ways to be a bit more prayerful, a little healthier in your daily life. We are called to live out our faith in our daily lives. At Solidarity, we are here to walk with you through these things, whether it is through nutritional coaching with our Solidarity Well Program, supporting you in sharing into mental health counseling services, or simply being a community advocating for your wellness. Whatever it is, we’re looking forward to walking into this new life in the Resurrection together.