What Is A Proper Diet For Lent?

From "The Battle between Carnival and Lent" by Pieter Bruegel
From “The Battle between Carnival and Lent” by Pieter Bruegel

For many people Lent is a time to not only abstain from certain foods but also an opportunity to lose some weight that was gained during the Christmas period. So, what should you avoid during Lent, and what can you eat?

When Is Lent?

Lent 2023 began on Wednesday, 22 February and ends on Thursday, 6 April

Lent starts on Ash Wednesday and represents the 40 days that Jesus spent in the wilderness. The period ends at Easter on Holy Saturday, so the start date for Lent is different each year. Easter Sunday is always the first Sunday that follows first New Moon that follows the Spring Equinox. So Lent starts 6 weeks before Easter.

Some Christian churches actually calculate Lent differently from one and other but we will not go into the calendar here.

Jesus Fasted For 40 Days

According to Matthew 4:1-2, Mark 1:12-13 and Luke 4:1-2 Jesus retreated to the wilderness for 40 days where he was subjected to temptations from Satan.

Lent: A time for Prayer, Penitence, Almsgiving and Self-denial

Different cultures have approached Lent different over the centuries. In ancient times people would abstain from all animal products and become vegan for 40 days, while some would allow seafood and fowl. Some do not allow fruit or eggs, whereas some will only eat bread for Lent.

Generally people will abstain from eating until the evening meal, essentially fasting for a full day at a time, starting after dinner and ending at the following dinner. Dinner would then be consumed, but without vegetables of alcohol, just a simple meal.

It was during the Middle Ages that meat, eggs and dairy was forbidden. The idea was that these foods increased seminal matter and therefore Lust, which is one of the temptations / sins to be avoided.

In the Roman Catholic Church people would abstain from just meat and poultry on Ash Wednesday and every Friday during Lent. Dairy, eggs and fish would still be eaten.

In 1966 Pope Paul VI suggested that instead of a total fast, fasting could be replaced by prayer and works of charity, as he understood that many people performed manual jobs that required them to keep their strength up throughout the day.

Mardi Gras, Shrove Tuesday, Carnival, or Fasching

The day before Lent starts is known as Mardi Gras, Shrove Tuesday, Carnival, or Fasching. It is a time to party for many people, to have one last day of excess before 40 days of Lent and abstinence. Traditionally pancakes are made from the flour, dairy, eggs and milk that will not be consumed for the next 40 days, simply as a way to clear out the cupboards of the food. Carnival is simple the day of meat, a day to eat up all the remaining butchered meat before Lent starts.

Lent Diet

As each Christian church follows different rules, there is not a universal “Lent Diet“. Orthodox Christians still give up both meat and dairy products for Lent. Remember that the idea of fasting is to exert self control. Self control is absolutely vital when you are trying to lose weight. However, most generally follow these diet rules:

  1. No chocolate
  2. No cakes
  3. No cookies
  4. No soda
  5. Nothing made from sugar, no sweet breads, pastries or candy
  6. Eat no luxury foods – avoiding meat while eating lobsters and smoked salmon misses the point of Lent!
  7. No alcohol
  8. No cream or ice-cream

Many people just chose some things to give up for Lent. If you enjoy chocolate or alcohol, then these are things you should give up during Lent.

An alternative is to follow a more tradition vegetarian diet for all of Lent, 40 days of nothing but vegetables, fruits, pulses, nuts and seeds. Another approach could be to follow a prehistoric diet, similar to what humans ate before the development of agriculture.

So Christians do still follow very strict diets, such as liquid only diets. For these a Maple Syrup diet is sometimes followed, as this provides a simple energy drink that means that you do not have the pleasure of eating but still receive some energy to get you through the day.

Fish On A Friday

Many Christians allow fish on a Friday during Lent as this helps to ensure that a more nutritious diet is followed, and also keeps fishermen in business during Lent.

Carbon Fast For Lent

Another initiative by the Church of England in 2008 was a carbon fast. The idea was that each person should reduce their carbon footprint for Lent. Suggestions were to use reusable shopping bags, not using the dishwasher, improving home insulation and turning the heating down, or off completely if the weather was mild.

“Love Life, Live Lent” With The Church of England

In 2007 the Church of England decided that Lent was too sombre for the average church goer so they decided to invite people the share Lenten jokes with each other on a website run by the Church.

“Traditionally Lent has been seen as a sombre time of sackcloth and ashes. What we are suggesting is that people share jokes, which is a way of kickstarting a very positive take on the season.” Church of England, 2007.

Give Up Plastic For Lent

If you are already following a healthy diet, then you can give up other things for lent. We are slowly destroying our planet’s ecosystems with plastic pollution, so why not give up all plastic for 40 days? Just do not buy anything that contains plastic, only buy items that use metal, cardboard, paper etc. and use shops where you can pick fresh items and use your own bags and containers. It won’t be easy, and you might need to change where you shop and what you buy, but it is possible.

For most people Lent is a personal thing. You do not have to tell people what you are doing for Lent, and are generally encouraged not to question what others do. Know in yourself that you are making a personal sacrifice and use this time to make yourself a better person.

20 Comments on “What Is A Proper Diet For Lent?”

  1. Hi, I m 78kg ad my age is 32. I have 3 kids and all are operations. So now I gaing my weight and tummy, I wont eat breakfast I have only lunch and dinner only pulkas, but I have lot of salt biscuits, sometimes sweets choco, icecream, but regularly I have salt biscuits with tea with sugar. I went to gym I lost my weight, now I left again I got my weight back. Pls give me tips what to do.

  2. MotleyHealth says:

    Hi Mona, is there any reason why you cannot join the gym again? If it worked for you before I would suggest doing it again. Also try to improve your diet, biscuits and tea with sugar is going to lead to fat accumulation. See our article on healthy eating.

  3. hello! could you please send me detailed information of how to fast 40 days. Should the fast be 24 hour long? what should we eat and not eat

  4. Karen Blackburn says:

    In mediaeval times salmon wasn’t a luxury, in fact it was illegal to feed your servants on salmon more than 3 days a week, more than this was considered as ill treatment of the workers.

  5. Hellcycle says:

    A maple syrup diet 😂😂😂

  6. Hellcycle says:

    Maria, the fast is 40 days long (actually 46 but Sunday’s weren’t counted) so, the fasts are 6 days long with a days respite 😉

  7. Hellcycle says:

    Karen Blackburn, Illegal where? Surely not in the whole wide world

  8. Edmund Chavez says:

    My tradition is not to eat meat on ash Wednesday or Friday’s during lent, I’m curious to know if sausage and bacon are considered to be meats, I always thought they were.

  9. MotleyHealth says:

    Sausage and bacon is def meat!

  10. Jeff Olson says:

    Can you eat Fish ? I am giving up eating Meat for Lent.

  11. Gloria J Kinley says:

    Is it ok to eat fish n veg only

  12. Johnnie Minefee says:

    I am a Baptist is it acceptable for me to follow a lent diet? Everything I have read always goes back to the Catholic or Oxodox

  13. MotleyHealth says:

    Johnnie, choose your own path.

  14. Karen Keogh says:

    Thank you for the help on fasting

  15. Can you use vegan meat and dairy substitutes for lent. Also would stevia count as a form of sugar (which it’s not) or will it be able to be seen as a lent friendly sugar substitute 🤔

  16. MotleyHealth says:

    Yes, you can.

  17. Elizabeth Gonzales says:

    Tuna sandwich every day and celery is that good to eat

  18. MotleyHealth says:

    It is not bad so long as you are eating a small amount of tuna, but it is better to vary your diet.

  19. Sarah Hope Blessings says:

    Thanks so much but my question is what is the best time for praying during this Lenten periods especially when you are fasting during day and working during day

  20. MotleyHealth says:

    Hi Sarah, sorry, we cannot give religious advice, just diet tips!

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