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.
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:
- No chocolate
- No cakes
- No cookies
- No soda
- Nothing made from sugar, no sweet breads, pastries or candy
- Eat no luxury foods – avoiding meat while eating lobsters and smoked salmon misses the point of Lent!
- No alcohol
- 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.