Look, I know, it’s bad form to kill two birds with one stone by combining Lenten sacrifice with weight loss, and I already griped about the joy that some Catholics take in telling everyone else that they should be doing positive things like prayer rather than giving things up.
But at the same time, here’s my experience:
For most of my life, I haven’t had any problems with my weight; I’m not especially thin but have been somewhere in the “ideal” weight range for my height, though maybe at the upper end, but, then, I’m definitely on the shorter side (nearly a full foot shorter than Megan McArdle), so the actual number of pounds is on the lower end. I lost the baby weight three times without too much trouble — and then hit the trifecta of turning 40, working at home, and the youngest starting school, and I started gaining weight. Not too much weight, but more than I should, and it’s much more difficult to lose the weight than after the babies. (And trust me — I gained a LOT of weight when pregnant!)
So last year, spurred on first by New Year’s and then by Lent, I lost a good five pounds, only to gain it all again over the summer. (Too many trips for ice cream or other treats with the kids, rationalized because it’s a walk or a bike ride there, but far from enough, or just treats at home.) And all this past fall and early winter I kept telling myself, “time to get serious and stop snacking,” without actually doing so — because my weight-loss method is, in fact, to cut out the between-meals (except, say, mid-afternoon) and after-dinner snacking, and my worst tendency is, after working or reading or watching TV in the evening upstairs, to go downstairs to lock up and decide, “tonight’s dinner was pretty good, I think I’ll eat some out of the pot,” followed by, “well, now there’s hardly enough left for it to be worth putting it back in the fridge. Might as well finish it up.” Oh, and my mid-morning Bad Habit is to say, “I’m getting pretty hungry. Well, clearly I didn’t have enough for breakfast, so I’ll just promise myself to have a light lunch if I have a snack now.”
And, yes, that which I have given up for Lent is both sweets*, in general, and snacking before lunch and after dinner.** (*I let myself have dessert when I’m out with the family, say, at the potluck get-together of two weeks ago, or at a restaurant.)
(** The funny thing is, I also gave up “checking the blog inordinately often to see how many pageviews I have,” but, as it turns out, switching to Patheos cured me cold-turkey as the metrics are done through a system that, so far as I can tell, refreshes only once daily, at midnight. Does it count as a Lenten sacrifice if external factors prevent you from it anyway? And if there is a way to refresh pageviews midday, don’t tell me, not now, anyway!)
But it fascinates me that, in a way, “giving up snacking” is an arbitrary decision — especially what with everyone saying God doesn’t particularly care if you sacrifice snacks, all the more so if your motivation is to some degree the worldly one of weight loss — but nonetheless, I am able to “flip that switch” and, well, not eat sweets for 6 weeks. The no-post-dinner-snacking, too — it’s clearly nonsensical, after all, to snack when you ought to just go to bed anyway — but I am able, during Lent, to tell myself, and really feel, that it’s just not an option, in a way that I wasn’t able to, for all of the fall and even after New Year’s, and for multiple prior years even when I’d tell myself that this is the year when I’ll make a real effort so that I’ll be able to fit into my regular clothes rather than picking up yet another pair of vanity-sized jeans at the thrift store.
Maybe it’s just that Lent is time-limited, and it’s easier to do something on a time-limited basis, but I don’t think it’s just that. In a way, it feels like Lent, and the idea of giving something up, is a gift, by virtue of the fact that I am able to do so, when I wouldn’t at some other time of year — whether for weight loss, or to free oneself, even if temporarily, from a habit or an activity that’s perhaps not bad per se, but still not healthy, either.
And when I give up something for Lent, even if I’m told that it doesn’t “count” and I should be saying rosaries instead, it still feels like a real commitment in a way that “I want to lose 5 pounds” doesn’t. Commitment to God? To myself? I don’t know.
And giving something up is, let’s face it, a lot more concrete and do-able than “I’ll pray more,” or read the Bible, or the like — because, with the “doing” sort of Lenten resolves, procrastination gets in the way pretty easily, when, of course, you can’t procrastinate a “not-doing.”
What’s your experience?