It’s 8:30, the day after Ash Wednesday.
And I’m pleased to report some early success with Lenten weight loss: I’m down half a pound after yesterday’s, well, half-a**ed fast.
OK, so actually, there’s some context there: having gained weight during the summer and more weight during Halloween/Thanksgiving/Science Fair Season, I had already been dieting since New Year’s. (Yes, the norm is to gain weight in the winter, not the summer, but summer is not just the season of being more active, but of taking walks or going on bike rides to destinations such as Dunkin Donuts or an ice cream place. And my son’s science fair project had been about yeast, so he was baking lots of rolls.) And, while the dieting I pursued to take off baby weight in three instances, and at various other points in my adult life, had always meant a Weight Watchers-style points-counting, snack-reducing, generic reduction in “calories in,” and that had kept me at a reasonable weight, that was no longer working after I hit age 40 or so, at which point the only thing that really worked (and even then, my weight inched upwards) were bouts of what I initially called a half-a**ed South Beach Diet and, this time around, I’ve taken to calling a half-a**ed Keto diet — which means, in the first place, that I didn’t obsess over the low-fat requirements that South Beach called for and now I don’t obsess over the high-fat requirements of “true” Keto. And, turns out, the South Beach Diet author has a new book out, in which he pretty much says, “eh, fat’s not so bad, you should eat low-carb on a long-term basis, but you can still get weight-loss benefits without focusing on the “true Keto” fat vs. protein ratios and with, especially in the long-term, a higher ration of carbs. He says, true ketosis isn’t really necessary for anyone except for those with certain medical conditions.
Anyway, I haven’t actually lost all that much weight. In part, there’s a bit of a bait-and-switch going on: this and similar books promise that the key is cutting out carbs, but then they provide sample meal plans that turn out to pair no-carb eating with calorie reduction. So there was a bit of an ah-ha moment when I realized that I needed to cut down snacking rather than merely accustom myself to low-carb snacks. I had also set myself an initial goal: after I lose X pounds, I get to start enjoying low-carb treats. But I discovered that the snack bars I had been enjoying (Atkins branded, no less) were using a form of artificial sweetener (malitol) which is perhaps better than eating a full-sugar product, but not a “free lunch” after all.
So the weight-loss effort that I had hoped to have been finished with before Lent (for the pragmatic reason that I’m not a fan of seafood and constructing meatless meals which are also low-carb is no mean feat), is still ongoing. Therefore, I am “giving up carbs for Lent,” for what it’s worth.
I have also been attempting to get into a routine of exercising, and have been reasonably successful at the goal of going over to the cut-rate fitness center three times a week, after the kids have left for school. But at the same time, I’ve gotten into the practice of getting up later than I used to, and getting a late start on actually, well, working — whether that means writing or another freelancer-y project or something housewife-y — so I have another Lenten resolve, that of getting up when the alarm clock goes off, rather than hitting the snooze repeatedly.
Am I doing Lent “right”?
Many of you would likely say “no.” (OK, many of you aren’t actually Catholic, but among my Catholic readers, many of you would say “no.”)Lent isn’t about self-improvement, after all. Getting up earlier than usual? That might be acceptable if paired with, say, Bible reading or rosary-praying. A change in diet? Maybe the version the college-me practiced would have been OK; then, my cutting out sweets wasn’t about weight loss because the moderate weight loss I experienced wasn’t really necessary and just moved me around slightly within the window of “somewhat on the slender side but not overly much so.” Granted, even then, it wasn’t done for spiritual reasons (heck, I wasn’t even Catholic), but more a matter of pushing myself to be self-disciplined about something.
But I tend to be of the opinion that it’s entirely acceptable to engage in a discipline even if you don’t have a spiritual motivation to go along with it. I likewise reject the idea that abstaining from meat on Fridays must be “spiritual” and entail “suffering” and/or “helping others by choosing a meatless meal that’s less tasty than the meat you’d usually eat, and less expensive than otherwise, to give the difference to the poor. Not eating meat on Lenten Fridays is only partly about penance; it’s also about doing a Thing that’s shared with the entire Catholic church, even if that particular practice doesn’t suit you individually.
And, of course, this is more than just a Lent issue. It’s a question I’ve raised on other occasions (though I’m not going to try to hunt down the links now): how important are spiritual practices to being a “good Christian”? If I believe (or assent to) the doctrines the Church teaches, if I attend mass weekly and otherwise do my best to avoid sin, if I tack onto that some reasonable efforts at volunteering, is it also necessary to add onto that a regular prayer life and/or other spiritual practices? Or are these more what you’d call “best practices” that are beneficial for those who do them? And, after all, I’d be happy to participate in the sorts of practices that have, in the past, been meaningful to me — a Vespers or other Liturgy of the Hours service, chant, other sorts of corporate prayer. But they don’t really exist in suburban Chicago. (And no, I don’t have the resources — that is, the Social Capital — to implement these at my local parish.) I attended a Stations of the Cross at my parish once, and the prayer booklet (from the 70s or so) was just really off-kilter and seemed at various points to have doctrinal error, though, I admit, that was so long ago I don’t recall the details. And a rosary or the notion of “spend some time talking to God” just doesn’t work for me — I spend my time instead, talking to myself about what I should be doing. Reading the Bible reflectively and prayerfully? Morning devotions? Tried it — I read for content and wasn’t able to shift into what I imagined reading in a prayerful manner should be.
And there’s, of course, another point of view as well — those who call for Lenten sacrifices to be directed at charitable works, that is, of the triad of “fasting, prayer, and almsgiving,” they deem as worthwhile the first two only insofar as it produces the third: use the proceeds from your reduced food purchases to give to others and use your prayer to motivate you to help others, or be a better person generally speaking (that is, pray to be better able to let go of grudges or be a better parent).
So this is the point where I solicit reader opinions. Is there a mandate to engage in prayer of one sort or another? Is it scriptural, or just a sort of conventional wisdom? What say you?