Is Ash Wednesday Fasting a Fad Diet or Religion?

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donutsToday is Ash Wednesday, which marks the first day of the season of Lent for the Catholic Church. Ash Wednesday fasting is mandated in Catholic tradition, which means one can only have one large meal or two smaller ones, and cannot eat meat. While it is not one of the holy days of obligation, many Catholics attend Mass on this special day and prepare for Lent, the 40-day period of sacrifice before Easter.

Recently I've heard a lot about what people are "giving up" for Lent: chocolate, red meat, high fructose corn syrup, caffeine, desserts, processed foods, ice cream, snacks, and so on.

So are people being religious, or are people dieting?

From what I've learned, Lent isn't about "giving up" anything, it's about freeing yourself. It's about soul searching and repentance so that you will focus less on yourself and more on others. When did not eating donuts help one achieve these goals?

Personally I think religion would rather we eat that whole box of donuts than selfishly turn down helping a stranger or blow off that volunteering gig for a March Madness game. No, they're not mutually exclusive, but I'm just surprised I don't hear more about commitment to helping than I do commitment to avoiding certain foods.

I just found it very interesting that I've only encountered people who are thrilled to talk about how they're not going to eat potato chips for 40 days rather than talk about what they have planned for others during this holy period. Is it just me, or has Lent become a fad diet?

There are all kinds of fasts out there -- juice cleanses, power cleanses, all that stuff -- but if the deprivation of certain foods doesn't encourage one to take pause, reflect on the hunger, and to make a moment to remember why they're doing this in the first place, then it seems that the "diet" for Lent has all been for naught.

What does Lent mean to you?


Photo via @joefoodie/Flickr

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nonmember avatar Kaela

When I was about 10 our Sunday school class gave up chocolate for Lent. For the entire Lent season, every time we had to turn down a dessert or ignore a craving for chocolate, we would remember Lent and everything we were learning about the events leading up to the Crucifixion and the sacrifice Jesus made for us. I'm sure plenty of people use it as an excuse to diet/quit a bad habit, but for many it's about sacrificing something you love, no matter how insignificant it is in comparison, to help you remember what Easter is really about.

Jesse... JessecaLynn

I've always thought as lent as a 4 part experience, prayer, repentience, almsgiving, and self-denial.  So I will continue my daily prayers, and make sure I add to my list others who's asked for prayers to be said for them.  I will continue to volunteer my time as preschool literagy teacher.  For self-denial, I am limiting my time on facebook so that I can spend time doing other projects, in my case crafting.

qrex912 qrex912

I usually don't give up a food, because i've always thought to give up something that is really important to me. If food products are a big sacrifice for some people, more power to them.

LoriA... LoriAnn87

I usually give up eating meat during lent.

nonmember avatar Gertie

Yes, giving up trivial food items is childish. I am personally trying to use this solemn time to pray for the strength to give up (for good) a bad habit that is causing a distance between me and God.

tayanna2 tayanna2

This lent I am dedicating more time to my family. I've never "given up" something for lent, because even though it's about the sacrifices we make - I feel a positive outlook makes my experience better and helps me get closer to God.

Ladyw... Ladywithtwo

Your article is a little offensive. If someone is using Lent as a diet that's between them and God. If and when I give up a food for Lent I do it to go without something I really love to remember that my devotion to God is more important than a human desire.

mommy... mommythree0508

It's all in what you make of it. Using it as a diet is not what is intended. You are supposed to give up something that will better you. When you think of that something,you pray.What a lot of people don't realize is that you are also encouraged to take something up instead of giving something up. That can be anything from prayer to volunteer work.


Oh and here are the actual rules of fasting. Please do your research before doing an article like this. It isn't 1 full meal OR 2 smaller meals. It's 1 full meal AND 2 smaller meals that don't equal a meal.


Fasting The law of fasting requires a Catholic from the 18th Birthday [Canon 97] to the 59th Birthday [i.e. the beginning of the 60th year, a year which will be completed on the 60th birthday] to reduce the amount of food eaten from normal. The Church defines this as one meal a day, and two smaller meals which if added together would not exceed the main meal in quantity. Such fasting is obligatory on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. The fast is broken by eating between meals and by drinks which could be considered food (milk shakes, but not milk). Alcoholic beverages do not break the fast; however, they seem contrary to the spirit of doing penance.

nonmember avatar Tarundeep

Great article. It's amazing that the history of fad dieting goes back so far. Although I guess Adam and Eve invented the first fad diet (The Apple-Only Diet).

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