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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