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Lent. Why do we need to give up chocolate?

A debate; Why do we  give up pleasurable experiences for 40 days?

I noticed something that made me curious today, the day before Shrove Tuesday (Pancake Day).

A debate, on social media, about what to give up for Lent. It struck me as interesting the need to give up something. Lent, traditionally is a period of penance. Penance, making an atonement for a sin, or for having done something regretful.

Cutting a delicious iced chocolate cake

Is the motivation behind giving up something for 40 days actually primarily about seeking penance for a misdeed?

The debate I hear is not ‘What is it I am sorry to have done so I can reflect on and learn from it’ but ‘Which will I be most successful in giving up; wine, cigarettes, chocolate, cakes or biscuits?

The difference may seem trivial. I wonder if the difference is actually quite crucial.

  1. Giving up something we enjoy. Why would we do that? Is it because there is some belief that self-denial is good? What does stopping doing something you enjoy mean to you? Why do you want to stop doing pleasant things? Have you ever given yourself space to reflect on why giving up something is an important act? Perhaps you are asking yourself what is my guiltiest pleasure. What do I feel bad about enjoying (a paradox in itself)? There are some things we feel guilty about doing. We give up things we enjoy because enjoying them makes us feel guilt. It is interesting that we do not address the guilt. Guilt can be two sided, guilt because we have let ourselves down, the values by which we would like to live by, our authenticity, or guilt because of falling short of perceived expectations of society. Does stopping having pleasure remove the guilt?

Or

  1. Giving up something we enjoy. Why do we do that? An obvious answer, looking at the things most commonly given up, is that it will do us some good. Help us to lose some weight, give our liver a break, a bit of ‘detox’. We give up things that we believe are causing us harm, but there is also a sense we chose things that we will manage to give up for 40 days, avoiding a risk of failure. This is hardly penance! Find me someone who gives up walking to work? There is someone who is challenging themselves, isn’t that more like a penance? Typical Lenten acts do not appear to reflect on a misdemeanor far from it, we find ourselves becoming virtuous, and self-congratulating. Interesting, is this the intention of Lent?

It appears Lent is a period to treat some aspects of the ‘human condition’ the relief of guilt, or possibly an opportunity, which we do not usually indulge in, to pay attention to our health .

Why do we need to do this?

Would it be more helpful to be penitent?

So many questions, and I am not attempting to answer any. Guilt is a universal, existential emotion that pervades our society and has a very significant impact on mental health. It is as if we have responsibility for the cause and suffering of others. We have responsibility for our own actions, and our own self-care; for being authentic to our own standards for living. Creating cycles of enjoyment and self-deprecation, and abstinence is not helpful. We find ourselves not enjoying that which is there for our enjoyment, and preoccupied with worry. Worrying about whether we have the ‘will power’ to abstain from those things we like, but feel guilty for indulging, and to what end?  Does this diminish others’ suffering? No. It creates anxiety for ourselves.

As a psychotherapist with a passion for the attunement of mind and body, may I encourage you, this Lent, that rather than give up something, you give yourself permission to enjoy the things you love. But significantly and, whilst being kind to yourself, you notice when the enjoyment isn’t complete and then stop, and wonder why. Pay attention to your body, your emotions, and feelings. Are you properly understanding what they tell you? Are you being authentic?

It is then that seeds might be sown to facilitate giving up habits that are truly not even enjoyable, but have become a false relief for an emotional dissatisfaction. It is useful to notice what emotions you have, acknowledge their pain or joy, not deny them or impulsively satisfy them inappropriately.

Lent clearly serves a purpose in our secular world. Maybe a little reflection on the purpose of our sacrifices will help us grow to be more authentic; true to ourself.

Overeating at Christmas- Enjoying the food that passes between your lips (Part 2)

Overeating at Christmas – Enjoying the food that passes between your lips (Part 2)

Overeating at Christmas- Enjoying the food that passes between your lips (Part 2)

Overeating at Christmas- Enjoying the food that passes between your lips (Part 2)

Temptation, too hard?

So why not enjoy the food that passes your lips, eat less: enjoy more
1. Write down the consequences for you of losing control, eating too much.
2. Look at this constantly and be reminded how good you will feel if you avoid losing control.
3. Find an ally who can motivate you, support you when you are struggling
4. Temporarily move yourself from temptation; go into another room
5. Reflect on whether you are enjoying what you are eating. Ideally you are enjoying it, if not put it down.
6. Did you know fatty foods-crisps, nuts, cheese, chocolate and pastry taste so good because the flavours are dissolved in the fats and create a nice sensation in your mouth.
7. Think about giving yourself a cut off time, after which you are not going to eat anything

Mindful Eating
Why not try mindful eating. See how much enjoyment you can get out of one piece of chocolate, or a crisp.
Look at it, think of the colour and whether the colour reminds you of anything. Look at the shape, how was it made? Who made it? Was it handmade or produced in a factory? See if you can spend 30 seconds to a minute thinking about the food you are going to eat. Now begin to smell it. Does the smell bring back memories or experiences? This may seem odd, but it is a useful exercise to slow down eating and to notice the enjoyment you are getting from the food. Again see if you can take up to a minute or even longer savouring the smell. Once smelt, bite a little bit and notice how it feels in your mouth, enjoy the flavour. Notice when you need to swallow it. Once swallowed why not reflect on where it is going, what happens now. Your digestive system will kick into action, acid in your stomach will break down some of the larger molecules and then when it enters the intestine all the goodness will go into the blood where it will be used or stored. Spend a little time reflecting on whether your stomach begins to feel full, and whether you still feel in control.
This might be very challenging for you, but it is a useful tool to slow eating behaviour and to register mentally what you are gaining from the food you are eating. This will naturally help you to limit your intake of the food.