Reader G. C. writes:

What should I give up for Lent this year?

Dear G.C.:

As you have probably gleaned, I’m not religious, not to mention Catholic or Episcopalian or any of the other numbers of denominations that celebrate the Lenten season.

However, I am a fan of self-sacrifice. So I will answer your question.

A quick lesson for all you uneducated heathens out there:

In the traditional Christian calendar, Lent is the season leading up to Easter. It’s 40 days long (although those 40 days depend on what sect of Christianity you’re part of), and the idea is to prepare the believer for Holy Week, aka the death and resurrection of Christ. The idea is that fasting, abstinence, and self-sacrifice will get you closer to God.

Carnevale, Carnival, and Mardi Gras are all pre-Lenten festivities that started up as a last hurrah before Lent. “Fat Tuesday” (Mardi Gras) is so named because it’s the last time you get to eat fat before Lent. It’s also the last time you get to have sex, or eat meat, or drink alcohol, or any number of other things you’re supposed to give up during Lent. In the old days, people gave up all of this and really, seriously fasted. The Lenten season looked more like Ramadan than its current incarnation.

Some folks argue that this period of fasting would have made sense in a pre-Christian world, too, because the weeks before Easter typically happen to be the weeks of early spring, wherein there are few crops available and things are pretty lean anyway.

In any case, nowadays, most people only choose one thing to give up during Lent, although many Catholics still won’t eat meat on Fridays. I think giving up something for 40 days is a great exercise in self-will, whether you believe it gets you closer to God or not. So I am all for practicing Lent, even if you’re not Christian.

What you give up for Lent depends entirely on what you do regularly in your life. It should be something that you take for granted; something that is a luxury that you forget to look at as such; or something that you feel keeps you apart from God (or whatever approximation thereof you believe in). Sometimes it’s good to take a self-imposed break from something, and Lent is a perfect time to do so.

So here are a few ideas that may suit your needs:


This would probably be what I’ll choose this year. In the western world especially, we include a lot of drinking in our daily lives. A glass of wine with dinner, a couple of beers at happy hour, a weekend in Vegas… Eventually you find that you spend more days with alcohol in your system than you do without it. Even if you don’t get drunk, alcohol adds a lot of calories to your diet, and while there are debated health benefits, I know very few people who stick to the “one drink a day” rule. (When was the last time you actually had a single drink at happy hour?) Giving it 40 days of rest is a fine idea.


There’s a lot of debate in the world about whether sex addiction exists or not, and whether or not it does, sex can be a tool we use for reasons that may not be so good for us. Some people use sex to feel better about themselves. Some people use sex to feel powerful or in control. Some people use sex to avoid thinking about what’s going on in their lives. If your sex life feels more desperate and dark than wonderful and fulfilling, this may be the thing you need to give up. (It’ll be like 40 days and 40 nights, right?) NB: I think there’s a grand difference between giving up sex (with random strangers, say) and giving up masturbation or sexual thoughts. You have to decide how far you want your Lenten fast to go.

Chocolate (or Sweets).

When I was in high school, this was the #1 choice for the Catholic girls to give up. It kinda’ ruled for me, because it meant I got all the M&Ms out of their GORP when we went camping over spring break. Anyway, chocolate is yet another high calorie luxury food that we take for granted. The stuff we eat for the most part isn’t even the good stuff, but it’s all so highly available we forget how grateful we should probably be for it. This is a good, simple Lenten promise that I think is a good beginning point for many. Unless you don’t like chocolate to begin with, in which case you’re cheating. And is also why I suggest sweets as well. Give up dessert or soda if you aren’t a chocolate fan. Remember: Lent is supposed to be hard.

man drinking coffee

This guy didn't give up coffee (but he probably gave up hair cuts). Image: Ambro / FreeDigitalPhotos.net


This suggestion would probably kill about 80% of my friends (okay, not really KILL them, but still). Ask any pregnant woman what it’s like to give up caffeine, and she’ll tell you straight up, it ain’t easy. That’s what makes it a perfect Lenten sacrifice: the harder it is to give up, the more you probably ought to. Caffeine is such a part of our everyday lives. It’s in so many things, too — chocolate, soda, coffee, tea, energy drinks… Paying attention to your caffeine intake is a tough task in itself, and keeping it out of your diet entirely is even harder.

Refined and Processed Foods.

This is perhaps the hardest thing to give up altogether. You’re setting yourself up to eat only vegetables and simple meats, with maybe a simple grain here and there. No flour, no bread, no cereal (except, like, oatmeal), no sugar, no cheese, no Cup o’ Noodles. This is probably even harder than caffeine. But it’s the scourge of modern man, and it’s certainly something we just incorporate into our daily lives without thinking. Sure, if you’re gluten-free, you’ve got an easier time ahead of you, but for the rest of us, giving up that toast in the morning is going to be uber difficult.

Technology (Television/Facebook/The Interwebs/Movies/Videogames/Smartphone).

Admit it: you’re probably addicted to at least one of the above technologies. It’s a casual addiction, maybe. You check your Facebook page at stoplights. You only watch four TV shows a week. You’ve simply got to keep up with your Netflix queue. Try giving at least one of them up for 40 days. I say TV is a great candidate, because we spend so much time just letting it blare casually without giving it another thought. Imagine all the time you’ll have to do other stuff, like … reading? Or… going outside? The days are getting longer!


This is a super good thing to give up over Lent, because it’s not physical, and it’s probably something you do without thinking. Furthermore, it will make you very aware of how much you just aren’t thankful for, and it has the added bonus of making you more aware of the things that come out of your mouth. (This is something we could all use, I’m sure.)  You’ll probably have to replace your complaining with something else, and the obvious suggestion is praise or gratefulness. “I hate my job” can become “I’m really glad I actually have a job right now”; “I hate my body” can become “I have really pretty eyes”; “This dinner sucks” can become “I am so thankful to actually have food in front of me and a choice to eat it because I know there are people in the world who don’t”; “Stupid government” can become “I’m so grateful that I live in a country where I’m not thrown in prison for saying things against the government and where I can participate in elections”. It’ll be fun! And your outlook on life will be so positive. Other similar suggestions in this category would be giving up gossip, giving up swearing, or giving up trash talking, and I’m sure there are dozens more.

Those are my ideas at the moment. Anyone else got suggestions or stories from when they’ve given something up?


1 Response to “lent”

  1. March 3, 2011 at 11:44 am

    I gave up caffeine for Lent last year and was so happy about how I felt (my nail-biting habit went away as did lots of anxiety and hypertension) that I haven’t had any since. This year, I’m taking an even bigger step and going vegetarian (and making my husband do it with me!). Americans eat too much meat to begin with, and the factory-farming of animal products is destroying our environment (as well as tormenting the animals before killing them). Seriously – 20% of our greenhouse gas emissions come from cows. While I’ve already taken steps to reduce the amount of meat I’m eating, I feel like Lent is the perfect time to take it even further and prove to myself that there are plenty of satisfying meals out there that don’t involve meat at all. Rather than simply being a gesture (like when I was little and used to give up foods I didn’t eat much anyway), this is something that will make a difference in the world, and making me healthier (and maybe thinner) at the same time.

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