Fasting and changing habits during Lent
Fasting is not a new concept; it has been part of life since Palaeolithic times when food was scarce and people did not have the means to store huge amounts of food. The community was dependent on the luck and expertise of their hunters and gatherers. Later, different religions started to advocate fasting, making it part of the religious process.
Lent is a Christian preparation for Easter and it starts on Ash Wednesday, 46 days before Easter. During Lent, Christians usually give up eating meat (fish is often allowed) and fatty foods, and they are asked to spend more time with self-observation and helping those in need. Before Ash Wednesday there is a well-known day, called Shrove Tuesday, also known as Pancake Day. This day has been associated with consuming fatty and rich foods that one couldn’t normally eat during Lent, so it was the last opportunity to use up eggs and fats before starting the Lenten fast, hence the tradition of making pancakes.
Apart from religious reasons, fasting before Easter in the Northern hemisphere also helps to get our bodies ready for spring. After the long, dark winter months, when fatty foods, meat-heavy dishes and sweets are widely consumed in the Western diet, giving a break to our digestive system and introducing a lighter diet can be a great decision. It is a good time to start going to the market again (if you haven’t already) and pick the fresh, new vegetables. Spring onions, spinach, wild garlic, fresh carrots, radishes and rhubarb are all making their way into spring. Dark green leafy vegetables are also naturally helping our main detox organ, the liver, work, which is another reason why it is advisable to consume more of them during a fast.
If you decide to do a meat-free Lent and you have never done it before, then make sure you pay attention and consume enough vegetable protein, otherwise you might find yourself hungry and fatigued. If you do it well then your body will thank you for this experience, and you can later reduce your meat consumption if you choose to.
What are vegetable protein sources?
- nuts (walnuts, almonds, hazelnuts, Brazil nuts, Macadamia nuts and many more are all great sources)
- pulses (beans, lentils, chickpeas just to name a few)
- bee pollen.
The latter is a fantastic source of amino acids, nutrients, and enzymes. Be mindful with the portions though, because it has been used to strengthen people’s immune system after a long sickness and help them gain weight. If you mix one teaspoon in a smoothie in the morning, you don’t need to worry about putting on weight.
There are a few herbs which you might find useful to include during your fast. Two of the many I would recommend on this occasion are nettle and dandelion. They are both diuretics, therefore stimulating the kidney’s work, which is another important organ for detoxification. Include them in your daily routine during Lent in a tea form. If you are taking any medication or if you are pregnant / breastfeeding, consult with your GP before taking them.
During any sort of fast, the body will get rid of toxins in larger amounts than during ‘normal’ days, therefore it is important to drink at least eight glasses of water a day to aid the process. If we fail to do so, the excess toxins will start re-circulating in the body instead of leaving it, which is the exact opposite of the desired outcome.
There are some who up their fasting game and who choose to remove caffeine or chocolate as well for 40 days. The key thing is to find something that would be a great challenge for you, and to stick with it until Easter. It might be a good idea to start journaling and, even if it’s only for five minutes a day, reflect on how this new diet makes you feel. Is it hard to say no to your morning coffee? Replace it with your challenge. Do you feel grumpy without it? Why are you so attached to this food/habit? It can also help if you get support from family, friends or colleagues and do the challenge together.
If you haven’t done any fasting before, you might find that even small changes to your diet could cause symptoms associated with metabolic toxicity, such as headaches, acne or digestive issues. This is your body’s way of telling you that you most likely needed a bit of a change from your previous diet, so embrace it and continue with your new diet until your challenge ends. By that time, you might find that you are not as dependent on your old habits as you were when you started your challenge.
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About Viktoria Borsi-Grainger
Viktoria's practice is based on the principles of functional medicine looking for the underlying causes of her clients’ conditions. "I am a Registered Nutritional Therapist, using a systems-oriented approach. I am focusing on your specific needs to create a personal plan tailored to you. My main areas are digestive health and sports nutrition."… Read more
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