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The Lenten Practice That Can Promote Disordered Eating

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at SLU chapter.

**Content Warning: Disordered Eating

The season of Lent in the Catholic faith is a 40-day period of fasting, almsgiving and prayer leading up to the Resurrection of Jesus Christ on Easter. Traditionally, the Lenten pillar of fasting is interpreted as giving up a certain food, or foods, throughout Lent. While fasting can involve withholding food, it can also mean abstaining from anything that is an indulgence or outside of what is necessary.

I have observed many young women often choose to give up sweets or “junk food” throughout this four to five week period of Lent. This specific choice of food abstinence, I have found, can often be a guise for disordered eating, especially among girls and young women—a population that is already at high risk for having diagnosed or undiagnosed eating disorders.

The idea that “everyone is making sacrifices and giving up things” can fog the reality of the issue. People talking about purposefully restricting food they need to sustain themselves is normalized during Lent. This practice outside of a religious setting could be seen as disordered eating.

In my time attending an all-girls Catholic high school, we were encouraged to share things we were going to “give up or take up” during Lent. There is nothing in the Bible that says “thou shall not eat chocolate or candy before the Resurrection of Christ,” but somehow, this has become a common theme among Catholics and Christians during Lent.

Is our desire to stop eating certain foods grounded in devotion to suffering as Christ did? Or is this desire grounded in trying to change the way our bodies look? Have we made Lenten promises about ourselves and our bodies rather than Jesus and His?

I have had several conversations with girlfriends the past few weeks who are giving up food, meals or other sustenance throughout Lent. It is important that we reflect deeply on the motive behind these fasts. To suffer with and for Christ is a powerful experience that Catholics are encouraged to take part in to grow deeper in their faith. But purposefully malnourishing oneself disrespects the temple of one’s body that God has crafted intentionally to be beautiful. 

So what now?

If you like to sit down, think and pray over what you want to make as your Lenten promise, I encourage you to root your promise in Christ and Christ’s call to Christians. Find a way to respect and honor your body while also participating in the fasting, almsgiving and prayer of Lent. Fasting could be restraint from consuming toxic or excessive social media. It could also be giving up gossiping, self-sabotaging behaviors or unhealthy habits. Almsgiving could be giving your time to someone who may need it. Prayer could be accomplished through small daily moments of intentionally sitting with God.

If you are thinking, “Oh crap, this is exactly what my Lenten promise is this year,” I encourage you to find a way to steer your goals towards Christ and away from worldly desires like skinniness, popularity or following “health” fads.

The concept of taking something up instead of giving something up can also be a useful alternative. I have taken up goals such as daily prayer, attending confession or finding God in everyday moments and people. If you think it may be difficult to find a way to fast healthily, taking up a habit can be a great alternative that still allows you to participate in the Lenten pillars.

However you choose to participate in Lent, I hope that you can find a way to keep Jesus at the center and care for your body the whole way through.

Lucy is a senior at Saint Louis University studying occupational therapy. In her free time—if she has any—you may find her curating music for her DJ gig with KSLU radio, shooting hoops at the Rec Center, or drinking a fun little beverage. Her writing is like her life: sporadic, passionate, full of energy, and a bit all over the place.