Lent is a period of 40 days that’s designed to challenge your resolve in giving something up (as well as being a Christian celebration, obviously). Many people, when deciding what to give up, take a ‘two birds, one stone’ approach and vow to cut out something from their diet that’s unhealthy.
If you’re someone who wants to use Lent to help you become a bit healthier, who better to seek food-quitting inspiration from than a bunch of nutritionists?
We asked a group of expert dieticians and nutritionists what they’ll be cutting out this year, and their answers share some useful advice…
1 ‘I’m cutting out sugar’
‘Most of us consume too much sugar. In fact, the NHS estimates that the average person consumes about 700g of sugar per week, which works out as about 140 teaspoons per person. In order to cut down my sugar intake, I am going to give up refined sugars for Lent.
‘It will be difficult for me to give up chocolate, as I really love it, however, milk chocolate in particular doesn’t have any nutritional benefits and contains a lot of sugar. For people who are also trying to give up refined sugars, I would suggest replacing them with natural sugars which contain more nutrients that can benefit our overall health. Good alternatives include dried fruit, such as dates, dried figs or apricots. In addition to contributing flavour, they also contain fibres, vitamins and minerals. Honey can also be a good option as it contains some minerals and has a lower GI value than sugar.’
– Dietitian at health app Lifesum, Kajsa Ernestam.
2 ‘I’m not giving anything up, but I’ll start training 6 days a week’
‘Lent is a time when lots of people choose to take the opportunity to reset a habit. Just like ‘dry January’, it can be easier for you to resist temptation when you can say ‘I’ve given it up for Lent’.
‘This year, I will be training for a boxing match throughout Lent so I am more likely to commit to training 6 days per week instead of giving anything up. In reality, categorising a food as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ and giving it up will probably make you crave it more. Try working on your stress management or commit to getting 8 hours sleep per night instead. These strategies will ultimately improve your dietary choices because being tired and stressed makes us crave high energy foods more. Meditation, exercise or laughing with a friend will help to bring down your stress hormones and increase your happy hormones more than chocolate or chips would anyway.’
– Registered dietitian and founder of CityDietitians, Sophie Medlin.
3 ‘I’m ditching caffeine’
‘My daily diet doesn’t include many vices. It’s low in extrinsic sugars, free from wheat and meat, and I only have alcohol on the odd occasion – but I do LOVE a good cup of tea. Lent is about the commitment to abstaining from a particular luxury or enjoyment in your life and I would most definitely feel the absence of caffeine from my day. As a nutritional therapist, I do recognise that caffeine is a substance which requires detoxification and as such, places a load on the liver, which is another good reason to have a period of abstinence.’
– In-house nutritionist at Lifelab Testing, Sian Baker
4 ‘I’m quitting eating mindlessly’
‘Eating away from our laptop, phones and the TV is something I encourage all of my clients to do. However, as a time poor business owner, I have noticed some of these unhelpful habits worming their way back into my everyday life. For Lent I want to give up mindlessly eating my meals whilst manically typing away at my laptop or rushing from one meeting to the next, and take time to sit down and really enjoy each meal.
‘I’m all too aware of the negatives that mindless eating can have on our digestion and satisfaction from food, which is why I am certain I will reap benefits from putting down my laptop or phone and engaging in this healthy habit for Lent.’
– Nutritionist, Lily Soutter.
5 ‘I’m avoiding cow’s milk’
‘I’m giving up cow’s milk for Lent and switching to goat’s milk instead, after finally finding an alternative to cow’s milk that tastes just as good in my morning coffee and porridge. I recently came across clinical studies that show that goat’s milk has prebiotic properties, meaning it’s good for the gut as well as being easier to digest, so the nutritionist in me is very happy!’
6 ‘I’m adding in healthier foods to my diet’
‘I use Lent as a way to add something extra into my diet, rather than take away. Most people give up less healthy food habits in Lent but why not turn it around and make a conscious effort to add in another portion of fruit and veg?
‘Adding more fibre into our diets would be really valuable, because as a nation we are really low on our fibre intake, and its so important to keep our bodies health. Soluble fibre is broken down in the colon by beneficial bacteria and helps to control blood sugar levels after meals. Sources of soluble fibre include grains like oats and barley, beans, pulses, fruit and vegetables. Insoluble fibre helps keep your digestive tract in good working order. Sources of insoluble fibre include grains and cereals, wholemeal and wholegrain foods such as brown rice and wholemeal bread, nuts and seeds and fruit and vegetables (especially the skins).’
– Nutritionist at Waitrose & Partners, Joanne Lunn.
7 ‘I’m taking a Buddhist approach to eating’
‘I come from a relatively religious family and giving up something for Lent was always a tradition. These days I don’t believe in a single religion or god – I think it can take up any form – which is why, this year, I’m letting myself be inspired by the Buddhist religion for lent. I will try to follow the dietary approach Buddhist monks have, in terms of what they eat and – more importantly – how they eat.
‘Food wise, this will entail vegetarian, simple, local and seasonal food that I can source from local markets and shops. Buddhist monks eat very slowly and consciously, and they eat in silence with no distraction whatsoever. They also eat their food without judgement and are grateful for whatever is in their bowl. In addition, they meditate before eating, which I believe is a fantastic way to increase mindfulness around the food about to be eaten, and I will try to include a 5-minute meditation before every meal during Lent.’
– Registered nutritionist and PT, Sophie Thurner
– Nutritionist, Amanda Hamilton.
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This post originally appeared on Cosmopolitan.com.