Starting on February 22 and concluding on April 6, this year Lent stretches over 43 days. So, if you’ve decided to go cold turkey on your favorite food or drink, you may be in for a rough ride.
Six weeks (and one day) is a long time to give up anything, but have you ever wondered why some culinary pleasures – think alcohol, caffeine, sweet treats and junk food – are harder to ditch than others?
Here, experts explain what makes it so hard, and offer advice on how to stay on course…
“Caffeine is a stimulant, which is why so many turn to their mugs of coffee or tea for that spring in their step,” says Professor Denis Kinane, founding scientist of health and wellness services provider Cignpost (cignpost.com).
Whether you love a latte, an Earl Gray or a matcha, that buzz is what makes caffeinated drinks so addictive.
“Like any other stimulant, when you stop taking it you may experience withdrawal symptoms, which can make it harder to quit,” Kinane explains. “Caffeine affects the central nervous system, so you may get shaky, irritable, and suffer from headaches.”
To lessen the severity, try weaning yourself off in the days before Lent starts. “Start slowly, consuming a little less each day to make the transition easier,” he suggests.
As opposed to alcohol addiction (for which you should seek medical help), if you struggle to quit moderate drinking for Lent, it’s likely to do with the lifestyle aspects.
“Alcohol is often seen as a way to relax and socialize,” says Melissa Kuman, nutritionist at X-Pilates (xpilates.co.uk). “It’s also everywhere, so it’s hard to forget about!”
Therefore, you’d do better to reduce temptation by avoiding activities that revolve around booze.
“Remembering that there are other ways to unwind – such as listening to music, reading a book or socializing with friends who are also staying sober – can be really helpful,” said Kuman.
“If you’re looking for an alternative, consider non-alcoholic drinks, such as non-alcoholic gin and mocktails, which can be equally tasty and satisfying.”
From bacon sarnies at breakfast to roast dinner with all the trimmings on Sunday, meat-based meals are seriously tempting for carnivores.
“Many people find meat incredibly enjoyable to eat, due to its savory flavor and satisfying texture,” says Kuman. “It’s also incredibly convenient, since it’s widely available and easy to prepare.”
To curb your cravings, try experimenting with meat alternatives.
“Consider plant-based proteins, such as tofu, tempeh, Quorn and seitan,” Kuman says.
“It’s also worth exploring various vegetarian meals to find ones that you find delicious. Spaghetti Bolognese with Quorn mince and shavings of parmesan is a favorite of mine.”
Chocolate and sweets
“Studies have shown that chocolate can be as addictive as hard drugs by momentarily tapping into the same pleasure center,” says Kinane.
“However, ‘momentarily’ is the key word here. When you eat chocolate, your brain responds but that response only lasts a few minutes, which is why it leaves you craving more.”
Likewise, sweets and lollies cause a spike in blood sugar and a subsequent ‘crash’, which makes you want to grab more goodies.
“If you’re looking for an alternative, consider healthier snacks, such as dried fruits, which have a chewy, sweet texture or creamy yogurt, whipped with peanut butter,” Kuman says.
Citrus flavors – such as water with a squeeze of lemon or lime – can zap sweet cravings, and it helps to stock up on nutritious foods, she adds: “Keep fruit handy for a natural sweet treat, and eat little and often avoid reaching for sugary foods when you’re hungry.”
The reason burgers, fish and chips, fried chicken and other high-calorie takeaway favorites are so satisfying apparently relates back to caveman times.
“Evolutionarily, getting calories on board is extremely important for survival when food is scarce,” Kinane says.
“That can go some way to explaining why we find fast food so enjoyable. [They are] high in refined carbohydrates and fats, making them rich in calories.”
That doesn’t mean you have to eat rabbit food all Lent, though.
“Many of your favorite takeaway classics can be made healthier and cheaper at home,” he says. “Particularly those with high satiety, which will make you feel full quicker – foods high in protein can be great for this.”
Kuman also recommends batch cooking, so you’ve got healthy meals on hand.
“Salads are a great meal prep dish, as you can make lots of different components and combine fresh ingredients every morning,” he says.
“You could also sign up for a food delivery company, which makes healthy cooking easy and convenient.”