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Why only fruit should pass your lips after eight at night

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Robbie Williams. Photo: PA

Robbie Williams. Photo: PA

Robbie Williams. Photo: PA

LENT isn't just about giving up a 'sin'. It's an opportunity to kick-start a new, healthier habit, says Anna Burns

ONE of my children asked me the other day, with much concern and sadness, "Do I have to give up something for Lent?" I have mixed feelings on the subject.

While I was brought up with the idea of benefiting from such a discipline as Lenten sacrifice, children today would be served better to deal with the constant exposure they suffer to sweets and treats than hoard their stash to binge on at Easter.

We adults, however, might benefit from reminding ourselves what discipline is, when it comes to food. When is the last time you said "No" to something for the sake of discipline? When have you last resisted that second chocolate biscuit? Has discipline been put on the back-burner?

Even Robbie Williams (right) mentions "give it up for Lent" in his song, Millennium. Maybe it is something we could consider this year, in the name of discipline; in the name of clean living; or perhaps, just as a short experiment to find out what can be achieved.

Can we change some of our habits over six weeks? Can these new habits stick? Can we change for the better?

Fasting

Many cultures include fasting as part of their year's religious schedule. Buddhist monks and nuns commonly do not eat after noon, to aid meditation and good health. One of the pillars on which Islam is built involves fasting during the holy month of Ramadan; while Yom Kippur is the most important day of the Jewish year and involves strict fasting.

In fact, in Judaism, six days a year involve fasting, with neither food nor water consumed. Christians traditionally fast over Lent, a 40-day period involving a partial fast.

While most religious cultures believe this to be 'cleansing' and good for the soul, it turns out to be very good, also, for the body.

Fasting, however, does not work effectively for weight-loss. Fasting simply reduces your metabolic rate so, when you next feast (the day always comes!), you preferentially store food as fat, in case another fast comes around the corner.

Detox

Fasting does not 'detox' the body. Our liver, kidney, skin, colon and lungs do a perfectly good job of detoxifying our body every day of the week. However, part of the normal running of a healthy body does involve a daily fast, usually overnight, of perhaps 12 or so hours.

What I find many of us do is eat late into the night, perhaps chomping on chocolate biscuits while watching TV until midnight and start the day off again, with breakfast, at seven. If this is the case, you tend not to give your body adequate time off from digestion and time to detoxify.

Lent, old-fashioned as the idea may seem, may be a great opportunity for many of us to reset our default button and get order and schedule back into our food habits. Lent can help us to 'detox' our habits!

Six weeks

It is well accepted that it takes about three weeks to form a habit. The reason that Ash Wednesday is traditionally set as National No-Smoking Day is for the reason that setting a start-date is hugely important to the successful making of any lifestyle change.

We move from contemplating a change and preparing for a change to actually putting change into action, by setting a date.

By choosing Wednesday of this week as the start of your Lenten efforts, you stand a very good chance of affecting change over the next six weeks.

What to do?

Change some very simple habits from 'not so good' to 'great'. One issue I come across, on a weekly basis, is the issue of night-time eating.

Many of us, busy by day and distracted, let our guard down by night and eat enormous quantities of calories that we rarely plan to and never account for.

Number one discipline for this Lent: Stop eating in the evening; perhaps after 8pm.

By all means have a cup of tea or a piece of fruit, but aim to stay out of the kitchen and out of the biscuit tin (unless, of course, you work nights).

Number two change, for reasons of optimal nutrition: "Have I had my fruit and vegetables today?" Odd as it may seem, during Lent, we tend to fall down on adequate consumption of fruit and vegetables. If you eat enough fruit and vegetables, every day, you will find your need for snack foods diminish significantly.

Number three change would be: Ideally, to drink two to three extra glasses of water and/or tea every day. This is no sacrifice. Keep alcohol consumption to perhaps one night per week and keep hydrated then also (drink water as well as alcohol).

This is the stuff of simple habits that have a huge impact on your health. Adequate hydration results in less hunger and better health.

The fourth and final change might be: Avoid take-away food and low-quality snacks.

By all means indulge in a little chocolate or decent quality dessert on a Sunday or 'treat' day, but raise the bar higher than it might currently be.

Eat less 'rubbish' (biscuits, biscuit bars, sweets, fizzy drinks) and replace with occasional good quality treats (chocolate, home-made dessert, glass of wine).

Easter splurge

What many people traditionally gave up for Lent was beer; sweets or, perhaps took up going to Mass.

What traditionally happened then was that all the hard work and sacrifice went out the window on Easter Sunday and was forgotten about for the next year.

This year, make some very simple changes, such as those described here, then make a plan for after Easter.

After three initial weeks of hard work making a change; aim to continue after Easter. How? By keeping the bar high is the answer.

Rather than going back to nibbling all night on the cheap and the nasty of biscuits and bars, keep them out of the house and have a scheduled bar of chocolate once per week instead.

The hardship will seem a distant memory, as your habits will have totally changed. You will be pleasantly surprised with what you are capable of achieving in six short weeks.


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