Lent is for fasting. So just like the celebrities?

Today marks the start of an ancient Christian season. Practiced in churches since the 4th century, it calls for 40 days of abstinence. But why bother?

What do you think about fasting? Perhaps in the end, you simply have to choose between Archbishop Nichols and Victoria Beckham.

Lent is the period of 40 days which comes before Easter in the Christian calendar. Beginning on Ash Wednesday, it's a season of reflection and preparation before the celebrations of Easter.

By observing the season, Christians remember the 40 days Jesus spent in the desert, where he ate nothing and prepared for the work ahead. Lent is therefore now marked by fasting – whether it's from food, alcohol, sex, TV, computer games or meat.

Of course, the principle of fasting is in many different religions and spiritual paths. For Muslims, Ramadan is a month of obligatory fasting, which begins at dawn and ends at sunset.

It's a time when Muslims should see nothing that displeases Allah, speak no evil, see no evil, do no evil and look to Allah in fear and hope.

While the Hindu leader Gandhi used fasting to bring political change to his country, and gain independence from the British Empire.

Victoria Beckham denies herself food for other reasons. Formerly of 'The Spice Girls' and now in the world of fashion, her diet is said to comprise primarily of lettuce, strawberries, edamame soy beans and peppermint tea.

She deprives herself of food to look thin in the clothes she wears, but for the Roman Catholic Archbishop Nichols Lent speaks of something different.

On Radio 5 Live, he acknowledged that the increased pace of life has left less time for spiritual practices, but said that self-denial and reflection could actually help people cope with stressful lives.

He asked people to give up meat on Fridays until Easter, or some other favourite food. He said he was giving up alcohol, which 'essentially a spiritual exercise', but there could be other benefits too – like him losing weight.

Why abstain?
Why do we abstain from things we like? Some abstain from sex outside marriage, for instance. They say it makes sense as the only form of birth control that's 100% effective, and protects from Sexually Transmitted Diseases.

Others believe there's more to fasting than that. They say it activates a spiritual connection to whatever god or ideals the person fasts in the name of. When we discard a habit, new space is created in us for a new consciousness, fresh spirit.

Others, like Posh Spice, see fasting as a means to an end – an unhealthily thin body; or for IRA member Bobby Sands, a martyr's death.

You Decide

  1. 'If you can't give something up, it has control over you.' Do you agree?
  2. What is Victoria Beckham a role model for – personal discipline or an unhealthy obsession with how she's perceived?

Activities

  1. In a group, come up with the best three reasons for abstaining from something – and the three worst?
  2. 'I'm on the drunk diet. I like to drink whisky and stuff while I'm working,' says Lady Gaga. What we put in our body is a personal thing. What does your food pattern say about you? Write about it.

Some People Say...

“I'll eat and drink what I want.”

What do you think?

Q & A

Is fasting the same as dieting?
They can look alike, but they're different. Fasting seeks inner change, which is what the Archbishop is talking about; diets seek body change, which is generally what celebrities want.
But Jesus thought it was a good thing?
Well, surprisingly, he was quite rude about fasting. He said that too often, people just did it to feel superior to others.
So what's the biological effect?
After several hours without food, the body no longer has any stores of glucose to use. The body then runs off protein, muscle and fat before it finally breaks down and starts tapping into its own organs.
And then?
Many studies reveal that moderate abstinence can lower the risk of cancer and even slow the ageing process. But compulsive dieting can be fatal. Our motive matters; obsessions are never helpful.

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