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on March 19, 2012

To be clear, I am not Catholic.  I am not even Christian, at least not in the I believe in Jesus kind of way.  So I recognize the inherent problem with me giving advice about Lent.  Nevertheless, I did participate for 2 years, and in that time I learned something valuable about deciding what to give up for Lent.  So, here goes.

When I was living in Steamboat I did pretty much whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted, and eventually I decided that a little self-discipline was in order.  Not a lot, just a little.  Since Lent occurred right after Mardi Gras, which I celebrated religiously each year, I figured it was the perfect fit.

The first year, I gave up chocolate chip cookies.  This may sound like something little, but to be fair, it was a pretty large part of my diet back then.  You see, I taught kids ski school and every day we would get packages of 3 chocolate chip cookies wrapped in plastic wrap.  We were supposed to grab enough for each kid to have one.  Of course, we all grabbed more (because we had such good Christian values).  We stored these packs in our jacket pockets for “emergencies” like waking up too late to have breakfast or getting a late lunch time.  These plastic wrapped cookies led to me eating chocolate chip cookies close to every day.  Add to this the “breakfast of champions” that my roommate often fixed, which consisted of barely-cooked, break-n-bake chocolate chip cookies with diet soda (I know that doesn’t sound healthy, but I never drank the soda).  Needless to say, giving up chocolate chip cookies was going to be a good thing for me, but it was not going to be easy.  My roommate would often yell “But you’re not even Catholic!” when I declined her breakfast or saran-wrapped saucers.  “That is not the point,” I would tell her.   For the entire 6 weeks(?) of Lent, I held strong.  I did not eat a single chocolate chip cookie.  Success!

On the heels of this victory, I decided to attempt a bigger challenge the next year.  Ski school lunches, in addition to chocolate chip cookies, also provided a wide variety of fried foods: dino nuggets, French fries, corn dogs (my favorite)…  It would certainly improve my health if I gave all these up.  I could still eat pizza and burgers and salad and the chocolate chip cookies.  This was perfect, more challenging but still doable.  At least so I thought.  The trouble was that after I started, I realized that a lot more things are fried than I thought, and it doesn’t always advertise it right on there.  For example, chips!  Who knew those were fried?  What about tortilla chips?  Yep, those are fried too!  This meant I couldn’t even have nachos.  Since my dinner options were fairly similar to my lunch options at that point (I hadn’t yet learned how to cook), I was left with a dwindling array of bar food to choose from.  This is when I started to question what is and is not fried.  What about Cheetos?  No one knew.  I abstained.  Someone told me Chinese food was fried.  Is it?  Yes, lots of it is, but I never found an exact list of which dishes.  Someone said all tortillas are fried.  This did not turn out to be true, but by this point I was getting sick of needing to google everything before eating, especially because this was before smart phones, and I was never at home when I was eating. Then, came the day I wanted Sun Chips.  They seemed healthy; there is a sun on the package after all.  But again, no one knew.  This was the point I gave up.  I ate the chips.  They were delicious.  I didn’t know if I had broken Lent or not, so I just stopped the whole ridiculous thing.

However, I learned an important lesson: If you are going to give something up for Lent, make it something specific.  Not too easy, not too hard.  Chocolate chip cookies were just right.

Maybe one day I’ll go back to giving up something for Lent.  Maybe when I retire.  For now, I consider giving up a large part of my social life for much of the school year to be all the self-discipline I need.  I’ll leave Lent to those with carefree lives and/or religious convictions.  If you are either, I hope my advice helps.

By the way, just in case you were wondering if this is really me telling this story, yes it is.  My diet has improved vastly since the time of this story.


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