For years, I refused to give up chocolate for Lent like my dad does every year. (The closest I came was giving up Pillsbury break n' bake chocolate chip cookies in 10th grade--a weekly occurrence that then became nonexistent, probably a good thing overall.) I knew I wouldn't be doing it for a really spiritual reason, but a health-related one, and that was a good excuse to not do it at all (how clever!). But junior year of college, with the temptation of regular dining hall desserts in full reach, I decided to dive in and give up chocolate. I'm not sure what sparked it, exactly; maybe I was more sure of myself after spending a semester abroad, maybe I knew what I was capable of in terms of... discipline? Big picture time and perspective? Who knows. Anyway, I didn't tell anyone for the first few days after Ash Wednesday, just in case I decided to back out. But I followed through, until midnight on Easter Sunday, when Dad made a batch of chocolate chip cookies.
This year, I decided to give up all desserts and sweets for the first time. I knew that at this point in life I can't go full Whole 30 or paleo--don't want to, really, plus I didn't want to hold myself to something that I logistically and practically cannot achieve right now. But even though sugar is in everything these days, I knew that could at least control my sweets intake. My work environment is full of folks who I affectionately refer to as "food pushers," and sweets pushers in particular. We are big on potlucks, birthday cake, and frequent leftovers from catered meetings or events. It's fantastic, don't get me wrong, but I felt like I needed a reset. So after lunch on February 28, I bought myself a massive chocolate cupcake (pictured above), polished it off, and said farewell not only to chocolate, but to any and all dessert.
So what have I learned?
Even though I went into this "giving up" mode without as much of a spiritual bent (primarily health-driven), I feel like I have been enriched spiritually and otherwise by simply realizing that I can say no. That I have control. I can attend a birthday party at work without eating cake. I can go to a meeting without grabbing a cookie, I can sit across from someone savoring a sumptuous restaurant dessert. And though sometimes friends have tried to make me feel "better" by not eating sweets in front of me, I've felt a lot less bothered or irked than I thought I might, and always encourage them to enjoy what they're eating. Does it look good? Yes. Do I want it? Kind of. Do I have to have it? No.
If that paragraph sounds super angelic and perfect, of course I've still had sugar in my diet--bread, condiments, what have you. One night in lieu of dessert (when everyone else was ordering it), I went for cornbread and lemon butter, which definitely involved le sucre. I've found myself looking at nutrition labels more frequently, picking salad dressings with very limited sugar, getting hooked on Triscuits (0 grams of sugar), treating an orange or blackberries as dessert, being more aware of how many veggies I eat. And I've noticed how much I love (and rely on?) cheese and other savory items that can also be bad in excess. So maybe that's a goal for another Lent. But, in the meantime:
I can say no. I can hold back and be aware of what I need or don't need in that moment. It's possible, I've proven it to myself more than I ever have before, and that feels good.
Now: What the heck do I do come Easter Sunday?
Part of me wants to keep going. I'm on such a good streak! I know it can be problematic to put "good" and "bad" labels on eating, but I really do feel good about achieving this and knowing that I'm probably healthier for doing so. Plus, I'm mostly used to it now--why go back?
And yet, I chose Lent as my time to lessen my sugar intake partly because it's a set period of time. Forty-seven days (I count the Sundays). I didn't want to attempt it on January 1 because then there's no sense of when it might end and it's harder to say no when you're in charge of when it ends. I don't want to live a life completely without the dessert menu. But I'm also afraid--if I can use that word very, very lightly here--that once I take one bite of whatever sweetness next crosses my path, I'm going to backslide. Hard.
Maybe that's the in-between of Lent and Easter, temptation and giving in, despair and hope, dust and sky, death and life. Bitter and sweet? Finding that balance. Sometimes it tips one way for a bit. But I think the most important lesson I've learned is that I can be proactive in tipping it back towards even-keel.