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Sacrificing something for Lent? Tips on how to be successful

King cake. (Tom McCorkle for The Washington Post via Getty Images; food styling by Lisa Cherkasky for The Washington Post via Getty Images)

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent.

For the next 40 days and 40 nights, people of many faiths will practice fasting, spiritual cleansing, added prayer and self-reflection. Also on the list? Sacrifice. 

“Lent gives us an opportunity not only to reevaluate our spiritual well-being, but also our physical well-being,” said Kate Hake, registered dietitian at Indiana University Health. “Many believers choose to give up foods they consider unhealthy like red meat, soda or dessert.”

This can be a great thing, she says, but, to be successful, you have to ask yourself: What is the intention behind my sacrifice?

“I think our culture makes it easy to get caught up in the diet mentality. We tell ourselves we’re staying away from certain foods for religious reasons, but in the back of our minds we’re thinking: ‘Well, it’s actually because I want to lose 5 pounds.’”

Instead of focusing on restriction, Hake suggests focusing on what there is to gain. Whether it’s eliminating snacking, cutting caffeine or kicking a soda habit, she says there is plenty. 

Here are Hake’s tips on how to achieve your Lent goals:

Be aware of your surroundings and plan ahead: Let’s say you choose to sacrifice candy for Lent. Make sure to identify situations where you might be tempted. For example, a co-worker has a candy jar on their desk or your office participates in fun food Fridays. Think about what you can do to stay on track. Hake suggests packing an extra snack. Without it, it’s going to be much easier to reach for that candy jar. 

Be mindful of the people you surround yourself with: Share your intentions with people who are closest to you so they’re aware and can support your goal. If you want to increase your fitness, talk to a friend or your spouse. Ask them to encourage you to wake up earlier and go for a run instead of sleeping in the extra hour. 

Swap one habit for a better one: Alcohol is another popular thing people tend to cut back on during Lent. Try to recognize what triggers you to reach for that glass of wine. Perhaps it’s common after a rough day at work. Hake suggests using the time that would otherwise be spent drinking to journal instead. Or head out the door for an evening stroll. 

A slip-up is a chance to make it right: Let’s say you eat a cookie or miss your daily serving of vegetables. Encourage yourself to wake up the next day and strengthen your commitment — not quit on it! By avoiding this all-or-nothing mentality, you’re going to end up better off by the end of 40 days than you were if you just threw in the towel after Week 1.

The smaller the sacrifice the more likely it will last: Lent is an opportunity to make a permanent change, not just a temporary one. If the goal is creating a healthy habit or removing a not-so-healthy one, it’s going to be more about consistency over time versus just removing/including whatever it is for 40 days. It is possible to elicit health behavior change that will last post the Easter holiday. But again, Hake says, it all comes back to the original question: What is the intention? Really think about what you want out of these next few weeks and possibly beyond.