Are you giving anything up for Lent?

My relationship with food has fluctuated since my birth almost forty years ago. After a struggle with breastfeeding I was, so I am reliably informed, fed with carnation milk. My toddler self was extremely fussy but this thankfully morphed in to a constant hunger and willingness to eat anything once. Home cooked food in the eighties was simple but made of good quality, ‘real’ food – as opposed to many of the ‘food like’ products consumed today. Mum’s cooking certainly laid great foundations for my appetite as an adult.

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As a young woman my pre-existing heart condition began to have an impact on my well being at around the same time as my interest in cookery appeared. As the illness developed so I learnt to hold on to health through good food choices. This became crucial as I entered the final phases of heart failure and battled to not only stay well but maintain a healthy weight with very little physical activity.

In 2009 I received a heart transplant and a healthy lifestyle was the lynch pin to my initial recovery. Sadly, as a result of my experiences with life limiting illness I am now taking the first steps to tackling clinical anxiety and depression. My patterns of eating fluctuate with how well I feel at the time and I tend to swing between eating way too much – and eating obsessively healthy foods.

I have found mindfulness a useful approach, most particularly with regards to my anxiety levels. As a food lover I was fascinated to read about the principles of mindful eating and happened across author Julian Baggini and his book, The Virtues of the Table: How to Eat and Think. Here he discusses the choice of abstinence as a form of mindful eating;

True freedom therefore requires the ability to exercise self-control rather than simply being carried by whatever desires and impulses arise in you. Only eating certain things at certain times…is a way of countering our tendency to slavishly follow our desires, breaking the link between desire and action, impulse and acting on it…It’s a way of exercising choice very knowingly.

As a teenager I took part in a sponsored 24 hour famine to raise money for the charities working in Africa. I then made an active choice to adopt a vegetarian diet for two years. Twenty years later my fascination with medieval food introduced me once again to the concept of fasting. But it wasn’t until reading chapter 16 in Julian’s book that I considered it as a part of my own life. Last summer my husband and I attempted abstinence together and gave up meat for the month of July. It was a fascinating and empowering experience.

My mental health has wavered in recent months and along with it every iota of self control. Despite knowing that processed sugar does me no good whatsoever I continuously reach for the cakes and biscuits. The run up to Shrove Tuesday and Lent prompted my thoughts back to that piece on fasting, and this blog post. For the first time in my life I have decided to observe Lent and will give up processed sugar. I hope to introduce greater mindfulness to my food choices and in some sense, press the reset button on some bad habits.

You may not wish to join me on this abstinence path but if you are interested in combining philosophy with food then I fully recommend getting hold of a copy of Julian Baggini’s new book. There is certainly plenty of food for thought.