Today is Ash Wednesday, which marks the start of Lent in the Christian calendar. Many Christians observe Lent by sacrificing something indulgent, typically some type of food or food group. Beware! My advice for those struggling with eating disorders is to avoid giving up a food or food group. Two common scenarios happen when a food or food group are eliminated. First, the reward centers in the brain may light up, “I haven’t had x in a while, I probably don’t need to eat it when Lent is over.” Because the ED’s brain is hard wired to quickly form habits and continue habits even if dysfunctional, re-introducing a food/food group after Lent is over may be problematic. Secondly, when a food or food group is eliminated many people begin to feel deprived and begin to obsess about eating that particular food. This cycle of elimination, deprivation, and obsession frequently leads to over or binge eating. This can happen to anyone!
Instead of sacrificing food, perhaps a healthier sacrifice could be to eliminate social media. Studies show that social media is linked to depression and low self esteem. Others have found that participating in the Lenten Positive Acts Challenge rewarding. This challenge calls for performing a positive act for every day between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday. These acts could be a nice smile to a stranger, walking a neighbor’s dog, or letting someone go in front of you in line. Acts of kindness are correlated with improved mood. Being kind to yourself and practicing self compassion could also be an abstinence or sacrifice. Replacing negative statements with life affirming statements are wonderful ways to stay recovery focused.
Pam Chin-Lai, MS, RD, LD, CEDRD specializes in the nutritional rehabilitation of eating disorders in children, adolescents and adults.