I remember a few years back, on the first Sunday of Lent, the minister at my church made a humorous observation, one that has stayed with me and that I repeat often. He said: “as good Protestants you’ve probably already given up on giving up.” I laughed then, and I laugh whenever I think of it. Up until last year I always gave something up for Lent. Usually it was chocolate, or ice cream, or some other guilty pleasure of which I was starting to feel a little ashamed.
The minister was encouraging us to see Lent as a time to broaden our understanding of spirituality, and to use the Lenten season for self improvement, if not for fasting. Last year, mostly because I couldn’t think of anything to give up, I decided that I would instead focus on adding something to my routine, and so I meditated. I meditated every night before bed, and enjoyed it so much that I shared my guided meditations with any friend who expressed an interest. Instead of giving up I decided to add in, to build up my spiritual health, rather than deny myself something I shouldn’t be eating anyhow. I added something to my life to make myself more spiritually aware, help ease my stress, and bring back a sense of calm. In fact, it was the best Lenten season I’d ever had—so good, that I swore I would never give up again.
This year, as we start Lenten anew I’ve changed my tune. I’ve decided to give up diet pop. Diet pop is more than just a guilty pleasure, it’s a daily indulgence that, I worry, is really problematic. So, for that reason, I’ve decided to give up diet pop.
We all have our Achilles heels, those foods that we know are bad for us, but that we can’t seem to pull ourselves away from. Mine is pop. A few years ago I switched to diet pop. I told myself that I needed the carbonation, but I couldn’t justify the sugar in regular pop. So I drank the diet pop, and didn’t give it another thought. But now I’ve reevaluated this indulgence, and I know that it has no place in my life. So I’m choosing to respect my belief that I deserve good health, and that good health is something I can achieve.
Over the summer I made the transition to a mostly plant-based diet. Since that time I’ve been really interested in food: how it’s made, what’s in it, and how it affects us. Then last week, when I was quite sick, I had no energy, so I found myself at home sleeping and watching movies. My second day home, I was flipping through Netflix when I found a documentary called Hungry for Change. I tried not to watch it; I was looking for a good laugh, but as nothing else really appealed to me, I decided to watch it.
Sure, there are lots of things that I took from this movie, but the one that really spoke to me was the information on diet pop. I won’t get into all of the arguments that Hungry for Change makes against diet pop, because frankly there are far too many of them, but there was one argument that really hit home with me. Aside from being full of chemicals, diet pop, the experts argued, is not calorie free. Manufacturers use artificial sweeteners, so that they can make the claim that it is calorie free. And in one sense this is true: no sugar means no calories. But these artificial sweeteners still have a lot of carbs in them, which when you ingest them are converted to sugar in the body. This is all stuff I know. I worked for many years in diabetes education, and so I have a pretty good idea about how this works. (By pretty good, I mean less than a dietician, but perhaps more than the average person.) Still, in spite of the fact that I know this, I continued to drink my stupid diet pop, and think nothing of it. But today it stops. I am giving up my diet pop, and replacing it with water, or other nutrient-rich drinks.
I struggled for a long time with this decision. I hate to “use” a time meant for spiritual reflection and personal betterment for something as base as kicking the pop habit, but I think that this is the right thing to do. I like to think that instead I’m using this time to bring myself back to a more natural diet, which will, hopefully, have other spiritual benefits.