Is It Okay to Diet for Lent?

If you diet for Lent, you're obviously giving up something. You can fast and at the same time pare those excess pounds to get into last year's clothes.

But not so fast.

“To fast just in order to lose weight may be good physiologically, but it's not beneficial spiritually,” says Father Roger Landry of St. Francis Xavier Church in Hyannis, Mass.

“The most important element in fasting is one's interior disposition,” the priest points out. “Fasting is meant to be a ‘prayer of the body’ in which our sacrifices are presented to the Lord. In Lent, it's also meant to take on the notion of a penance, because oftentimes we, like the crowds after the multiplication of the loaves and fish, follow our stomachs rather than hunger for Jesus, the Bread of Life.”

In his apostolic constitution on penance, Pope Paul VI noted: “Penance therefore — already in the Old Testament — is a religious, personal act that has as its aim love and surrender to God: fasting for the sake of God, not for one's own self.”

Weight-watching is more for self, notes Father Mitch Pacwa, who adds that dieting might not be so bad if it's a responsible way to take care of the body we have in accord with our duties as a Christian.

“But not to make it part of your spirituality,” he says. “To identify that as fasting is adding a type of practicality to fasting it wasn't meant to bear. It misses out on how suffering voluntarily has a benefit for the other members of the body of Christ. The goal of our fasting is abnegation and union with Christ's suffering. But dieting makes fasting into a subset of vanity.”

The verdict? Diet as a Lenten fast, and you'll only burn empty spiritual calories.

— Joseph Pronechen