Wednesday, 18 February 2015

Kicking off Lent once again

Ash Wednesday has rolled round again. For me, this is the 24th consecutive year of doing Lent seriously. In each one, I've given up at least alcohol; more recently meat has been off the menu too.

Today is the first day of Lent, which carries on for 46 days and ends on Easter Sunday, falling this year on 5 April. This year, like last year, my Carnival (the period from New Year's Day to Shrove Tuesday) was relatively abstemious, raising a wine glass or beer mug only in company. Already I've trimmed my waistline, which is the key indicator, toning the internal core muscles through sit-ups (up to two lots of 85 a day). And the walking - I've kept up a good regime, averaging 10,821 paces a day every day since the New Year.

So - this year the proscribed list looks like this: no alcohol, no meat, no fast-food, no salt-snacks, no cakes, biscuits or confectionery, no sugar other than that found naturally in fruit. No fizzy drinks - only 100% fruit juice, water and teas; just one cup of coffee a day (first thing in the morning). Dairy products are OK, as is fish. Not such a restrictive diet as the one I did a few years back which was essentially vegan (no fish or dairy, also zero caffeine), but a challenging one with the exception of sweet things which I don't feel any temptation to eat anyway, and salt snacks which I set aside a couple of years ago.

Caffeine is the difficult one to give up. Doing so suddenly leads to three days of crushing headaches, followed by around a week of low-level background headaches. This can be reduced through a gradual reduction of caffeine intake in the weeks leading up to Lent, but not eliminated. At the end of the day though, I have come to realise that there's little point. Small amounts of coffee drunk daily is good for the brain and staves off senile dementia.

Sugar is also addictive, thankfully I have no predisposition to craving sweet things. Since last Lent, science has shown that sugar is something we can all live without, whereas salt we do need (though not in the amounts chucked into processed foods). Sugar has a more pernicious effect on blood pressure than does salt; we're told to limit salt to 4gm a day, sugar is less healthy. Sugars in fruit are fine; the biological role of sugar is to make us want to eat Vitamin C. But until the industrial processing of refined sugar from cane and beet (and lately corn starch), humans got by with no more sugar than found in fruit and honey. So - give up cakes, biscuits and sugar snack-bars for ever, for the sake of your health.

My brother has suggested this probiotic pick-me-up - the Yogurek. Take a gherkin pickled in brine (not vinegar), cut lengthwise into four, and dip into a natural yogurt. Good for the gut flora.

The walking will continue, along with sit-ups. Also, as I keep saying, I must focus on being more creative, writing more in particular.

This Lent I will try to be more philosophical, writing about the spiritual side of life, asking some existential questions and looking for answers.

I do invite you to join me, set aside a list of proscribed pleasures, a list of things to do that require willpower - and get going.

Tomorrow - an inquiry into Monism and Dualism.

This time last year:
Design, Build, Finance, Maintain, Operate: Improving the procurement of Poland's infrastructure

This time two years ago:
Wait to spend or save lives now? An infrastructure quandry

This time six years ago:
It's not rich countries that build roads, its roads that build rich countries

This time seven years ago:
Snow that was doomed to melt

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