Shrove Tuesday - or pancake day - heralds the start of Lent, which starts tomorrow, with Ash Wednesday. Traditionally, the following 40 week days, culminating on Easter Saturday, are, for Christians, a period of fasting, when milk, eggs and fat were avoided.
This is the origin of pancakes, intended as a way of using up all the left-over goodies so that you weren't tempted to cheat. This is also the day that parish priests ‘shrove' their congregation - invited them to confess their sins and granted them absolution so that they could start again with a clean slate.
All of the world's great religions have used periods of fasting as a path to spiritual enlightenment - and this is particularly true of the Eastern faiths. But even ancient tribes used the fast as a way of marking special and highly important religious festivals.
Few people in this country actually fast during Lent. The modern practice is to give up something you really enjoy - and many do it as a sort of a physical Spring clean as well as for religious reasons. For Christians, the daily deprivation is a constant reminder of Easter, with its initial sorrow and the essence of their faith.
But giving up things you like for Lent isn't only a good spiritual exercise: it can also be great for your health, too. It doesn't matter if you're Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, agnostic - or any other sort of believer - this could be the spur you need to make a few lifestyle changes which will help your general well-being. Just see what you can save by having 40 days free of these favourite indulgences.
Food / Calories saved / Fat saved
Chocolate 100g x 40 / 20,800 calories / 1228 g
Crisps - 2 bags per day / 12,720 calories / 24 g and 50.4 g salt
Fast food lunches:
Food / Calories saved / Fat saved / Salt reduced
Burger (20) / 11,060 / 560 g / 47.4 g
French fries (20 portions) / 5,780 / 320 g / 15 g
Cheese & tomato pizza (20) / 9,480 / 4720 g / 58g
Total saved on fast foods 26,320 / 5,600 / 120.4
Food / Calories saved / Fat saved
Cheesecake (10 portions) / 5,110 / 426 g
Chocolate mousse (10 portions) / 1,070 / 41.4 g
Apple pie (10 portions) / 3,000 / 146 g
Cream (10 portions) / 1,350 / 144 g
Gateau (10 portions) / 2,860 / 142 g
Total saved on desserts / 13,390 / 899.4 g
Medium white wine (2/day), 3,720 calories
Sugar 2sp in 7 drinks daily, 13,440 calories
The really good news is that for every 3,500 calories you don't eat during these 40 days, you lose a whole pound of fat. That means 6 lbs if you give up chocolate, just under 4 if you chuck the crisps, 7 and a half if you ditch the fast food, nearly 4 if you deprive yourself of puddings, another 4 if you dump the sugar and just a pound for going on the wagon - but think what that does for your liver.
A vital part of any detox plan must include some exercise. So why don't you make the most of Lent by deciding to give up being a couch potato as well as all the high-calorie foods.
Half an hour a day of brisk walking, swimming, skipping, cycling or tennis will burn up an extra 9000 calories. That means your body will get rid of almost another 3 lbs of fat.
The enormous savings in fat are a bonus in terms of your heart and circulatory health. Less cholesterol, less high blood pressure and much less risk of long term heart disease, stroke or fatal heart attacks.
Cutting down on the salty foods can save up to 12 teaspoons in the 40 days - and anything which reduces your overall salt consumption is another step towards reducing the risk of high blood pressure and avoiding uncomfortable fluid retention.
If you want to superboost your immune system, sense of well-being, mental and physical energy, look at the earliest forms of medicine.
Fasting has been used as a therapeutic treatment for more than 2,000 years. Hippocrates used it for a wide range of diseases, as fasting allows the body to concentrate all of its natural resources on dealing with the disease process, rather than with the chemical reactions of digestion. Although orthodox medicine has ridiculed the use of fasting, certainly for the majority of the 20th century, enthusiastic supporters have been writing articles in the journals since the late 19th century and in recent years fasting has begun to be more widely accepted.
As a means of boosting the body's immune system, fasting is significantly effective. Studies have shown that after just three days on a supervised fast the subjects white cell count showed a 25% increase - it's the white cells that act as the body's policemen, attacking, destroying and mopping up invading bugs.
Fasting is one of the most basic therapies used by traditional British and European naturopaths and also widely practised by the Natural Hygienists in the US. It‘s perfectly safe to do a three-day fast at home, but speak to your GP first as there are some illnesses and a number of medicines which could be adversely affected by the withdrawal of food.
All fasts should start and finish with a raw food day, the first to prepare your system and the second as a building bridge back to your normal eating patterns. These days should commence with raw fruit, preferably citrus fruits and/or melon, with a glass of fresh unsweetened fruit or vegetable juice. The mid-day meal should be a large selection of vegetable crudites - red and yellow peppers, cucumber, tomato, broccoli florets, cauliflower, celery, carrots, radishes and a large handful of fresh parsley. Wash them all thoroughly and eat raw drizzled with extra virgin olive oil. A large glass of unsweetened fruit juice or unsalted vegetable juice.
In the evening, eat a large mixed salad with a dressing of extra virgin olive oil and lemon juice, including lettuce, tomato, a large bunch of watercress, onion, finely chopped garlic, beetroot, celeriac and plenty of fresh chopped mint. Other herbs can be added to taste. A large glass of unsweetened fruit juice or unsalted vegetable juice. In addition you must drink at least three pints of fluid, either as water, weak green tea or any herb teas.
In between these two cleansing days, follow the plan below.
On waking: large glass of hot water with a thick slice of unwaxed lemon.
Mid morning and afternoon: mug of Indian, green or herb tea with a teaspoon of honey and no milk.
Evening: large glass of hot water with a thick slice of unwaxed lemon.
Bedtime: small cup of camomile tea with a teaspoon of honey and no milk.
Throughout the day: at least 1 litre of Evian mineral water.
Breakfast: large glass of fresh or unsalted tomato juice with a dessertspoon of lemon juice.
Lunch: large glass of equal parts orange and grapefruit juice and water.
Evening: large mug of Vecon (yeast extract available from health stores) - 1 teaspoon in hot water.
Breakfast: large glass unsweetened or fresh pineapple juice.
Lunch: large glass fresh carrot, celery and beetroot juice. Or Biotta unsalted vegetable juice.
Evening: large mug of Vecon and 10 seedless grapes.
Breakfast: small glass unsweetened prune juice and one apple, peeled, grated, mixed with a teaspoon of honey and left to turn brown before eaten.
Lunch: large glass apple, carrot and celery juice - or Biotta vegetable juice, as before.
Evening: large mug clear vegetable soup.
It's best to have your fast days when you're not working, so ideally take a Friday or Monday off and add them to your fasting weekend between the raw food days. On no account fast for more than three days without medical supervision. You can increase the effectiveness of your body's eliminating functions by taking, every day, 1g of non-acidic vitamin ester-C, 1 Cynara artichocke table to stimulate the liver and half an Ortisan fruit cube, a natural gentle laxative. These are all available at health food stores and good chemists.
Be prepared for headache, light-headedness, bad breath, a coated tongue and alternating euphoria and exhaustion. A steam bath or sauna during the first or last day speeds up the elimination process - but don't do them on fast days. It's common to feel cold and lethargic while fasting, so stay at home, keep warm and get plenty of sleep. When you break your fast take only small mouthfuls, chew thoroughly and take your time.
Fasting is more than just a physical cleansing process. For many thousands of years it has been used as a pathway to spiritual enlightenment. Religious communities have used it to heighten their awareness, the ancient pagans to appease their gods and the Greeks to bring creative and comforting dreams.
Even a short fast will bring you a sense of physical lightness and well-being and feelings of great inner peace and calm. Though the prospect of a few days without food might not be appealing, try it once and you'll be a regular.
Some of my books...
- Superfoods, Superjuices, Superhealth
- Eat Well Live Longer
- Superfood Pocketbook
(100 Top Foods for Health)
- The Omega 3 Cookbook
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