by Marc and Julie Anderson
ROELAND PARK — With three weeks left in Lent, you might have already given up on your Lenten goals. But Annie Eller, a registered dietitian and member of St. Agnes Parish in Roeland Park, said it’s not too late to get started on some new habits — habits you can continue to build on even after Easter has come and gone.
A dietitian at the outpatient clinic for the University of Kansas Medical Center in Kansas City, Kansas, Eller regularly meets a variety of people, all of whom are trying to live healthier lifestyles.
Additionally, within her consulting business, she encounters clients who are trying to lose weight, reduce their dependence on prescriptions and/or learn how to shop for and cook healthy foods.
While any time is a good time to focus on improving your health, Eller said Lent provides a unique opportunity with its focus on almsgiving, prayer, fasting and abstinence from meat.
Growing up in Christ the King Parish in Topeka, Eller was accustomed to eating fried fish on Friday.
But Lenten abstinence from meat on Fridays, said Eller, provides an opportunity to incorporate more fruits, vegetables and legumes into your diet. And that can lead to a healthier lifestyle long after Lent ends.
“Lent gives us a chance to be creative with meal planning [since] we cannot have meat once a week,” said Eller, “but I’d encourage people to take it beyond Lent throughout the rest of the year and commit to having a meatless meal once or twice a week.”
With a focus on fasting and the “giving up” of something, Eller said Lent offers Catholics a chance to take that one step further and reflect on all their food choices. While you might give up cookies for Lent, fresh fruit can serve as a healthy replacement for a sweet snack.
“Lent gives us a chance to take a big-picture look at our eating habits. We can take that increased awareness with us throughout life and be mindful of eating foods that will support a healthy body versus being indulgent too often,” she said.
As a Catholic, Eller said she relies on her faith to keep her motivated. She encourages others to do the same. Sacred Scripture, she said, is full of references to the body being a dwelling of the Holy Spirit. For example, in the First Letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul writes: “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God and that you are not your own?”
Knowing the body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, Eller said, helps people set more meaningful goals.
“People tend to start a weight loss journey or try to change more for . . . surface goals — whether that’s fitting into specific clothing or seeing a specific number on the scale,” she said. “But more deeply held motivators are more indicative of long-term success. Faith, of course, is one of the more substantial motivators.”
Because Lent encourages people to focus on prayer, Eller said the season can also help people focus more on mental and spiritual health. Turning off the television and participating in activities like journaling, praying, reading the Bible more and attending Mass more frequently can impact both a person’s spiritual and mental health.
“It’s easy to get caught up in improving ourselves physically, whether that’s through food changes or increasing physical activity, which are both great and essential,” said Eller. “But we should not forget how important it is to pay attention to our mental health and well-being, and that can really play a role in our overall health as well.”
Additionally, Eller said, it’s important to realize living a healthy lifestyle does not have to be an “all-or-nothing approach” and Lent should be the springboard for — not the end of — any changes people make for their health.
“It cannot be emphasized enough,” she said, “how important it is to take care of our physical bodies in this life and let our faith be a guide in terms of why. These habits should be lifelong.”
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