Suggestions wanted: what should I give up for Lent?

February 10, 2007 | 29 comments

As most of you know, I enter the Church this Easter. It’s funny that of all this time spent feeling Catholic, I’ve still never received the Eucharist in my life. Needless to say, Lent will have special meaning for me this year. I’ve been mulling over what I should give up, but haven’t come up with anything good.

I would love to use this as a time to try fasting, but I’m pregnant so that’s out. I’d like to give up something that’s definitely “painful” in the sense that it’s a struggle for me to go without it; yet, I don’t want to give up something so major that I’m just not able to do it.

Anyone have any suggestions? What are you giving up for Lent? I’m not even sure exactly what the guidelines are here. You’re supposed to give up something that’s comfortable or pleasurable to you, right?


  1. Mike J

    The Orthodox Church begins the Lenten fast this Sunday. It lasts 7 weeks. No meat, no dairy, no oil (technically it’s ‘no olive oil’ so we get some fudge room there).

    This used to be the case for the Catholic Church. I.e. if you’d lived in Europe, in say, the 14th century, you would have had a hard time even finding those items at this time of year. I don’t know why they quit.

    At any rate, the EOC (and the OOC and most of the Eastern Catholics) fast the whole 40 days, (though there are a couple days where fish is allowed.) and they are supposed to increase set times of prayer. Oh yeah, they are supposed to reduce the total amount of food they eat too. So there is no giving up of something else. Meat, dairy, oil, and time are already given up. There is some mild encouragement to give up sweets too, but it’s not required.

    For pregnant women the rubrics are relaxed. They are asked to reduce their total intake a bit and to abstain from at least one of the three foods (meat dairy, oil). They are supposed to consult with their priest on the diet, to be sure that he does not think they are fasting to an unhealthy extent.

    So you can fast. You just need to be moderate about it.

    FYI. The first year I went through Lent, the priest told me to experiment with the fast to see what I could handle. At his suggestion, I varied the fast a lot. I’d try one day without meat, another without dairy, another where I’d abstain from all three for two meals out of three. I kept playing it like that, while slowly increasing the stringency of my fast. By week 5 of the 7, I was able to do the whole fast steadily. I even went a couple days with only one meal (and a small, proper fasting meal at that). It’s one benefit I definitely did get from the EOC.

    So there you have…………. food for thought. πŸ™‚

  2. Milehimama

    I’m often pregnant during Lent, so I often give up something intangible.
    One year I gave up “not accepting offers” – that is, I gave up saying No to offers of help, of clothes, of gifts or if someone offered to pay for my drink or whatever. (Working on pride and accepting charity from others). That was a lot harder than I thought!
    Try giving up nagging, or complaining, or procrastinating (sloth).
    Alternatively, you could give up a convenience item that makes your life easier – give up ready-to-eat cereal, for example, and only eat hot breakfasts or give up prepared food (deli, takeout, pizza, restaurant).
    The point of giving up something for Lent is to add penance and unite our suffering, however meager, with Christ’s as we spend the next 40 days contemplating His Passion and Death. It’s a ‘sackcloth and ashes’ period of time. So that’s why I try to choose a particular sin (such as sloth, pride, etc.) to work on.
    Mama Says

  3. Julie D.

    In the Roman Catholic Church you are encouraged to give up one thing and add one thing. It is supposed to hurt, in that when we think of it we then can meditate on Christ’s Passion and the full meaning of his sacrifice for us. It can be food (I will be giving up salty snacks and that ain’t gonna be easy). It can be another bothersome little habit, such as a favorite television show or television altogether. Some people give up buying books. It all depends on you.

    The thing to add often can be something to help others or a devotional habit to help yourself or something like that. I am going to add specific times to pray. Which also ain’t gonna be easy. Some people volunteer. Adding on is less done than giving up and, frankly, I find it more difficult.

    Also, during Lent, Friday is a fast day from meat. Actually we should be making some sort of sacrifice every Friday according to the magisterium. That’s one of the things that got lost in the whole Vatican II shuffle. It got opened up to be something besides giving up meat but most folks thought the Friday sacrifice was not required anymore. Anyhow …

    This all begins on Ash Wednesday and goes through Good Friday (I think … someone may be more certain than I am about the ending point). You don’t have to sacrifice on Sundays because those are days to be glad and rejoice in God. Just don’t go wild on those days if you indulge in whatever you gave up. I tend to find it easier just to go cold turkey through the whole time period, but that’s me.

  4. eileen

    I am considering giving up the Internet for Lent in order to use the time to learn to pray.
    There is an article on the web about someone who gave up all reading for Lent. (I think it was Lauren Winner, but I am not sure.) That is something I can’t imagine being able to do.. at least not for a long ,long time. Internet will be hard enough for me, much harder than giving up any food item. Although if I had to give up meat and dairy and oil, it could get pretty tricky to stave off constant hunger pains. I guess I’d have to get used to fruit, veggies, and oatmeal(without cream).

  5. Lucy

    I try to give up something and also add something like Julie suggested. I have given up everything from sweets (which for me is very, very miserable) to making fun of others (which I do way too much). I have added things such as going to mass more than once a week, which is always difficult since I work and mass starts at 8:30 or doing something that I wouldn’t normally do for someone else. That includes mailing cards or adding a special phone call to brighten someone’s day, or simply taking the time to hold the door for someone when I am in a rush. Good luck.

  6. Professor Chaos

    How about Catholicism?


  7. Reese

    I am going to try and do some fasting this Lent; I’m a lifelong vegetarian so no meat is no sacrifice. I always give up buying any new reading material along with purchasing any new music, renting or buying any new DVDs, and in general just try to live a quieter, less material life. It is definitely a sacrifice as I am an avid reader and love music and watching movies. I can still use the library (my library system is pretty bad), but that is it. By Easter I am always thrilled to get back to iTunes and

  8. Elizabeth Bennet

    This is such an exciting time for you! The joy of receiving the Eucharist for the first time!
    The more you prepare yourself, the better it will be. The sacraments provide grace proportionate to our disposition to receive them.
    For Lent, I will give up watching tv and movies. I don’t watch that much, but I do like to watch something at night before going to bed. When I gave it up last year, I found I missed it a lot, and that reminded me of why I was doing penance and I used that time to read books about the faith or pray.
    You could also make smaller individual penances like, for example, drinking only one cup of coffee in the morning (instead of 2 or 3) or skip dessert, or dinner rolls, sodas, etc.
    I also agree with the other posters on adding something extra, like trying to get to Mass more often or praying more.
    In our family we try to pray the Rosary all together after dinner during Advent and Lent.

  9. Catholic Mom

    Lent is a time for fasting, penance, and prayer. Whenever we give something up it is considered self-mortification. It can be something as small as giving up cream in our coffee or something much larger. The idea is that we join our Lenten suffering with Christ’s suffering during his Passion and Crucifixion. It serves as a constant reminder of the penitential aspect of Lent. The increased self-discipline reminds of the renewal of life in the Resurrection. I wrote today about an ambitious family project for Lent. Since you are preparing to join the Church this Lent, that is probably enough, but you may want to consider it for a future year.

  10. mrsdarwin

    You could always give up reading snide commenters…

  11. Adoro Te Devote

    I give up different things, or if there is something I habitally do (it doesn’t have to be food that is given up), I work to overcome it. Like complaining, gossip, etc. Those things can actually be sinful (gossip is!), but recognizing that flaw and working hard to overcome it really tends to hilight it and assists you in understanding the need for a Savior…because by ourselves, we can do nothing.

    We just have to give up a legitimate pleasure, whether it’s food or something else.

    It’s also a good time to take part in something additional, like volunteering for something, joining a prayer group, etc.

    I like to focus on some particular spiritual reading; this year I am starting a Grad theology class, so my Lenten reading will consist of those assignments and papers; I’m not sure if I’ll have time for mre, but if I do, it’ll be something like Father Dubay’s “The Fire Within” or maybe St. Therese of Avila or St. John of the Cross. Something that would be hard to get through, maybe.

    As far as things to give up…last year I gave up ordering pizza, one of my favorite things. I don’t do it every week but sometimes it’s just something nice to have! But not during Lent. I kind of try to cut out the “extras”.

    Like wine with dinner, or somethign like that. Lots of people give up chocolate, fried food, fast food, etc.

    If you have a dishwasher, give up using it for Lent and wash dishes by hand.

    But remember this; if you start one thing and fail, just keep working on it. Just because you mess it up doesn’t mean the idea should be tossed. Learn from your successes and failures in this time of fast.

    And all Sundays, even during lent, are feast days; so if you’ve say, given up chocolate, you may allow yourself some on Sunday. But don’t overindulge! It’s up to you as to how strict you want to be during this time period, and some find that it helps them to allow themselves a “reward” on Sundays, some have more success giving that thing to God on Sundays, too.

    Lent is truly a beautiful time of year…starting in the dead of winter…and ending in a time of new life.

    So profound.

  12. Robert

    I gave up sugar a few years ago.

  13. Sarah

    I don’t know if I can add to these fabulous comments. I only scanned them briefly, so if I’m repeating, I apologize. Our priest says we should “give up” something bad and add something prayerful. (I’m botching that, somehow.) So instead of giving up, say, chocolate, you might consider giving up complaining (that’s what I’m thinking about for this year, though it seems a bit impossible). Then, when Lent is over, you don’t pick your “given up” thing back up, you continue in the habit. Likewise, with your newly acquired devotional, etc., you continue it, as a way of furthering your relationship with God. (Hope that makes sense…getting late…getting tired…)

  14. Stephanie

    Some non-food fasts I’ve done have included TV, or only favorite TV shows, or internet boards (which is a BIGGIE for me!!). You can also always just choose to add something (daily rosary/scripture reading, etc).

    This year I’ve decided to give up all sugar and sugar subs, and I’m terrified, lol! But my favorite Irish priest used to say, think of something you think you can’t live without, and that’s a good candidate for what you should give up! It has certainly pushed me to choose things I wouldn’t have otherwise chosen, though.

    Good luck! I LOVE Lent, I’m so looking forward to it (this will by my 5 year anniversary!)

  15. Tony

    Maybe this isn’t the answer to the question you asked, but last year I didn’t “give up” anything.

    I decided to buy the small book of Christian Prayer (Liturgy of the Hours) and pray the morning and evening prayers every day during Lent.

    I guess you can consider it “giving up” something if you consider the time you could be doing something else, but spending it in prayer.

    I’m going to do the same this Lent. And if you like high tech kind of things, you can get a podcast of the morning and evening prayers at

  16. Jennifer

    Great ideas here–I got back on blogspot again! Let’s see how long it lasts…–

    Sugar and white flour are good ones since they are totally unnecessary in the diet anyway and have no risk of harming a pregnancy and may even be beneficial to it.

    I’m also contemplating how to handle my first pregnant lent. I am big into fasting not only for self-mortification but for its ability to enhance the prayer state and feel rather lost without it.

  17. melanie b

    I’m in the same boat. Pregnant for the second Lent in a row.

    The best Lenten fast I ever did was the year I gave up reading fiction. I was a bookaholic and I devoured novels the way a three pack a day smoker sucks down his smokes. I replaced my novel habit with spiritual reading. Don’t recall all I read but know I got through Story of a Soul and quite a few other books. I had a slight lapse when I got the flu really badly and then I tore through the entire Chronicles of Narnia– but figured at least they were Christian novels and tried to spend time meditating on the Christian themes.

    I’m thinking of doing that again. I have too many issues with food aversions and nausea to really be able to do anything like other commenters suggested about mild fasting or even reducing my total intake. I lost more than ten pounds in my first trimester last pregnancy and I need to stay healthy. I’m worried right now as it is about getting enough nutrition to sustain me and my two babies–the baby I’m still nursing and the baby in utero. Abstaining from meat on Ash Wednesday and Fridays is going to be about the extent of that. I will probably try to cut back on sweets, but sometimes ice cream is all I can get down.

    I’m going to try to get to daily mass at least once a week. That was really hard during my last pregnancy as I was so tired in the mornings and I expect will be even harder when it means taking the baby with me too.

    Also this Lent I plan to get back to praying the Liturgy of the Hours. I’ve really let it slide since the baby was born and I used to be praying at least morning and evening prayer and usually at least two other hours.

    My main focus is going to be spending more time with God and being more mindful of His presence in my daily life.

  18. Martin

    I’ve been trying to figure out what I’ll give up this Lent. In the past, I’ve given up things like drinking of alcoholic beverages. But this year I think I’ll give up coffee …. which for me is a huge deal! I’ll definitely struggle with that one every morning.

  19. Bekah

    I have been pregnant or breastfeeding since becoming Catholic 3 years ago this year (in fact, when I was received, I was several days overdue). We abstain from meat on Fridays, which isn’t all that difficult, but I don’t do the full fasts since I get hypoglycemic very quickly.

    I haven’t decided what I’m giving up this year, but for my Lenten discipline I’ve committed to finishing Dark Night of the Soul and St. Augustine’s Confessions. Both are about half finished and have stayed that way for over a year. πŸ˜‰

    We’ll probably return to our family rosary as well, since we’ve gotten out of habit in the last month or so.

  20. lp

    For the last few years I’ve been giving up sweets–not just desserts, but any sugary drinks, breakfast foods, etc. I pretty much subsist on sugar, so for me that’s pretty much the hardest thing I can think of! This is my first “pregnant” Lent, too, so we’ll see how it goes!

    Last year I added daily Mass for Lent . . . with my two toddlers in tow. That was actually harder than the sweets, but made for a very good Lent! So I’ll be doing that again this year, too.

    I know some years I’ve had all sorts of lofty goals for sacrifices during Lent, and have ended up not doing any of them particularly well. I’ve found I do better with just one or two things that I really focus on.

  21. Karie


    I have found it worthy to not only “give up” something (ie fast/abstain) but to “take up” something (ie prayer/ stations of the cross). Also, you may fast, provided that the meals you have are nutritionally sound. Check with your dr.

  22. Mike J

    > I’m also contemplating how to handle my first pregnant lent. I am big into fasting not only for self-mortification but for its ability to enhance the prayer state and feel rather lost without it.< See my post up at the top. You might even see if you can talk to an O priest for some ideas about fasting while pregnant. I know the priests at my church would have lots of experience dealing with it.

  23. Rebecca

    It is definitely all coffee for me, a sacrifice since I work @ 6 am. But since you are pregnant and probably already not drinking coffee, I would say maybe giving up T.V. or movies and take the time to pray instead.

  24. Anonymous

    One of the things I did early on in my return to the Church was to limit myself to reading only spiritual literature during Lent. That first year I read conversion stories.

    One Lent when my son was under 3 I stopped listening to NPR and started playing spiritual music. He and I would sing along so we were praying scripture as a family. That became very clear to me one day when we were singing Lead Me Lord–2 scripture verses in under 4 minutes on the way to his occupational therapy appointment.

    We have a tradition now on Good Friday of silence and no electronics. We go to the children’s Stations of the Cross at noon and then to the Veneration of the Cross at 4. Before noon and after 5 he’s allowed to read, only from the Bible, out loud while I do chores around the house.

  25. melanie b

    oh yeah. I forgot to mention that for the last few years I’ve gone to the stations of the cross every Friday. It was actually a real carrying of the cross for me one year when I had the flu. And some days last year when I was big and pregnant and tired it was pretty hard. So there was some real physical exertion and mortification of the flesh just in doing that.

  26. Ambrosius

    I’ve just put up a post describing the Church’s traditional Lenten fast, which I highly recommend. (the fast, not my post)

  27. Anonymous

    Martin said…

    “I’ve been trying to figure out what I’ll give up this Lent. In the past, I’ve given up things like drinking of alcoholic beverages. But this year I think I’ll give up coffee …. which for me is a huge deal! I’ll definitely struggle with that one every morning.”

    Martin, I gave up coffee one year for Lent, and for 40 days I was a cranky, head-achey, impatient person and my Lenten struggle became a burden to my loved ones.

    The following year I gave up an hour of sleep, waking at 5 AM instead of 6 to spend an hour reading the Bible and praying. When the alarm went off each morning I thought I was in Hell, but I grew to enjoy that hour before the getting everyone ready for school/work free-for-all started, but the best blessing was being able to hear God in the quiet and become familiar with His holy scriptures.

    If you do give up coffee, I advise you not to take Sundays off. Caffene withdrawal causes bad headaches and you will have to withdraw every Monday for the duration of Lent.

    God Bless you.

  28. Dennis

    I’m being more ambitious this year than ever, I think. I’m giving up recreational Internet use (which in my case will mean disconnecting my own PC from the Internet and using the publicly available computers here at the seminary for checking my email twice a day), television (I’ve put my small TV in storage), and hot showers (I’ll start tomorrow with a luke warm shower and see how it goes). Also reinforcing my pracitce of a daily Holy Hour, and daily exercise.

  29. Dennis

    I’m exempting Sundays, though.

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