I always say that I don’t just have a sweet tooth, all my teeth are sweet. So, whenever Lent rolls around, it seems obvious to give up sweets. I have (mostly) abstained from eating candy, baked goods, and ice cream for 40 days for the past four years.

Let me tell you, it is not easy. There have been some highs, some lows, and some moments where all I can do is stare through bakery windows with my mouth and eyes watering. Here’s a guide to the phases of a rewarding and difficult 40 days.

Phase 1: Holy and healthy

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I start every Lent feeling holy, healthy, and motivated. I see chocolate cake, and instead, take a bite out of a nice, big apple. I even start cleaning out my secret stashes of sweets from around my house, car, and backpack (remember, sweet teeth). This phases usually lasts all of two to three days.

Phase 2: Why, God?

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This usually happens after dinner, when I realize that every sweet I used to have was hastily thrown away. After fruitlessly searching my entire house for anything with the slightest hint of sugar, I sadly end up eating some fruit or yogurt while dying inside a little. After a few shameful days of wallowing in the pain of a sweet-less life, I usually move on to the next phase.

Phase 3: Eating alone

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After the tears have dried, I begin to return to my normal life routine (sans the most important meal of the day dessert). However, Phase Three kicks in once I start noticing how social people are around sweets. I can no longer go out for fro-yo with my friends. No one invites me over to bake anymore. No amount of fruit can make up for loneliness, which brings me to Phase Four.

Phase 4: The devil appears

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After realizing my friends are all eating baked goods, candy, and ice cream without me, I start to see all three everywhere. There are free cookies at the library, and it’s my friend’s birthday, and someone just offered me a brownie. The devil is so tempting when he’s covered in chocolate. It takes a hell of a lot of willpower to resist this temptation. Each year I get to this point and move on to Phase Five.

Phase 5: Sunday Cheat Days

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My grandma used to always tell us that the 40 days of Lent did not include Sundays. So, I would always get to eat whatever I gave up on Sundays after church. Of course, my siblings and I took some liberties with this rule and used the Sunday cheat day to mean that any day we slipped up on our Lenten promise we could count as a Sunday.

I have tried to keep this rule to a minimum in the past few years, but there always comes a point when the temptation seems too delicious to resist and I just have to use one of my floating Sundays. This usually comes in one of the first weeks, but it always leaves me feeling guilty (Catholic guilt, man), which is how I end up making it to Phase Six.

Phase 6: Sweet success

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After my guilt has subsided, I move on to more sustainable practices. Instead of eyeing the chocolate, I put some cocoa powder and honey in my yogurt. I freeze some grapes to make up for a lack of ice cream and eat some bread with peanut butter and honey to replace baked goods.

Slowly, but surely, my cravings subside. Once I make it a habit to find alternatives for the sweets, I end up feeling the gratification of giving something I love up for something greater than myself. That isn’t to say that I don’t go back to Phase Two quite often, but I remembering why I am giving up anything at all helps me slowly move back into Phase Six.