Even though I was raised both Christian and Jewish (yes, Chrismukkah is a very real thing), ever since I was a little girl I’ve celebrated Lent. I realize that this is a seemingly strange concept, but to me it makes so much sense because I’ve grown up with it.

My mom first started instilling the idea of Lent of into her yearly routine due to the fact that she has a major, major addiction to chocolate – I’m talking the kind when she actually dreams in chocolate (Lindor Truffles-style). So from Ash Wednesday to Easter Sunday, she always gives up all chocolate in her diet. Even though these 40 days are brutal for her, she feels refreshed and confident by the time Lent is over.

Photo by Phoebe Melnick

Like the good daughters we are, my sisters and I began to observe Lent too and the celebration has become a family affair (that, of course, we kick off with Fat Tuesday). When I was younger, even though I understood the religious aspects of the observance from my Sunday School class, I didn’t really understand the benefits of giving up a food or activity that I really liked. But now as a college student, I strongly believe that Lent holds relevance outside of religion due to its values grounded in forgiveness, self-restraint, and renewal.

If you didn’t already know, Lent is the six-week period of penance when Catholics give up something (or begin a healthier habit) for God in observance of Jesus’ 40 days spent in the desert without any food or water. Today, many people simply cut out an unhealthy or indulgent food that they eat on the regular (candy, sweets, alcohol, pizza, soda, etc.) in an effort to fast (and for many this to continue a New Year’s resolution).

Photo by Emily Waples

For non-Catholics, Lent can seem distant or unimportant. However, I have found that it not only develops a sense of discipline and self-control that we all could (honestly) use a little more of in our lives. Not to mention it’s also is a great self-confidence booster and teaches us how to eat more healthfully on a day-to-day basis.

Choosing to cut out an overly-rich or greasy food from your diet will not only make you feel better about yourself, but it will also be a great practice in restraint from over-eating when out with your friends (or when you have the drunchies). Not only that, but it may inspire you to eat healthy alternatives and even adopt a healthier diet in the future.

Photo courtesy of Kirby Barth

This year I gave up sandwiches, including subs, paninis and bagels (unconventional, I know). Let’s just say I had a rocky start from narrowing down my daily sandwich count from three to nada. But as each day goes by and I pass the sub line in the dining hall, I feel just a little bit stronger and proud of myself for being able to keep my promise.

Not only do I feel healthier and have more energy during the day, because quite honestly all those carbs can really weigh on me, but I’ve found alternatives to each meal (like these delish pizza substitutes) that have made me happier because variety is the spice of life.

My favorite part about Lent is Easter, obvi, because I can finally eat the food I gave up…plus feast on a decadent brunch and tons of Easter candy. But on a deeper level, it also marks my 40-day accomplishment. And unlike any diet, ending a restriction of food with a holiday that celebrates renewal can make anyone feel great both physically and emotionally.

Photo by Devon Flinn

What better than a springy and cheerful day centered around great food to congratulate you on an amazing cleanse? Don’t just give up this year – keep your promise to yourself. And then after it’s all over, you can celebrate by welcoming back your favorite indulgent food (I personally can’t wait to devour a giant bagel sandwich). Why not go big or go home?