Friday Favorites #2: Week of March 28, 2014

Happy Friday, everyone!  Welcome to my second Friday Favorites link-up, courtesy of Heather at Housewife Glamour!

Housewife Glamour

Here are some of my favorite things from the past week!

1. Making fish for dinner at home without my husband noticing

I’ve been trying to eat more fish, because it is so lean and full of nutrients. The downside is, my husband can’t stand the smell of fish and doesn’t like when I cook it in the house.

Well, he had to work late on Tuesday night, so I was on my own for dinner. I chose to make the Tilapia with Lemon-Garlic sauce that I wrote about in my WIAW post, and he had no idea! He didn’t say anything about smelling fish when he got home. I think that basically means that tilapia is a safe bet to cook when he is around, because it is so mild.

2. Not going out to eat since last Saturday

I never thought that I would say this, but it has actually been very enjoyable not going out to eat so far this week. (Some weeks, I go out for lunch and/or dinner 4 times or more!) I’ve better managed my intake this week and also saved a lot of money!

3. Bumble Bee SuperFresh Salmon

So delicious!

So delicious!

I bought this Bumble Bee salmon on a whim at the grocery store last weekend, and I actually ate both fillets for lunch this week! These are super easy to prepare and taste fantastic. You just put the frozen fillet in a parchment pouch (which is included) and bake it for about 20 minutes. We have a small convection oven at work, and these cook up perfectly. There is no mess and no fishy smell at home to upset my husband!

I paired my salmon with a veggie side and hummus and pita chips. So yummy.

4. BodyPump Class

What a great workout — especially for someone like me, who dreads lifting weights independently! I think I need the instructor there to encourage proper form, too. I’m making it a goal to attend twice per week.

5. This article on using Catholicism to enhance your Protestant faith

I have so much respect for my Roman Catholic brothers and sisters in Christ. There is so much richness in Catholic worship, liturgy, and architecture that speaks to me. That said, I still do consider myself a Protestant. I really love this testimonial found on Christianity Today‘s Her.menuetics website from a fellow believer on “Three Ways Catholic Tradition Bolstered My Protestant Faith.”

All-in-all, it has been a pretty low-key week.

Thanks again to Heather at Housewife Glamour for hosting!

What have you been loving this week?

Weigh-In Wednesday and Weekly Goals: March 26, 2014

Today marks one month since I re-started blogging about my weight-loss journey!  Woo hoo!

And, I can happily report that I had a fantastic loss this week!

Major victory!

Major victory!

I lost 2.8 pounds, for a total of 9.8 pounds since I started!

Now, I must add the caveat that my scale is acting screwy, and I plan on buying a new one before weighing in next Wednesday. I stepped on the scale several times in a few minute period this morning, and I got several different readings. However, many of them were actually in the 166’s, so I chose a measurement that appeared a few times that was a bit more conservative, just in case.

If this was an abnormal loss, the scale will correct itself next week. But I am beyond thrilled with my results! Only 0.2 pounds to go, and I’ve officially earned a new workout outfit!

***

Progress toward last week’s goals:

  • Goal: Lose 1 pound. Status: Achieved! Hooray!
  • Goal: Go to the gym on 5 out of the 7 days. Status: Did not achieve. I actually only went to the gym 3 times in the last week, because we hiked outside as a family on Saturday morning. I also wanted to get to Zumba last night, but I ran out of time after making myself dinner. I think I need to continue moderating expectations and realize that I’m probably not going to be able to attend exercise classes on weeknights, unless I head there right after work without going home first (like I did with the 6:30 p.m. BodyPump class today and plan to continue doing).
  • Goal: Try 1 new recipe. Achieved! See my write-up here on the Tilapia with Lemon-Garlic Sauce recipe from Cooking Light that I made last night.
  • Goal: Formulate a fitness goal. Status: Achieved. I am going to start following the Couch to 5k (C25k) running plan! The workouts might be a bit too easy at first, since I have been walking/jogging for several weeks now, but on those days, I’ll supplement with another form of cardio. I also plan on going to BodyPump two times per week (Wednesdays and Saturdays).

I am a little nervous about starting the C25k plan again, since I had such a bad time starting it in the fall, but I am determined!  I haven’t signed up for a race yet, because I do want to moderate and go at the best pace for me, but it is definitely on my mind.

By next week’s weigh-in, I will:

  • Achieve a total loss of 10 pounds. (While I aim to lose 1 pound each week, I had such a huge loss this week — and because my scale might be off — that I want to be realistic about what I might see next time.)
  • Try 1 new recipe.
  • Hit the gym 4 times — I already got one session in tonight — and start the C25k plan.

All-in-all, this was a very successful “Weigh-in Wednesday”! (I also want to give a shout out to Lindsay, who started her own “Weigh-in Wednesday” journey today.)

Do you use a scale that you particularly like?  I’m debating if I want to get one with all of the bells and whistles, including the capability to measure BMI, or just stick to something simple that (accurately) gets the job done.

WIAW #1

Happy Wednesday, everybody! Welcome to my first What I Ate Wednesday (WIAW) post!

Because I love Erica’s WIAW posts so much on her blog, For the Sake of Cake, I’ve decided to join in the fun of the Peas and Crayons link-up, too! (I’ve become a huge fan of link-ups — what a great way to meet other bloggers!)

Every Wednesday morning, I will share everything that I ate the day before, so you can peek into my (new and improved) eating habits.

Thank you for hosting, Jenn! (Make sure you visit her blog. She has so many awesome recipes there, including this incredible-looking one for Shrimp and Veggie Pesto Pasta that I will be trying!)

Breakfast: Fage Total 2% Greek Yogurt with Cherry and 1/3 cup maple and cinnamon granola

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It took some convincing to get me to try Greek yogurt, but I’ve come to enjoy it. I still need to get it with flavoring, though — I haven’t gotten brave enough yet to eat it plain or with my own added fruit. I like Chobani, because they have a greater variety of flavors (at least at Wegmans, where I shop), but I’ve come to prefer Fage. My favorite Fage flavor is cherry, followed closely by peach.

As for the granola, I’m completely obsessed with it! It is homemade by the Paisley Fig and distributed by Room 11, a restaurant and bar located in Northwest D.C. The cinnamon maple flavor is phenomenal, and the mixture contains whole pecans and slivered almonds.

Lunch: Lean Cuisine Southwest-Style Chicken Panini and 1/2 container (about 1 cup) Harris Teeter Organics Black Bean Soup

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I’ve been trying to limit my consumption of frozen meals, but I really do love these Lean Cuisine Paninis. This is the first time that I had the southwest chicken variety, and it was pretty good. I think my favorite is still the Philly-style steak sandwich, though.

As for the soup… Before we got married and I had my own apartment, I lived right around the corner from Harris Teeter, a North Carolina-based grocery store chain, and became a huge fan. Their prepared foods, especially their soups, are particularly good.

I have to be a bit more strategic about getting to Harris Teeter now that I’ve moved, but I still make special trips. I recently discovered the Organic Black Bean soup, and it’s fantastic. It is full of fiber and protein and is very low in fat. Unfortunately, though, like most soups, it has quite a bit of sodium.

Afternoon Snack: 6 oz. fresh red raspberries

Raspberries have become a standard morning or afternoon snack for me!

Dinner: 6 oz. Tilapia with Lemon-Garlic Sauce, 2 oz. whole grain angel hair, and about 1 cup sauteed green beans

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Tonight, I met one of my goals for the week and tried a new recipe!

I found this tilapia recipe in the April issue of Cooking Light, and it was really good. I only made half as much fish as the recipe called for but kept the same amount of sauce. (You can never have enough sauce!) However, because I didn’t use as much flour in the first part of the recipe (to coat and saute the fish), I had too much leftover for the second part of the recipe (to make the sauce), and the sauce got a little too thick. The flavor was still on point, though.

I even branched out and used whole wheat pasta tonight. I wasn’t wild about several varieties of whole grain pasta when I tried them before, but I really didn’t even notice that this angel hair was whole grain.

***

And there you have it — a full day of eats for Tuesday, March 25, 2014! I stayed within my calorie target for the day and was very close to the recommended proportion of calories from fat, carbs, and protein. All-in-all, a great day of deliciousness!

Do you have a go-to breakfast?  Greek yogurt is definitely a weekday staple for me!

Have you ever had a recipe turn out not exactly right but still taste okay?  I will definitely make this tilapia recipe again but just use a little less flour.

Learning about Nutrition

Hi everybody!  Happy Tuesday!  It’s been snowing here in D.C. again today… When will spring make up its mind to be spring and not winter?

Today, I wanted to share two articles on nutrition that I came across recently.

Since I started diligently watching my intake about a month ago, I’ve made some great changes to my eating habits. I used to chronically overeat for no real reason, and my food choices were never very good. (I even used to eat cake and cookies for breakfast until my husband caught me a few years ago!)

But even more than a new consciousness about portion sizes and watching my intake of fried foods and sweets, I’ve started to become conscious of the particular nutrients that are in foods. This is what Weight Watchers always tried to encourage, but for some reason, it is easier for me to be aware of it now — even while knowing that calorie count is the bottom line when it comes to weight gain or loss.

Last week, I found an article from Self magazine on “20 Superfoods for Weight Loss.” Here are some of the nutritional powerhouses recommended for health and satiety — which I’ve actually eaten in the last seven days:

  • Salmon: “Not only do fish fats keep your heart healthy, but they shrink your waist, too. Omega-3 fatty acids improve insulin sensitivity—which helps build muscle and decrease belly fat. And the more muscle you have, the more calories your body burns.”
  • Beef
  • Eggs
  • Avocado: “Don’t let the fat content of an avocado (29 grams) scare you—that’s what makes it a top weight loss food. The heart-healthy monounsaturated fat it contains increases satiety. And it’s terrific party food.”
  • Greek Yogurt
  • Olive Oil
  • Lentils: “Lentils are a bona fide belly flattener. Eating them helps prevent insulin spikes that cause your body to create excess fat, especially in the abdominal area.”
  • Parmesan

There are also some new-to-me foods on the list that I’d like to try, including almond butter and goji berries.

I also found another great article on nutrition yesterday from the Atlantic: “Science Compared Every Diet, and the Winner Is Real Food.” From the article:

Scientific publisher “Annual Reviews” asked [Dr. David] Katz [of Yale University’s Prevention Research Center] to compare the medical evidence for and against every mainstream diet. He says they came to him because of his penchant for dispassionate appraisals. “I don’t have a dog in the fight,” he told me. “I don’t care which diet is best. I care about the truth.”

Katz and Yale colleague Stephanie Meller published their findings in the current issue of the journal in a paper titled, “Can We Say What Diet Is Best for Health?” In it, they compare the major diets of the day: Low carb, low fat, low glycemic, Mediterranean, mixed/balanced (DASH), Paleolithic, vegan, and elements of other diets. . . .  They conclude that no diet is clearly best, but there are common elements across eating patterns that are proven to be beneficial to health. “A diet of minimally processed foods close to nature, predominantly plants, is decisively associated with health promotion and disease prevention.”

The article also gives a shout out to Michael Pollan, a whole-foods advocate:

A nod to the fact that popular media is not totally lost, Katz borrows from the writer Michael Pollan, citing a seminal 2007 “New York Times Magazine” article on “nutritionism” in concluding that the mantra, “Eat food, not too much, mostly plants” is sound. “That’s an excellent idea, and yet somehow it turns out to be extremely radical.”

Though Katz also says it isn’t nearly enough. “That doesn’t help you pick the most nutritious bread, or the best pasta sauce. A member of the foodie elite might say you shouldn’t eat anything from a bag, box, bottle, jar, or can.” That’s admittedly impractical. “We do need to look at all the details that populate the space between where we are and where we want to be.”

Michael Pollan’s book In Defense of Food is basically an expanded version of the New York Times Magazine article.  I have it and need to re-read it.

I have a long way to go on this subject, especially in the processed foods department, but I’m happy that I’m learning! Somehow, I made it past high school and college without really digesting (pardon the pun) much of this information.

Do you have any favorite nutrition resources?  I’d love to hear about them!

Have you always been conscious of your eating habits, or is it something you’ve had to work on?

Friday Favorites #1: Week of March 21, 2014

Happy Friday, everyone!  We made it!

One of my favorite things about having a blog is learning from and following other bloggers. Going forward, I’ve decided to participate in Heather of Housewife Glamour‘s Friday Favorites link-up!

Housewife Glamour

Here are some of my favorite things from the past week!

1. Snow day on Monday

I was thinking we were only going to have a two hour delay, at best, on Monday morning, but we actually had the whole day off!  It was glorious. I had time to be crafty, read, and relax, which I didn’t do at all last weekend.

2. Moroccan Lentil Soup from Pret a Manger

On Wednesday, I went out to lunch with a new friend at Pret a Manger, one of my absolute favorite soup and sandwich places. They originated in the UK and are all over London, and I went there many times when I studied abroad in college. Pret has journeyed across the pond and is now in New York, D.C., Boston, and Chicago, too!  It was a crazy exciting day about a year after I moved here when I learned that they were coming to D.C.

Anyway, this week I tried their Moroccan Lentil Soup for the first time, and it is absolutely delicious. It is vegetarian and full of fiber and protein, and the flavor is fantastic. I can’t wait to go back and get it again!

3. Working out in the morning

Thursday's a.m. walking/jogging intervals

Thursday’s a.m. walking/jogging intervals

I never, ever in my life thought that I would become a morning exerciser, but I am loving the energy and sense of accomplishment that it gives me first thing in the morning.

4. Scentsy’s Yuzu Dragon fragrance

I keep a Scentsy warmer in my office at work, and to celebrate the first day of spring, I started warming Yuzu Dragon yesterday. The guava and dragonfruit notes are perfect for thinking warm, springy thoughts.

5. Relevant magazine’s articles

I discovered Relevant magazine some time ago, and I am a huge fan. They publish thought-provoking articles on timely topics related to faith, culture, calling, and social justice. I’m not a subscriber to the print piece, but much of their content is available for free online. Yesterday, I read excellent articles on “Why Fred Phelps’ Death Isn’t a Cause for Celebration,” “Your Purpose is Not Your Job,” and “A Pope for Protestants?“. (The article on Pope Francis is premium content but can be accessed by creating an account.)

Thanks again to Heather at Housewife Glamour for hosting the link-up! I look forward to participating each week!  I will be sure to start taking more photos to add them here.

What have you been loving this week?

Weigh-In Wednesday and Weekly Goals: March 19, 2014

Happy “Weigh-In Wednesday,” everybody!

Let’s get right down to it…

I lost 0.6 pounds this week! I now weigh 170.0 pounds exactly.

So exact!

So exact!

Unfortunately, though, this means that I did not meet my weekly goal of losing 1 pound.

I think my weigh-in this morning was impacted by several things: I lost a lot of weight last week (1.8 pounds) and suspected the scale would even out; I did not work out on Monday or on Tuesday; and we went to P.F. Chang’s for dinner on Tuesday night. All of the salt in the (delicious) P.F. Chang’s food and the fact that I exceeded my daily goal by about 350 calories did nothing to help my weigh-in this morning.

However, in the 28 days that I’ve been tracking my intake and daily movement, I’ve lost 7 pounds! That is an average of 1.75 pounds per week, about which I’m absolutely thrilled. I’m almost positive that I never lost this much weight any of the other times that I’ve tried.

***

Progress toward last week’s goals:

  • Goal: Lose 1 pound. Status: Did not achieve; fell short by 0.4 pounds.
  • Goal: Try 2 new recipes. Status: Half-achieved. Last Thursday, I made Parmesan and Pine Nut-Crusted Oven-Fried Chicken from the March issue of Cooking Light. It was delicious, and my hubby loved it, too! Unfortunately, though, I ran out of time to try a second new recipe this week.

By next week’s weigh-in, I will:

  • Lose 1 pound.
  • Go to the gym on 5 out of the 7 days. (Since I went this morning, I already have one day down!)
  • Try 1 new recipe.
  • Formulate a fitness goal. (A friend recommended that I do this, and I think she’s right. I think this will give me some direction in my workouts on the days when I’m not taking a fitness class.)

Overall, I feel great and am thrilled with how this journey is unfolding. There is always room for improvement, but I’m so happy with how far I’ve already come.

A parting thought–another anthem:

I’m a survivor
I’m not gon’ give up
I’m not gon’ stop
I’m gon’ work harder

Do you have any healthy recipe recommendations? I would love some suggestions, especially for recipes not obviously healthy. My hubby was pleasantly surprised by the quality and relative healthiness of the oven-fried chicken.

Do you have a song that you use as a personal anthem? They can be so motivating!

Weekend Wrap-Up: March 16, 2014

Happy weekend, everyone! (I know, it’s almost over, but it’s not Monday yet, so I can still celebrate…)

This weekend was a whirlwind. My hubby was out of town for the weekend, so I tried to make my time without him as productive as possible.

I stayed home on Friday night. I’m usually quite tired on Friday nights from the week’s routine, and this Friday was no exception. I enjoyed leftover fajitas at home and then did some work on the blog and my Twitter page. I also figured out how to make a blog reader for myself using Feedly. What a cool website!

On Saturday morning, I made a list of the things that I wanted to accomplish for the rest of the weekend. I’m happy to say that I did get done 75% of them!

My biggest accomplishment on Saturday was reaching one of my goals for the week–I attended back-to-back BodyPump and BodyCombat classes at my gym! What an incredible morning workout!

I absolutely loved the BodyPump class. While I know that weight lifting is essential for creating a lean physique, it’s not something I will usually do on my own. The class, with a combination of bar work and some free weights, uses great music to make the time pass quickly and an instructor to encourage proper form. When I had done it in the past, I used too much weight and was in serious pain for days. I started small and only added a total of 5 pounds to my bar this time. I’m still quite sore today, but it’s a good sore. I know it means I am getting stronger.

Here is my current motto:

(I’ve loved Kelly Clarkson since she was on American Idol, and I saw her in concert last summer at Scentsy Convention in Indianapolis! She was excellent and so down-to-earth: she played most of her set without wearing shoes.)

I also felt so accomplished completing a full BodyCombat class after BodyPump. The session was pretty intense, with lots of kickboxing and martial arts type moves. I will definitely do it again, because it is a great workout and immediately follows BodyPump on Saturday mornings, but I think I prefer Zumba.

The weather was so amazing on Saturday afternoon–about 70 degrees and sunny–that I decided to make my lunch on the grill outside. After doing some work around the house, I took our dog for a delightful 35 minute walk. (After working out so much in the morning and walking in the afternoon, I hit 15,000 daily steps on my FitBit!)

On Saturday night, I went out with three of my best girlfriends to one of my top restaurant picks, Lebanese Taverna. I’m having a love affair with Mediterranean food recently, because the cuisine is so delicious, fresh, and relatively healthy. And as much as I love the hummus that you can buy at the grocery store, nothing compares to the fresh stuff that you can get at the restaurant.

This morning was filled by church, and afterward I treated myself to lunch at Panera. I had alot of errands to run, and getting a quick bite to eat somewhere seemed easier than going home and having to go back out again. I’m having a love affair with Panera right now, too, for almost the same reasons that I love Mediterranean food: if you plan it right, you can get a really delicious meal for a reasonable amount of calories. (And their kettle cooked potato chips, which I really love, are only 150 calories.)

After all of those errands this afternoon, I finally made it to the gym tonight in the last hour that it was open! They had to tell me to leave at closing time, just as I was finishing by stretching. My legs felt like lead, but I still managed to get in a great workout:

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I will be honest, though–probably my primary motivation for going to the gym today was to indulge in these without going over my daily calorie target:

Delicious!

Delicious!

For those observing Lent, every Sunday is a feast day, when the Lenten fast can be broken.  I did not break my fast last Sunday, because I felt that I had done enough damage with the Dominos pizza that I ate, but I decided to enjoy a treat tonight. Wegmans, my favorite grocery store on the planet–which also happens to be just across the street from our townhome development (like my gym)–has some of the best cookies around. Aptly named, their Ultimate Chocolate Chip Cookies were exactly what I wanted. I enjoyed them with 1 cup of milk, which I also really haven’t had since I cut out sweets.

While the weekend was good, I really didn’t get to relax much (with the exception of Friday night). Even though it was 70 degrees yesterday, it is snowing again, and I’m holding out for a delayed opening tomorrow, at least.

Have you ever tried BodyCombat? What did you think?

What is your favorite treat? Those chocolate chip cookies rank very high on my list!

Weigh-In Wednesday and Weekly Goals: March 12, 2014

Welcome back to Wednesday!

I’ve decided that with every Wednesday weigh-in, I’m going to set some goals for the coming week.  I will also report on my progress toward those alongside my weigh-in number.

But first, today’s magic number…

***

Unfortunately, I did not make it to the Zumba class that I mentioned I wanted to attend last night, because my commute home took nearly two hours. (Traffic was absolutely horrendous!) To make up for it, and to enjoy the nice evening weather, I took at 25 minute walk with our dog, Luna, instead. I didn’t burn nearly as many calories as I would have at Zumba, but I was glad that I didn’t totally give up when my plans changed. (Shout out to my hubby for the encouragement!)

Anyway, this week’s effort paid off, because…I am down another 1.8 pounds!

Surprise!

Surprise!

I now weigh 170.6 pounds, for a total loss of 6.4 pounds.

It’s a huge loss for one week, and one that I wasn’t expecting! Maybe the scale will correct itself next week, but for now, I’m definitely going to bask in it!

***

For my goals, by next week’s weigh-in, I will:

  • Lose 1 pound.
  • Attend back-to-back BodyPump and BodyCombat classes at my gym, Sport&Health, on Saturday morning.
  • Try two new recipes. (I think I have one covered for dinner tomorrow night.)

Also, once I reach a 10 pound total loss, I plan to buy myself a new workout outfit. I have a pair of really great Nike shorts, and I would like to find another pair of them.

Thank you for all of your support, friends!  I feel great and am so happy with my progress.

Have you ever been surprised, in a good way, by the scale?

Do you set weekly goals for yourself?

Moderating Expectations

I’ve been struggling the past few days with feeling overwhelmed and putting a lot of pressure on myself. I have always been very hard on myself, and most of the time, the stress and pressure I feel comes from within.

I need a number of reminders today–a reality check to moderate expectations:

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  • There are only 24 hours in a day, and about 7 of those need to be reserved for sleep in order for me to function at my best.
  • I work a full-time job and commute 45 minutes to an hour each way (about 1 hour and 30 minutes to 2 hours round-trip) every weekday. These are my circumstances right now and I need to work within them.
  • As my accountability partner told me, I need to work at my health and fitness like it’s my second job. Behind the Lord and my husband, this journey needs to be top priority.
  • Realistically, it will take me at least a year to reach my goal weight of 115 pounds. At my weigh-in last week, I was 172.4 pounds–57.4 pounds from my goal weight.  At a rate of loss of 1 pound per week, I will reach my goal in 57 weeks–one year and one week from last Wednesday. Patience is a virtue, and slow and steady wins the race.
  • I love food, and I probably always will, and that’s okay. Even Psalm 34:8a says, “Taste and see that the Lord is good.” (The problem comes when food becomes an idol, a comforter.) I’ve made a number of great, sustainable changes over the last 3 weeks, and there’s still considerable room for improvement, but I’m unwilling to completely give up everything that I love. I read a weight loss success story yesterday about a woman who lost a ton of weight but basically gave up cheese, pizza, and chips, among many other things. I still want to enjoy those foods in moderation. Because of this, my weight loss journey may take a bit longer than others’.
  • Going along with my last point, splurges are okay, as long as they are built into my goals. Also, I shouldn’t feel guilty about decisions that are willfully and knowingly made. Case in point: I really wanted Dominos pizza (the Cali Chicken Bacon Ranch) on Sunday night, and I had it (and loved it). I’ve been eating lightly since then and am planning to make up the 400 or so calorie overage after dinner tonight with a high-powered Zumba class before my weigh-in tomorrow morning.
  • I would love to blog here everyday, but some days it just might not happen. What’s more important are the things I am blogging about: my health journey and my faith, with Scentsy on the side.

Maybe the moral of this story is that I can’t compare myself to anyone else, and I can only do the best that I can. This need not be an excuse–I still need to try my absolute hardest–but I also need to be realistic and give myself some grace.

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Do you struggle with being hard on yourself?

How do you keep momentum when you know the journey will be a long one?

Thursday Thoughts on Faith: Lenten Disciplines

As I mentioned in my post on Monday, I’ve decided to observe Lent this year.

The season of Lent is traditionally the 40 day period (not counting Sundays) from Ash Wednesday to Easter Sunday during which believers prepare for Christ’s passion and ultimate resurrection by observing a time of penitential fasting and prayer. While Orthodox Christians, Roman Catholics, Lutherans, and Anglicans still observe Lent, many evangelical churches do not–including the non-denominational churches in which I grew up. (A short history of this season in the liturgical Christian calendar can be found here.)

Last week, I read a great blog post on observing Lent from Christianity Today‘s newest blogger, Amy Julia Becker. Writing for a primarily evangelical audience, she has some awesome things to say “In Defense of Lent“–particularly five reasons why she has changed her mind about the season. Here are two of her reasons that I really found compelling, along with her parting thought:

The church year: Observing the patterns of the liturgical church year isn’t a requirement for any Christian, but it has served as a helpful tool for me. We live daily lives before God, sure, but we also live in seasons. When time stretches out endlessly, without markers and rhythms, change seems less possible. But the defined season of Lent gives us an opportunity to fast and focus for a particular amount of time on a particular aspect (the cross) of God’s saving work for us. . . .

Limitations: I could make a list of countless habits I should change and probably even more spiritual practices I’d like to cultivate. But I can’t do them all at once. Lent is an opportunity to approach one or two. For a season. With God’s help. I’m overwhelmed at the thought of a daily Bible reading plan. I know I will fail if my New Year’s resolution is to pray every morning for a specified amount of time or give up caffeine forever or even to fast from a particular meal or for a particular day every week of the entire year. But for forty days, just forty days, in anticipation of a celebration . . . well, with God’s help, perhaps I can do that. And perhaps I can learn and grow a bit in the process. . . .

Nowhere does the Bible, or even the church, command fasting during Lent. But this church season offers me an invitation, and this year I’m planning to accept it.

The full post is definitely worth a read.

The Anglican church that I now attend observes the season, along with all other liturgical celebrations. My church’s rector (head pastor) echoed some of Amy Julia’s thoughts in last Sunday’s weekly bulletin message, along with some suggestions for how to observe Lent:

In Lent we seek to remind ourselves that Christ is the cornerstone and the most important person in our life; that God and loving Him matter more than anything. A Lenten discipline shouldn’t be such a large thing that you are unlikely to follow through, but better to be something small and therefore reasonable to be able to actually do. Often people will decide to:

  • Skip a meal once a week and use that time for prayer
  • Go without alcohol or chocolate or sweets, etc. in order to grow in personal discipline
  • Set aside a regular time to read and reflect on a Christian classic
  • Attend the Wednesday Eucharist every week
  • Block off the same night each week in order to ______
  • Go on a retreat

Ask God, “Where do I need to cut back, clean out or focus in during this Lent and how shall I do it?” Then prayerfully enter this discipline.

Keeping all of these things in mind, this Lent, I’ve personally decided to:

  1. Give up sweets of all kinds — cookies, cake, ice cream, candy, you name it. I’m not going to go so far as to give up sugar entirely, but I definitely will not be partaking in any treats.
  2. Read the Jesus of Nazareth trilogy by Pope Emeritus Benedict. I’ve wanted to read these books for quite some time, and I can think of no better time to contemplate the life of Christ and the magnitude of his sacrifice than during Lent.
  3. Complete the daily readings in the devotional Lent for Everyone: Luke, Year C by N.T. Wright. The devotional contains a daily scripture reading from the Gospel of Luke, plus a daily meditation. Following the devotional, I will read through the entire book of Luke during this season.

I look forward to the richness of this season and all that Christ will teach me through it. I know that giving up sweets is not going to be an easy thing to do–but I think that is exactly why I need to do it. As Amy Julia observes: “When I deny myself something I desire physically, it can remind me of the spiritual longings I often suppress. And when I ‘suffer’ as a result of that self-denial, it can remind me of the suffering God was willing to endure on our behalf.”

I know that God won’t love me more or less if I do (or don’t) observe Lent, but it is undoubtedly a worthwhile practice. Food has long been an idol for me, and I need to lay it down at the foot of the cross. There is no better time to do that than Lent.

Do you observe Lent? If so, what practices will you put into place this year?