Giving up for Lent: Montanna and Paddy’s diary

Posted on: 4 March, 2022

After the feast of pancakes on Shrove Tuesday comes Ash Wednesday and the beginning of the 40 days of Lent in the Christian calendar. Lent is often marked by people giving up something as a challenge – in homage to the 40-day fast completed by Jesus as recorded in the Bible.

Two of our colleagues – Montanna Banks (head of academic registry) and Paddy Mooty (student casework officer) – have agreed to share their ‘giving up’ journey, with updates to follow on a weekly basis.

Week 1

Montanna is giving up just the four(!) things: alcohol, caffeine, bread and cheese and Paddy is giving up salt.

Why are you giving up these things?

Montanna: I always give something up for Lent as this has always been what my family do. Normally, I do not give up so much but I wanted a real challenge this year. These are all things that I enjoy so I think that is reason enough. Lent should be a sacrifice after all.

Paddy: I have found recently I’ve been piling on the salt to my meals and, as much as I like it, I realise too much of it can’t be good for me. As well as this, I am intending to run a half-marathon each month throughout this year and feel limiting my intake of salt would do wonders for my overall fitness (less of a dry mouth, less stitches, etc.).

Have you ever given these up before?

Montanna: Yes, some of them. I have given up bread and cheese a few times (these are my favourite things!) and I have only failed the once. I have given up tea before and it was awful, so many withdrawal headaches, but I managed it.

I gave up coffee in 2020 but then we got the Ofsted call and COVID hit so naturally I failed that. Thankfully, decaf tea and coffee exists so caffeine should be doable.

Alcohol will be an interesting one as my birthday falls during Lent. Lots of mocktails for me!

Paddy: Salt has always been something I indulge a bit too much in when it comes to my meals, so I have given it up in previous Lents and been successful.

Do you fancy your chances at refraining from these things throughout Lent?

Montanna: Absolutely. I am really up for the challenge. It all comes down to dedication and willpower and my thought is that I have done it before and I can do it again.

Paddy: I will have no problem refraining from salt throughout Lent (although it will be hard to resist the Peri-salted fries at Nandos). It is once Lent is over that I need to be careful not to “relapse” and start piling it on again.

How do you feel about the journey ahead?

Paddy: I am hopeful that this Lent will see the end of my ‘salt addiction’ and that I will be able to see it as a treat to be had from time to time.

Montanna: Although I am determined, it is also daunting. My list is so long and irresistible!

Week 2

How have you found your first week of Lent?

Paddy: Satisfying. After one week without salt, I am already seeing the benefits.  I am getting less stitches on my runs and I feel less tired generally (not sure if that’s related or not). It really shows how much I was piling on the salt.

Montanna: I have struggled a bit more than I thought I would this first week. I think I have been extra grumpy and tired too. I wanted a challenge this year and I definitely have one.

Are you missing what you have given up?

Paddy: Only when it comes to some of my favourite meals that I particularly enjoy with salt. I have had to stop myself from going to the shaker but, ultimately, the food is still good without it which is what I have to remind myself.

Montanna: I am really missing the things that I have given up. I would say that I am missing caffeine and bread the most. I only really drank one or two caffeinated drinks a day but I am really feeling the absence. Bread, in any form, is an absolute staple for me daily so this is hard. Just trying to adjust my eating habits and weekly meals has been a struggle.

What will keep you going for the journey ahead?

Montanna: I need to keep myself busy and distracted so that I do not think about, or long for, the things I have given up too much. I am also looking at it as an opportunity to try new foods and drinks that maybe I would not normally have.

Paddy: Remembering how much better I feel without salt. Hopefully after a few weeks of resisting, the temptation will lessen.

Montanna, how are you feeling about your upcoming birthday with no alcohol?!

Crying in a corner?! I plan to have lots of alcohol-free alternatives such as 0% beers or Nozeco (Prosecco’s sad friend!). I do also like a cocktail here and there so I will definitely be exploring the world of mocktails. A night out to celebrate can still be fun alcohol free, surely? I think this year it may just be all about the cake.

Paddy, what meal are you missing the most without salt?

Nando’s with peri-salted fries, which are especially hard to resist when my girlfriend questions whether peri salt counts. Unfortunately, I cannot afford to think like that.

Week 3

What are your thoughts about your Lent journey so far?

Montanna: I am actually loving it now. I feel so much better for having not had all of the things I have given up. I feel more energised, I am getting up earlier and generally feel much better in myself. I am sure this is all linked to what I have given up.

Paddy: I’m enjoying it! While there are certain meals that I admittedly miss with a bit of salt, I am feeling so much better day-to-day. Less tired, more alert, healthier.

Have you been tempted to give up yet? If so, what stopped you?

Montanna: I have not been tempted to give up but have been tempted by the odd thing on my no-go list. I think what has stopped me breaking any of them though is the disappointment I know I will feel in myself I did. I am determined to keep going!

Paddy: Not yet, although the blander meals have been in need of something to make them more enjoyable. But the day-to-day feeling of being healthier, as well as documenting my Lent journey, will keep me on track.

Montanna, have you found any new food or drink that you would not normally have?

I have been eating a lot of pasta and potatoes to make up for the lack of bread. Normally I would have a nice chunk of garlic bread with my pasta but obviously I cannot do that right now. So instead, I have found that having a drizzle of garlic mayonnaise on my pasta gives me enough of a garlic hit to not miss the garlic bread. I may need to think about giving up garlic mayonnaise next year!

Paddy, how has a lack of salt made you think about certain meals that you enjoyed with salt?

It has certainly made me realise how much I was enjoying the salt more than the actual meal, especially on things like beef and tortellini. While I briefly wondered whether I’d even enjoy certain meals at all without salt, I am starting to get a taste for and even enjoy more meals for what they are.

Week 4

Have you noticed any differences to your life after giving up these things for Lent?

Montanna: Yes, definitely. I am less tired (surprisingly!) and have more energy and a better sleep routine. I feel less bloated and have had fewer headaches, which normally I suffer with regularly. I just generally feel better in myself.

Paddy: Absolutely! Less tired, less dry mouth and feeling better, healthier and more comfortable in myself day to day.

What is the first thing you will do once your Lent journey is over?

Paddy: I am definitely looking forward to a Nando’s with peri-peri salt, but I would also like to try and continue to abstain from salt beyond Lent, or at least have it in moderation or only on special occasions. The benefits have been clear and I’d like to continue with this.

Montanna: Typically, anything given up for Lent in our house is had for breakfast on Easter Sunday, so maybe I will have to have a nice coffee, a Buck’s fizz and cheese on toast to kick-start the day! We also always have beef bourguignon (I go for a vegetarian option) on Easter Sunday, which is packed with red wine, so the alcohol will certainly be flowing.

Week 5

With two more weeks of Lent left, how are you feeling about your journey? Are you looking forward to it ending or could you carry on for longer?

Montanna: I am feeling positive with what I have achieved so far. It feels great to know that I am now over the hump and have just two weeks left to go. I really need the option back of having bread or cheese in my diet. I am running out of ideas of what to eat!

Paddy: I know that I’ll be able to finish it, although I am starting to crave some salt again. In that sense, I am looking forward to it ending, but I am also looking forward to lessening my general intake of salt and having it more as a treat rather than a staple.

Montanna, how was your birthday?

My birthday was great, even though I definitely missed everything I have given up. I had some nice mocktails and alcohol-free drinks to celebrate so it wasn’t too bad. I also had plenty of cake and chocolate so I am not complaining!

Paddy, how has your running been going?

The improvements to my running have been clear: easier to breathe, fewer stitches, feeling more energised. It is this progress that makes me want to limit my salt intake beyond Lent. My next monthly half-marathon is this Sunday in Reading and I am hoping to complete it under 90 minutes. Don’t fail me now, Lent!

Week 6

One more week to go! For the last time, how are you feeling?

Montanna: I am now feeling more impatient than ever for Lent to be over! We are now so close and I cannot wait for it to be finished so I can have all of the things that I have given up. I am feeling particularly tired and low on energy now so having even just a little bit of caffeine back in my diet would be great.

Paddy: I am simultaneously feeling the healthiest I’ve ever been, but also missing salt more than I have throughout this whole journey. While I am still enjoying my meals, there have been a couple of special occasions where some salt would have made it even better. Comparing this with how I feel health-wise day-to-day has really got me wondering how I will take to salt once Lent is over.

Would you recommend that other people give up what you have?

Montanna: Yes, definitely, but not all at once. It has been a real challenge to give up four things at once. It has been especially hard whenever I have been out for dinner as I am also vegetarian and excluding anything bread or cheese-related, in addition to meat, makes the choices rapidly decrease.

Paddy: I doubt that too many people become as reliant on salt as I did, but the health benefits have been clear. As some have rightly pointed out to me, salt can be a good thing to have in moderation. So, as opposed to giving it up entirely, I would probably recommend limiting your intake to see what difference it makes.

How was the Reading Half Marathon, Paddy? Did giving up salt make a difference?

Paddy at the Reading Half Marathon

The Reading Half Marathon was fantastic! I got a personal best time of 01:28:07. While I’m not willing to say a lack of salt is the secret ingredient, I think it definitely made the run feel more comfortable. What was hard was not being able to have salt with the meal afterwards, but hopefully soon…

Another week, another occasion that you couldn’t drink at, Montanna. How did you find being sober at the UCEM staff social on Wednesday?

It was so tough. All the lovely looking glasses of bubbles being handed out did make me groan a bit internally; however, I did enjoy the sparkling elderflower and juice available and really I was just happy to be there and have the opportunity to socialise with my colleagues. I don’t think I have laughed so much in one afternoon!

After Lent

First things first, how was your Easter Sunday? Did you indulge in everything you gave up?

Montanna: My Easter Sunday was hugely overindulgent in every way possible. I made sure to have all of the things that I had given up and enjoyed every last one of them!

Paddy: Not as much as you might think. I had a meal with salt and then went to the cinema and got a salted popcorn.

How did it feel to get back to what you gave up?

Paddy: While the meal was delicious and the popcorn was a nice treat, I didn’t feel like I had missed it all that much. I think the temptation of salt was stronger than the actual taste of it.

Montanna: It was really exciting initially to have the things I had given up. You really do not realise how much you miss things until you cannot have them.

What did you miss most? What was the best thing to have back?

Montanna: This is tough. Having given up bread, cheese, alcohol and caffeine, I really just craved them all at one point or another. I think overall though it would have to be bread and cheese. So many of the foods I love involve these two things so I really felt that I had limited my meal choices.

How do you look back on your Lent journey? Have you learnt anything?

Montanna: I have learnt that I absolutely can live without all of the things I gave up and that I need to actively try to reduce my intake of all of them now that Lent is over and I am definitely trying to do so.

Paddy: I am proud that I managed to stay away from salt and I feel I’ve learnt that I don’t need it as much as I once thought. The benefits of not having salt are greater than actually having it. This was definitely a lesson I needed to learn and I think I’ll be sticking to only having salt as a treat from time to time.

Any thoughts about what you’ll give up next year?

Paddy: If I enjoyed salt too much, I have an even bigger sweet tooth. I might consider giving sugar up, given the positive journey I’ve had with giving up salt.

Montanna: I honestly have no idea. I am a great lover of crisps, fizzy drinks and adding just about any and every sauce to anything so maybe these are ideas to consider.