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Posted Tuesday, Feb. 12, 2013  Print Reprints

Experts offer advice on making it through a fast

A fast becomes easier if you replace what you're missing and focus on the positive. And remember: It's only temporary

Just more than a month into New Year's resolutions, Lent rolls around, and many folks pledge to give up some of their favorite things (or vices) all over again.

But don't fear -- you don't have to stick to your dessert or social media fast for a year. This time it's just 40 days.

We've put together a list of common cutouts and culled expert advice to help you through the hard times until Easter.

Sweets

Anne VanBeber, chairwoman of the department of nutritional sciences at TCU, says it's common to give up a food group or vice to encourage a healthier lifestyle.

"It's good to have the frame of mind that you're going to enhance the quality of eating by fasting or cut down calories with the result of losing weight," she says.

With this in mind, make sure you're not replacing your sweets cravings with potato chips or sodas. VanBeber suggests curbing sugar pangs with fruit, which has natural sweeteners, or flavored water.

David Welsh, a psychologist with a practice in Fort Worth, advises that you also remember the mantra "one day at a time." Rather than focusing on the 37 days you have left sans sweets, just think about the current day.

"Keep that focus short-term rather than long-term so you don't get discouraged," he says.

Caffeine

VanBeber says caffeine can be a tough one, because if you're a crazy coffee consumer, you might get headaches from going cold turkey.

If you're interested in scaling back from countless sodas and cups of joe, she suggests allowing yourself an occasional glass of tea.

If you do starve yourself completely, it's important to find other ways to boost your energy. An extra hour of sleep may do the trick, or you could snack on foods that are high in B vitamins, which help your body process energy.

Swear words

When you're giving up a habit, Welsh says, it's best to focus on what you'll gain rather than what you're losing.

"With everything that's given up, something new comes along to replace it," he says. "If you want to maintain momentum, focus on that."

With cussing, Welsh recommends thinking about how you'll improve your ability to express yourself vocally, become less offensive and communicate with a wider range of people. As well, Welsh says it's important to practice forgiveness -- you're bound to have a weak moment and a swear word might slip.

"Don't expect perfection," he says.

TV

If you're cutting out something that takes a substantial amount of time in your life, make sure you find something that replaces it.

Lynn Busch, a marriage and family therapist in Fort Worth, suggests finding something productive to do, or, in the spirit of Lent, using the time to read the Bible, pray or spend time at church.

"It's important to remember why you're giving something up in the first place," she says.

Welsh adds that finding a book to read or picking up a new hobby can prevent you from thinking about the shows you're missing.

Meat

When giving up any food item, it's important to check with your doctor to make sure you're able to replace the nutrients you might be giving up along with your fast. Many people give up red meat and replace it with fish during Lent.

Welsh suggests finding a friend or family member to do it with you, as it's much easier when you have support.

"There's tremendous benefit in sharing that experience with someone," he says.

As well, remember that your fast is just a 40-day experiment.

"Tell yourself that you're not reinventing yourself as a human being, you're just trying something for a limited time," he says.

Social media

Though life without Facebook, Twitter and Instagram may seem unimaginable, you can make it through 40 days.

Welsh suggests tracking your progress, or making the results of your journey tangible. When giving up a bad-for-you food, it's easy -- you can track weight loss.

But with social media, he recommends keeping a journal. Even if it's just a sentence or two a day, write about your troubles or about things you were able to accomplish by stepping away from the computer screen.

"It's a way to review and reflect," he says. "You're encouraging yourself and noticing slow but steady changes that may have otherwise slipped by you."

Alcohol

Trudging through St. Patrick's Day without a green beer is completely doable, but 40 days of prohibition is likely no easy feat.

VanBeber suggests focusing on the calories you're saving by abstaining from the calorie-dense cocktails and glasses of wine.

At parties and events, make sure to equip yourself with a nonalcoholic beverage, like a glass of water or tea. Another way to hold yourself accountable is to offer to be the designated driver -- your friends are likely to appreciate your fast more than you do.

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