Today marks the beginning of Lent, a season of fasting and abstinence for Christian denominations all over the world. This premise is not unlike the one underlying New Year’s resolutions, and yet only eight percent of Americans stick to their resolutions compared to 65 percent of Christians who stick to Lenten fasts and promises. So what is it about religion that makes it easier to abstain from unhealthy habits?

First, it’s worth noting fasting is not unique to Christianity; it’s regularly practiced by Muslim and Jewish denominations throughout the world, too. But for Christians, Lent is meant to mirror the 40 days Jesus Christ fasted in the desert, and resisted the devil’s persistent temptation. During this time, Christians typically only eat the food they need to get through the day and/or give up something they love dearly, such as chocolate or their beloved television program.

The premise looks good on paper, but in reality it’s really hard. Although modern science has revealed the ways in which we form habits, they’re still working out how to break the bad ones. But somehow major denominations and religions of the world have successfully fasted for millennia. What’s their secret?

Studies have shown religion and spirituality can physically affect the mind and body, instilling resilience for more difficult situations such as self-inflicted starvation. Prayer and meditation activate the frontal lobe, a part of the brain associated with emotional regulation. So based on these findings, the more we pray and meditate, the more resilient we may be.

For example, a 2010 study found the brains of Tibetan Buddhists and Franciscan nuns — two groups known for their dedicated adherence to prayer and meditation — had more activity in their frontal lobe than the general population. According to study co-author Dr. Andrew Newberg, a neuroscientist at Thomas Jefferson University and Hospital in Philadelphia, more activity in this area of the brain would help individuals be “more calm, less reactionary, [and] better able to deal with stressors,” Live Science reported.

Not only are religious people seemingly better at fasting and abstinence, they’re also better at handling stressful situations, according to a 2005 study. While religious and nonreligious individuals encounter similar amounts of stress and turmoil in their lives, the study authors found religion served as a sort of buffer against depression and anxiety.

"People who are more involved in religious practices and who are more religiously committed seem to cope better with stress," Dr. Harold G. Koenig, director of the Center for Spirituality, Theology and Health at Duke University, told Live Science "One of the reasons is because [religion] gives people a sense of purpose and meaning in life, and that helps them to make sense of negative things that happen to them.”

Beyond purpose and meaning, religion also offers people a sense of community. When Christians fast and and give up their favorite treats and activities during Lent, they’re not alone; Two billion Christians are right there with them. It turns out this support goes a long way.

According to The Huffington Post, emotional support is one of the most potent influences on positive change — it significantly affects an individual's ability to accomplish a difficult task. This is applicable to weight loss efforts and even drug rehabilitation.

The STEPS at Liberty Center drug rehabilitation clinic in Ohio found that clients who had their family’s support had higher rates of drug rehabilitation completion. STEPS reported the rate is 77.3 percent for clinics with more support and 45 percent for clinics without support. When you think back to Lent, fasting and abstaining as a group doesn’t only ensure each individual will stay on task, but it ensures fasters will have someone to lean on when times get tough.

That said, you don’t have to be religious or even believe in God to participate in Lent. When done properly, which is to say healthily, fasting can have positive health effects on anyone willing to try. Fasting helps some people obtain peace of mind and serenity, while it’s also been linked to improved memory, increased lifespan, and also weight loss. So why not give it a go?