The Digest: A distaste for gluttony

Discerning the heart’s attitude towards food

by Andrew Cullen campus and city editor

Tis’ the season to be … a glutton.

With Thanksgiving in the rearview mirror and Christmas quickly approaching, we find ourselves bombarded with enticing entrées and tasty treats. Inevitably, we all eat more than our bodies need. But is consuming 4,500 calories and 229 grams of fat at the Thanksgiving table considered gluttony? Is eating Christmas delicacies past the point of satiety gluttonous?

No, enjoying a Thanksgiving feast, Christmas dinner or Easter brunch is not gluttony. These are times that we gather together and communally express thanks to God for his faithful and gracious provision.

Historically, this has been the purpose of feasts. However, in a culture that feeds our desire for more and gives us what we want when we want it, food portions have expanded and daily caloric intake has skyrocketed.

In the Bible, gluttony and drunkenness are very closely related (Deuteronomy 21:20; Proverbs 23:20-21; Matthew 11:19). If drunkenness is the result of drinking too much alcohol, then gluttony could be defined as eating too much food. In other words, gluttony is continuing to eat when you are already full. Thus, gluttony is not measured by body weight. Gluttony is the relationship of the heart towards food.

Thomas Aquinas argued that the sin of gluttony is not the food but the ravenous yearning for more and more.

“The vice of gluttony does not regard the substance of food, but in the desire thereof not being regulated by reason,” Aquinas wrote. “It is a case of gluttony only when a man knowingly exceeds the measure in eating, from a desire for the pleasures of the palate.”

Mary Bringle, professor of philosophy and religion at Brevard College in North Carolina, said, “Sitting around the table at a feast is not a gluttonous act. Sitting in front of the television gobbling potato chips is.”

Not only is gluttony presented in the Bible as wrong (Proverbs 23:20-21; Ecclesiastes 10:17; Philippians 3:18-19) there are health-related consequences from eating too much food.

Robert Paarlberg reported, “The excessive consumption of food has destabilized energy balances within the human body, bringing on a ‘metabolic syndrome‘ consisting of increased blood pressure, high blood sugar levels, excess body fat around the waist, and abnormal cholesterol levels.”

Gluttony can lead to obesity, which carries with it many life-threatening health risks. In the words of the great physician Sir William Osler, “The glutton digs his own grave with his teeth.”

Combating gluttony does not mean starving yourself. The best strategies to combat a gluttonous appetite are not necessarily to change what you eat but mainly how you eat. Eating smaller amounts of food at a time will make you think twice about going back for seconds. Or, you can wait five minutes before deciding that you are still hungry. Since it takes up to 20 minutes for satiety signals to reach the brain and reduce your appetite, eating slowly (i.e., taking small bites, chewing your food well, waiting to eat the next bite of food until you have swallowed the previous one) gives your body time to tell you that it is full.

Expert in emotion and behavioral decision theory Peter McGraw said, “If you’re just digging into one gigantic mound of chow, you may never take a break to check in with your body’s hunger queues.”

Finally, avoid eating with distractions, such as watching television. Distractions lead you to ignore your satiety signals and encourage mindless, gluttonous eating.

Our relationship to food should be one of thankfulness. Eating is a necessity, but it is also a gift from God to be enjoyed.

“For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving” (1 Timothy 4:4).

This Christmas season, show God gratitude for his gracious gift to us by thanking him for his provision and not letting food become something we worship.

This piece is considered a “standard” column in our print edition.
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