Thou Shalt Not Overeat

Most religions have strong injunctions against gluttony.

BY: Rebecca Phillips

Those who deem the United States a gluttonous nation have a lot of evidence on their side: "Fast Food Nation," Eric Schlosser's chronicle of Americans' love affair with Big Macs, is on the New York Times bestseller list; millions of Americans tuned into Fox television recently for "The Glutton Bowl" (in which contestants vied for the title by gorging on revolting foods); each year, there are dozens of contests in pursuit of what the International Federation of Competitive Eating has termed "gustatory supremacy."

Stunt eating that glorifies gluttony should not be confused with simply eating too often and too much. For instance, Takeru Kobayashi, winner of the recent "Glutton Bowl" and who shattered the record for hot-dog consumption at Coney Island's annual contest last year, demonstrates that being overweight is not necessarily directly linked to gluttonous eating: Kobayashi weighs in at a bare 130-pounds.

But the faithful should still be concerned--for their souls, if not their wasteline. Nearly all religions have strong injunctions against gluttony and overeating, and don't often make much distinction between the two. A 1998 Purdue University study found that religious people are more likely to be overweight than other Americans. The Purdue researcher called overeating the overlooked sin in religion, compared to other fleshly sins like lust or adultery. Read on to see how gluttony is viewed in all religions.


Buddhism encourages avoidance of sensory excess. The third Buddhist precept is the avoidance of excess of sex, but many Buddhists interpret this precept as avoiding gluttony in all areas. Buddhists try to transcend the senses but this is not necessarily achieved through suffering.

Though overeating is not propers, the Buddha warned that complete lack of eating is not proper either, and advised appropriate attention to the body's needs. The Buddha said: "You should lose your involvement with yourself and then eat and drink naturally, according to the needs of your body. Attachment to your appetites--whether you deprive or indulge them--can lead to slavery, but satisfying the needs of daily life is not wrong. Indeed, to keep a body in good health is a duty, for otherwise the mind will not stay strong and clear." (Discourse II)

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