Thou Shalt Not Overeat

Most religions have strong injunctions against gluttony.

BY: Rebecca Phillips


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Christianity: General

The book of Proverbs states, "Be not among winebibbers, or among gluttonous eaters of meat; for the drunkard and the glutton will come to poverty, and drowsiness will clothe a man with rags. (Proverbs 23:20-21)." The New Testament also encourages moderation. St. Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians, "Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God? You are not your own; you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body (1 Corinthians 6:19-20)."

The Christian diet craze has been in full force in the past few years, spearheaded by writer Gwen Shamblin, whose recent books include "The Weigh Down Diet" and "Rise Above: God Can Set You Free from Your Weight Problems Forever." Shamblin's work is rooted in basic Christian theology about gluttony: overeat and bear the consequences.

Christianity: Catholic

Catholic doctrine urges temperance as a way of respecting one's body and to "moderate attachment to this world's goods." According to the Catechism, "The virtue of temperance disposes us to avoid every kind of excess: the abuse of food, alcohol, tobacco, or medicine." Gluttony is seen as the opposite of self-restraint and living uprightly, as both the New and Old Testaments show. The Bible cautions: "Do not follow your base desires, but restrain your appetites (Sirach 18:30)" and "live sober, upright, and godly lives in this world (Titus 2:12)."

Catholicism teaches that gluttony is a sin when excessive eating or drinking impairs one's health or mental capacities. In most cases, gluttony is considered a pardonable sin, but there are people for whom, as St. Paul wrote, their "god is in their belly" (Phil. 3;19), and this constant overindulgence, and especially impairment because of it, would be a mortal sin. In Summa Theologica, St. Thomas Aquinas wrote that gluttony is indeed a sin, but it is not the greatest of sins.

Christianity: Eastern Orthodox

Orthodox Christianity emphasizes self-control in humans, and restraint in eating is seen as one of the foremost indications of self-control. Gluttony is considered a capital, or mortal, sin. The consensus of the early church is "stop eating while you are still hungry and don't allow your stomach to be filled to satisfaction," according to the 4th-century saint John Cassian. Overeating is associated with the dulling of intelligence and a decreased ability to guard against temptations. Orthodox Christians believe that, as humans fell initially through eating (when Adam and Eve took the apple in the Garden of Eden), people must have a proper relationship with food to restore themselves to union with God. Orthodox Christians also abstain from certain foods during fast periods to gain strength in self-control.

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