Friday, August 28, 2009


I've been thinking about gluttony lately. It is one of those sins we don't take very seriously in the American church. If we were to compare gluttony to adultery, they would come out at completely different ends of the "seriousness of sin" spectrum we have constructed in our minds or in our society. How many times have you heard of a pastor that has "fallen" because he committed an act of gluttony... and therefore had to step down from ministry in disgrace?

Yeah, me neither.

I confess to the sin of gluttony. And I haven't just committed an isolated act of gluttony... I do it regularly! Buffets and bars (of the salad/food type) are temptations I can't resist. What's worse, I often eat to stay awake while I watch a late-night movie, drive, or work at my computer. Nothing keeps me awake as well as eating. Over time, these actions have accumulated quite the display around my mid-section.

I know... I'm not alone. Perhaps you're right there with me. So many people share this problem that we rarely, if ever, hear taken seriously in church. And this is while America is one of the most (or is it THE most?) obese nations on the planet!

It is ironic that in a society that equates "fat" with "ugly" (here in The Location being a little overweight can be attractive, and at the very least is not detractive) and where you can search for hours in magazines and soap operas to find one image of an obese person without any success, that obesity is on the rise and is smashing records.

But this post isn't about obesity--it's about gluttony. Obesity is one of the the consequences of long term gluttony.

Gluttony, plain and simple, is eating more than your body needs. Our bodies only need so much. And for millenia humans on earth have mostly dealt with the issue of not having enough to eat. In poor and developing countries you hear people talk about average caloric intake of the population. Usually it is BELOW what people's bodies need. And so organizations like the UN's World Food Program try to get balanced meals to kids that include high levels of protein in order to up the calories they consume.

In America, people spend hundreds of dollars each year for gym memberships to go running on machines that are designed to burn up all of the extra calories we consume. Kind of funny. (It's too bad we can't capture all that energy and load it into the power grid. Actually, I just saw in a neighboring country to The Location some public exercise bikes in the park that are hooked up to what looks like water pumps. Not sure what they're pumping for.)

I have always bristled when people would suggest to me that I eat too much in explanation of why I'm overweight (like I needed it, thanks). I would point to my roommate in college who has always been something of a "rail." He would eat every bit as much as me--perhaps more--and would never get fat. Nope, always thin. I would completely envy his "metabolism." Yet, I am the one guilty of gluttony, not him?

Many people have said, "God just made some people fat and some people skinny. We should just accept who we are and how he made us." And for a long time, though I had wished God made me thin, I just accepted that this is how I'm supposed to be.

But now I am starting to see things a little differently...

My father has diabetes, my older sister is getting it, and I have high blood pressure. I know what's coming. If I don't change my weight, I will surely get diabetes in the future. The risk of diabetes is extremely effected by being overweight. If you can control your weight, you can actually prevent diabetes. (I know this isn't true for 100% of diabetes cases, but it is remarkably high.) There are a host of health related problems that are caused by obesity.

So, is this just how God designed me? It seems he didn't design our bodies to be overweight if by being overweight it causes all of these problems for our bodies.

If by eating more than I need I put on weight, the solution seems pretty obvious to me. I don't need to eat as much as I do. In different scenarios in the human experience on earth, this would be a huge blessing. I actually don't need to eat as much as my college roommate. If we lived together 3,000 years ago during a world famine, I might survive while he perished. It's not that God has cursed me with low metabolism--it's just that he has blessed me with not needing to eat as much as I do. (Not that I don't want to--desire/hunger is another issue.)

The solution to obesity, for me, isn't in trying to burn off all the extra calories I consume. That just seems silly. I mean, exercise is good for the body and good for the heart. But when you sit back and think about it, it is crazy--our bodies need a certain amount of calories, but we eat more, so then we do artificial activity just to burn off those extra calories. And what is even more funny--it doesn't even work that well. You see, our bodies crave equilibrium. So, if we are accustomed to eating so much and then all of the sudden we do new activity to burn off those calories, our body reacts by making us hungrier so we will consume more calories to make up for the ones we're losing. Exercise without diet change is a recipe for bodily disaster (in terms of obesity--it is still good for the heart). That is why any fast changes is our weight is not good. Our body will work against us. Slow change gives our body enough time to adjust to a "new equilibrium."

Not eating more than I need is the solution. Not committing gluttony, actually. (Funny how obedience to God's way is the best for us.) And this is where I must wage the battle.

When I was growing up my parents expected me to "clean up my plate." I had to eat everything set before me. Often, when we were clearing the table and putting things away, there would be a little leftover pasta or stuffing. My dad would ask me, "Do you want to eat this so it doesn't go to waste?" The idea is that if we threw it away, it would be wasted. But if I ate it--even though I was already finished eating--it would be "saved." That is crazy thinking, really. "Contribute to future obesity via gluttony by eating this extra amount of food so that we don't have to feel wasteful by throwing it away."

Just because there is more food on the table than my body needs doesn't mean I have to eat it.

Eating only what I need is not self-denial (though it might feel that way at first), it is simply what's right. Self-denial would be eating less (which is what fasting is--and that is something we're expected to do on occasion). I need to learn what that amount is, and prepare my meals accordingly. If others prepare a feast, I must learn how to (respectfully) say no to more.

I don't know how it's going to go. I'm so accustomed to eating more than I need; consuming beyond what my body requires. I'm thankful for the abundance of food. But I must not hoard it all into my body.