My Facebook page exploded this week with comments about eating too much, about the need to exercise off extra calories and about feelings of guilt about that second piece of pie after Thanksgiving. Apparently people expected to gain 5 pounds in one day. But the thing that struck me most was how people’s fears about gluttony were all based on self. Fears of getting fat were the main thrust of the comments.
The battle of the bulge is what consumes our minds now. Whether a food is healthy is often based not on nutritional value but solely on caloric intake. One raw foodist did a comparison of different raw food breakfasts, for example, and explained that one dish (with a “whooping” 300 calories) was much more unhealthy then her 90 calorie green smoothie. Despite that the 300-calorie dish was much more nutritious, “healthier” equaled lower calorie in her book. Eating healthy is too often pared down to a simple calorie control.
In the same way, a desire not to be a glutton is too often relegated to weight control. Does anyone care if you are a glutton if you aren’t overweight? Those who are overweight because of health issues are often looked down upon even if they never over eat. That’s because weight control is all-important, and a healthy relationship with food isn't as crucial.
How does this self-focused, weight-focused view of gluttony compare to a historical viewpoint?
Historically, gluttony has been viewed more as a character flaw than a weight flaw. For that reason, a skinny glutton was viewed in much the same way as an overweight glutton. Weight wasn’t the issue, but the heart of the person was. The urge to eat more then you should purely for the pleasure of it was viewed as a sin because it was taking the pleasure of eating out of the context of nourishing the body and sustenance.
Today, our super focus on weight control has regulated our view of gluttony purely as to how it affects our outward appearance. This has hurtful implications for many in our world. I have known people who have eaten a starvation diet, yet their bodies remained on the chubby side because of thyroid issues. Their weight was no indication of their eating habits, yet they were judged for their size. Viewing glutton not as a diet breaker, but rather as a heart issue is perhaps a healthier, fairer way to look at gluttony.
Secondly, historically gluttony has been looked down upon at different points in history because there were those who didn’t have enough to eat. Nobles gorging themselves in their castles while peasants were starving in the fields were not viewed well. During specific time periods, certain rich dishes were literally illegal to make! Eating those rich dishes may not have made anyone overweight, but it was considered wrong to enjoy such rich food when many in the community were going without food. (During the Medieval era, the rich and higher classes were expected to feed the starving from their own kitchens. Feasting on the richest of food would leave less for sharing.) Gluttony was wrong not because it would make you fat, but because it would prevent you from sharing with those who truly needed more food.
Applications for today? I don’t think we need to ban any foods or dishes. Banned foods just become more desirable. Yet, I really appreciate the historical reasons why glutton was wrong. It is not based on appearance so much as it is on my heart. When I spend more money on food than we need and have less to share with those in greater need, what does that say about my heart and my priorities?
I expect that we will be seeing a lot of headlines about “how not to gain 10 pounds this Christmas season” and “workout options for a hectic Christmas,” and those articles are helpful. I will be sharing my fair share of yummy, rich recipes, and will personally be trying to keep a healthy body by proper exercise. Yet, I think that we have an imbalanced focus on ourselves, and the yummy food we want to eat (but at the same time, not gain weight from!) Instead of spending all of our time making cookies and desserts for ourselves, why not cut back some, and invest some of that money in buying food for the local food bank? Or invest some of that baking time to a local soup kitchen? Or buy a goat for a Third World family? We are gluttons for not only calorie-rich foods, but also gluttons for focusing on ourselves in excess at times.
This Christmas season, I want to focus a bit more on others and a little less on myself. Historical viewpoints on gluttony help me look at my heart rather than the scale, to keep me from focusing on myself too much and instead looking around for ways I can help others. And here's a side benefit: when you spend less on food for self and more for blessing others, you might not gain any weight during the holiday season after all!