Gluttony is the inordinate or excessive love of food and drink.  The simplicity of this definition may obscure the theological and psychological depths of this deadly sin. The concluding line of the previous post on avarice, which described gluttony as the “falsely jovial sin,” was intended to hint at its potential oversimplification.  In particular, it was meant to highlight two important challenges to understanding the sin of gluttony.

The first challenge to our understanding is the common picture of the glutton as an indulgent overeater who just loves to eat and perhaps even enjoys it, especially in the context of the conviviality of a party or banquet.  This view is so predominant that it is often hides from our view other forms of gluttony.  The second challenge, and the first that we shall consider, is the falsity of viewing gluttony as a lighthearted jovial sin. It is false because it is based upon an inadequate understanding of the importance of food and drink to the human person.

Man is an animal; therefore, even though he is more than a merely physical being, his material existence is crucial to him.  The sins of the flesh—greed, gluttony, and lust—all relate to our material existence.  Nevertheless, while possessions and sex are important elements of our material existence, food and drink are absolutely necessary to our continued physical existence.  You can survive without possessions and sex, but you can’t survive without food and drink.  This makes our relationship and attitude toward food and drink to be so important and points to the seriousness of the sin of gluttony.

A second difference between food and drink and possessions and sex or between gluttony and greed and lust is our relationship to these aspects of material existence.  When we eat and drink, we consume these items in a way we don’t with the other types of material existence.  They are digested and fortify our body and thus become a part of us.  In eating and drinking we shape something of our present and future self.

The fact is that God gave us taste buds to enhance the enjoyment of food and drink.  Making that which is necessary for us pleasant is an example of his gracious providence.  The pleasure of eating and drinking helps us to desire that which we need.  The culinary arts exhibit man’s God-given creativity, which also helps us to want what we need.

Thus, it is right and proper to enjoy food and drink.  Nevertheless, the pleasure of eating and drinking can be perverted to an excessive love of these real goods.  This excessive love of food and drink is gluttony; however not all gluttons fit the stereotype of a jovial overeater.

The glutton, as commonly understood, wants to enjoy the pleasure of being filled in contrast to the pain of the emptiness caused by hunger.  He emphasizes the quantity of the food and will overeat.  At the first sign of emptiness, he will indulge himself by filling himself with food.  This love for the pleasure of feeling the satisfaction of being filled becomes excessive.  Not only will he eat too much, he will also begin to seek and eat foods that will produce the sensation of fulness but aren’t necessarily the best for his body.  The irony is that is the pleasure of eating, an actual good, has been separated from the function of food, which is to preserve life and promote physical health.

If the stereotypical glutton is concerned with the quantity of food and drink, the other type of glutton is obsessed with the quality of the food.  The pleasure that he seeks is not the sensation of fulness, but the pleasures of the palette, the enjoyment of the taste of food.  Paradoxically, this excessive love of food and drink may lead both to overeating and finicky eating.  The finicky glutton will only eat that which gives to him the particular pleasure of the palette that he desires.  It could be a desire for sweets or salty tastes or only certain kinds of meats or vegetables.  The exclusive passion of the finicky glutton for only certain foods can also damage his health, like the teenage girl who would only eat ramen noodles.

The person who desires the pleasure of a certain taste can also overeat.  Even though this person is stuffed, he will still want to eat another round of mashed potatoes and gravy, a few more rolls with butter, or indulge himself in another piece of cherry pie with ice cream on top.  This type of glutton might be tempted to follow the old Roman practice of the vomitorium in which he empties himself so that he can consume more of his favorite tasting food.  In this case too he damages his health because the pleasure of food has been separated from its nutritional function.

All of these types of gluttony are destructive of the social function of eating.  Sharing meals are opportunities for conversation, laughter, mutual pleasure, the practice of hospitality, and the development of friendships.  However, the glutton will often be greedy and see the other members of a dinner party as competitors for the food that he wants to eat.  For the glutton the food matters not the people he is with.

Before discussing the appropriate attitude to food and drink and how to avoid or overcome the sin of gluttony, I’d like to address briefly the issue of eating disorders.[1]  Disorders such as anorexia and bulimia appear to this amateur to be related to a poor self-image.  This poor self-image is usually connected to a desire to have a more attractive, meaning thinner, body.  Rather than the excessive love of food that defines gluttony, these disorders see food as the enemy that introduces calories into the person.  Both gluttony and eating disorders have a distorted view of food, but those views are completely opposite to one another.

The overcoming of gluttony begins with a proper recognition of the importance of food and drink because gluttony is not about a person’s weight but about their attitudes and desires.  The following are some of the proper attitudes toward food and drink and how they can be formed.

  1. Certainly, the necessity of food to our physical life should lead us to eat in a way that promotes bodily health. If we find that out desire to eat is too strong for us, we should seek the support of friends and family.
  2. Understanding that our bodies are a gift of God, should lead us not only to be grateful for our bodies, but also to value their health. Ultimately, they are not ours and we have a responsibility to care for them as stewards of God’s gift to us.  This gratitude for our bodies promotes the love of God, the strongest remedy against gluttony.
  3. Take time to enjoy food and drink. Don’t hurry. Savor it.  Develop varied tastes, which not only can increase the pleasure of eating but also result in a variety that can promote health.  Rejoice that God has given us the sense of taste and be thankful to him for it.
  4. Realize that we are spiritual as well as physical beings. The glutton falsely believes that the pleasures of food and drink can satisfy him.  However, he soon discovers that this is not so. We eat and drink, but we are not satisfied and so we hunger and thirst again.  Only a close relationship with God in whose image we have been created can brings us lasting joy. Gluttony demeans us as spiritual beings and impedes our relationship with God.
  5. Recognize the social significance of eating. Prepare and eat meals together with family and friends.  Rather than being in competition, the shared food and drink become the vehicle for the greater pleasure of friendship and the love of others.
  6. Finally, recognize that our earthly shared meals are anticipations of the heavenly banquet. As we have fellowship with one another and eat together, we are having a foretaste of the delights of heaven, where gluttony has no place.

The last of the seven sins is the powerful urge of sexual lust.

[1] If you are suffering from an eating disorder or believe that you are, you should seek the help of a professionally trained counsellor.

32 Responses to “Gluttony”

  • Sophie Cather:

    The blog was very intriguing, Dr. Isley. As I read it, I thought of 1 Corinthians 6:19-20, “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for your were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.” Although Paul is predominately addressing the effect of sexual immorality, the influence of food and drink are also applicable terms. Originally, God gave man dominion over creation (Genesis 1:26), but gluttony reverses the hierarchy, placing the plants and animals above man. The excessive love of food and drink is a failure to glorify and enjoy God through its lack of faith, hope, and love.
    The fact that gluttony can develop into a habitual desire for food and drink makes it such a precarious sin. In the instance of alcohol, the addiction to the state of drunkenness not only places the plant over the individual, but it also has negative effects on his/her health.
    Your suggestion to eat with others is a beneficial reminder. Not only does it keep oneself accountable in terms of temperance, but (correct me if I am wrong) the body releases certain chemicals when one eats with others. One issue present in today’s society is the perpetual busyness of people’s lives which impacts mealtimes. Because the mentality is centered around work and constant stimulation, schedules do not align and meals are consequently consumed in isolation. This common scenario is problematic because the individual tendency is to mindlessly consume, unaware of the amount or the substance that he/she is ingesting.

    • Excellent comments, Sophie, and a good use of Scripture. Your point about putting the plants above us is how I understand Paul’s critique of idolatry in Romans 1:22-23. We who were made in the image of God and created only to worship God end up worshiping creatures that are inferior to us. Perhaps, Mrs. Gossard could help us with the details about the release of chemicals in a shared meal. I wouldn’t be surprised if it turned out to be true. You are certainly right about the loss of the pleasure of meals together in our contemporary society. Thank you for your helpful reflections.

  • Melissa Gossard:

    Well written, Dr. Isley. The distortion of thinking food can satisfy us the way God intends to satisfy us is something that resonates personally and socially. The world really does emphasize that food takes care of our struggles/stress. The eating disorder aspect is, like you said, another distortion of truth about food but in a different way. Both harmful to our bodies, relationships, especially with God. I wonder how many people reflect on their relationship with food. Exploring this is beneficial in my opinion and something I’m learning to be more mindful of. We are really bombarded with misleading ideas about food and truly a heart of appreciation for the gift of food for our bodies, the Lords temple, is our best guard against the misuse of food. Looking forward to our discussion!

  • Kylie Cleverdon:

    One thing that I thought about while reading the list of proper attitudes to have while eating and drinking, was that I personally am always so hungry when it comes to dinner time, specifically, that I usually don’t really take the time to thank the Lord for what He’s provided for me. I know this doesn’t really have anything to do with gluttony, but this blog reminded me that I should always be thankful for the meals placed before me. I am so thankful that I never have to worry about whether I’ll get to eat the next day or not, and I should strive to hold myself accountable for thinking about this whenever I eat a meal.

    • Thank you, Kylie, for the comments. It is a blessing that we should never take for granted that we don’t have to worry about where our next meal comes from. Gratitude to God for this also does help us not be gluttonous because we realize that our food is a gift from him that we don’t deserve and so we love him as we remember that he loves us.

  • Chandler M Vincent:

    Dr. Isley,
    So the ideas of “trying to fill an empty void” would be much like when you are sad or angry and you eat your feelings away? Would this be an example of Gluttony?
    Also would Gluttony be another example of when sins intertwine? Because you gave the example of somebody thinking of their compatriots as competition on for the food, this could be easily intertwined with anger, right?
    I feel like a lot of these sins go along with other sins instead of being just one sole sin. Like when you are being gluttonous while with friends, you could be angry at them for wanting to eat your food, you could be envious of the fact that they get to have your food, and overall the intertwining of many sins at once.
    As always, another great blog. And I would definitely have a bigger problem with Gluttony if I had Mrs. Isley’s food everyday.
    Thank you for putting your time and effort into this blog, it was veyr enjoyable to read (especially while I was enjoying my dinner)
    Have a good night!

    • Thank you, Chandler, for your good comments and questions and your great sense of humor. When we look to food to fill an empty spiritual void, we are misusing it and it will fail us. When I spoke about the desire to feel filled, I was referring to physical hunger and the pleasure of having our stomach filled. I think it is important that we realize that these sins are not isolated and one of them leads to another or one is expressed by means of another.

  • Taryn Durbin:

    This was a very good blog post, Dr. Isley. I really liked how you included the idea of eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia in comparison to gluttony. Eating disorders are related to a poor self-image of oneself, usually connected to the desire to have a thinner, more attractive body. Whereas, gluttony is the excessive love of food and drink. Both gluttony and eating disorders are opposite views of each other, but they are both wrong understandings of the importance of food and drink for the human body. A good verse that ties along with gluttony is Philippians 3:19 which says, “Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things.” What this verse is saying is that many people only care about what tastes right or what feels right, which often leads to the desire of comfort over God’s goodness.

    • Thank you, Taryn. As always your thoughts are expressed very clearly and your explanation of the eating disorders is crystal clear. Thank you for Philippians 3:19. It shows the idolatry inherent in gluttony.

  • Tess Ewing:

    Dr. Isley, thank you yet again for another great post. I found this post very helpful as I was indeed eating Hershey’s kisses while I was reading this:) I appreciated how you tied us having taste buds and the ability to taste and enjoy food as a gift from God, because I had never really taken the time to think of it like that before. I also did share some of the similar thoughts as Sophie, meaning about how our bodies are the temples for the Lord, and we need to take care of them. I also agree with you on the part about sharing the meal with others, because after having the 8th grade wisdom banquet with my classmates, I did realize how the food can be really good, but it is truly all about the people you eat the meal with. Your comment on step five towards the end of how you shouldn’t be worried about others eating all the food just reminded me of how all of the seven deadly sins are so closely intwined, and how one can easily lead to another, so one much be on the guard against that.

    • Thank you, Tess for your comments and sense of humor. It is interesting, although sad, to see how these different sins are tied together and how one can lead to another. I especially appreciated your comment about the wisdom meal in Mr. Barron’s class.

  • Skylar Ball:

    I thought this post was very interesting, I never really thought that gluttony could be associated with the pleasure of just being full.I had always thought of it as more of the finicky gluttony, where the person would want pleasure from the taste. So would the overeating gluttony be just a need for excessive amounts of food without really caring of the taste?

    • Thanks, Skylar. It is interesting that you had thought more of the finicky glutton. It wasn’t until I began researching this issue that I discovered this type of glutton. I do think that the basic issue for the overeating glutton is the quantity not the quality of the food.

  • Drew Sullivan:

    This post answered a lot of the questions I had about gluttony, thanks for putting the time you do into these blog posts. I learn a lot, and they are very interesting. Now that I’ve thought about it Gluttony is much more of a threat. Many times I will find myself, as teenage boys usually do, taking much more food than I need, especially at potlucks or feasts or thanksgiving and then not really reaping the consequences since I can run it off in a day or two. However, this is not the best for the temple God has given me, and if I keep up this habit in a few years I will not be able to just run it off anymore. I had not thought about the eating together effect before, so I will try to do it more. Then, what will be the purpose of food in heaven? will we need it to survive??

    • Good comments and questions, Drew. Will you have an opportunity to eat with others for Thanksgiving. That would be a great opportunity to experience a meal fully. In heaven we will have banquets. I don’t think that there will be the need of food for survival. The eating will be for the joy of being together and as a celebration that we’re in heaven.

  • Jaley Barkley:

    This post about gluttony was very well said Dr. Isley. I agree with you as gluttony is most of the time brushed over as a falsely jovial sin. I really liked how you stayed that gluttony is not about your weight, but about your attitudes and desires. I am like most people and just put gluttony with weight and how much food you eat, I never put it with your attitudes toward it. I also had never put together that the other type of gluttony, not the stereotypical type, cares about the quality and not the quantity of the food. Gluttony is a hard sin to deal with especially in these days where we have all these delicious new things man has created. Remembering that our bodies are a temple of God and we need to take care of it is hard to do. It topic of gluttony will make a great discussion in class I am excited!

    • Thank you, Jaley. I think that seeing these sins as connected with attitudes helps us to see how deep seated the problems can be that they cause. I’m looking forward to the discussion tomorrow too.

  • Tess Ewing:

    Dr. Isley, thanks for another great blog post. As I read this while eating Hershey’s kisses, I found this post very helpful. I had never really thought of gluttony as putting the people you were eating a meal with under the meal itself, or the fact about that God gave us taste buds so that we could enjoy food, as I had always just looked at it as just a way that we were made. I also enjoyed shared similar thoughts with Sophie on this, and how I thought of the scripture reference as our (Christians’) bodies as a temple. This post reminded me of last year in eighth grade when we had the wisdom banquet, and we all got to eat together, so that really helped put this blog post in perspective for me personally. Also, this might have been me misunderstanding, but you are you saying that eating more than one serving of a meal leads into/makes you a glutton?

    • I thought that I had responded to this, but if I did, I didn’t answer your question at the end. I don’t think taking one more serving makes you a glutton. It is not even necessarily wrong, although I know that people sometimes follow that practice as a discipline of self-control. Remember that gluttony is a habit. One error doesn’t make it into a habit. Thanks for the important question, Tess.

  • Lauren Drum:

    Thank you for a very informative post Dr, Isley. I found this post bery interesting as I always thought a glutton was someone who just had to eat and would be overweight because they just needed to eat. Not one who finds pleasure in food. I also never thought of a glutton as someone who would force themselves to rid themselves of the food they just had to eat. That seems to me like that would be something that a person with an eating disorder would do. So if gluttony is a sin, could havinf an eating disorder be a sin too?

  • Halle Pavlik:

    Since the holiday of thanksgiving is approaching I have been thinking a lot about what I am thankful for. I will not lie food is one of the first things that came to my mind. I have to admit, that I love a good meal. I think that the hardest part of understanding gluttony is figuring out the balance between excessive eating versus eating for necessity. It’s hard for me to grasp the concept of only eating food for necessity because I agree that God did give us taste buds so that we may have the ability to enjoy food. I think that it is also hard to understand because of the issue of eating disorders. We must also understand the difference between eating your emotions and eating disorders. I look forward to discussing this in class thank you so much for another great essa That it is also hard to understand because of the issue of eating disorders. We must also understand the difference between eating your emotions and eating disorders. I look forward to discussing this in class, thank you so much for another great article!

    • Thank you, Halle. I do think that there is nothing wrong to eating not just from necessity. There is a real sense in which we should enjoy bounty. Admittedly, however, the line between that and excessive eating can be difficult to discern. I’m not sure what you mean by “eating your emotions” and how that is distinguished from an eating disorder. The discussion tomorrow should be interesting.

  • Kassidy R Napier:

    I definitely have had more than my fair share of gluttonous moments. It was very interesting that you brought up eating disorders. I had never thought of them as the opposite of gluttony. I was wondering if/how you would incorporate that specific topic. Also, what is the purpose for food in heaven? We’re going to be perfect, so hunger is not going to pose an issue. Why, then would we need to eat?

    • Thank you, Kassidy. These are some good questions. We will be talking about eating disorders, but, remember, gluttony is an excessive love of food. The eating disorders appear to my nonprofessional eye as not loving food. Food in heaven might be the ultimate witness to the fact that eating isn’t just about physical survival. The Scriptures describe a banquet–a celebration.

  • Hadley T.:

    Thank you Dr. Isley again for another wonderful post! I am grateful that we are studying this right before Thanksgiving! I have had many questions about the sin of Gluttony, when eating something is good and when it is not. The separation of enjoyment and function of food being the perversion of the good of eating is extremely helpful. Your tips about gluttony not being able to truly satisfy us is something I really needed to hear. Thanks again!

  • Jude Borchers:

    First of all, I’m sorry I’m responding so late. You’re absolutely right when you say that gluttony is often viewed as the most lighthearted sin. I never really knew what it was or even took it very seriously. I’m still trying to understand the line between a right enjoyment of food and gluttony. From what I understand, when you’re no longer eating for the benefit of you’re health and your desire for food outweighs more important things, that’s when it becomes gluttony. When you mention that the glutton, when eating with others, sees others as competition for his food, it’s a reminder of how seemingly animal-like these sins of the flesh are. I do have one question though. Are the eating disorders you mention a part of gluttony, or is it just another distortion of one’s view of food?

    • Thanks, Jude. I would say prefer not to say that it is gluttony when we no longer eat for the benefit of our health. Your statement refers to a motive. We can eat for additional reasons and it’s fine. It is better to say that it is wrong when you eat with the result that it damages your health. When we discuss eating disorders in class, let’s make sure to deal with your question.

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