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Saturday, December 29, 2012

Weight Loss Resolutions and the New Year

Hieronymus Bosch 1475-1480
It seems that every year, many (perhaps most) folks make New Year’s resolutions to lose weight. Gyms are joined, programs are bought, and diets are embarked upon. “Do it for you, not for anyone else,” seems to be the mantra. It doesn't seem to be working. Perhaps a different approach is in order? 

Dieting focuses on food and self improvement.  Self improvement is certainly not a bad thing. The Church, though, calls us to look outside of self and to focus, instead, upon God and the cleansing of the heart. One of the sins that She points out is gluttony. 

Gluttony is the inordinate desire to consume more than that which one requires. There are routes to gluttony other than the belly, but they are not the focus here. Sometimes gluttonous eating results in overweight; for other people, it does not. There are various reasons one might consume more than one requires; the reason is not necessarily love of food.  A person may be given to eating for emotional reasons, or in response to stress.

Teachings on gluttony may have become a bit ascetic in the Middle Ages, with the condemning of taking pleasure in eating. Eating is a pleasurable activity, assuming that the fare is of sufficient quality. However, it stands true that we can eat purely for pleasure, while losing sight of the purposes of food to nourish and sustain us. In doing so, we may open ourselves up to placing food above love of God. If one's eating is generally a response to stress or emotional needs, one will benefit from shifting one's seeking for solace from food to God.

Maybe it is time to focus, not on food and physique, but on the heart and soul. The point here is not guilt. Rather, it is hope! The point is freeing oneself from the chains of worldly focus and placing one's heart on the things of God. Perhaps the Church's ancient remedies of fasting and abstinence with a focus on spiritual growth are more of an answer than we give them credit for.
Gluttony, Woodcut, PD-ART

There isn’t much focus in our day upon gluttony, but, might we benefit from the teachings of historic Christianity that is is important to ensure that the soul remains master of the stomach?  In that vein, here are a few quotes to serve as food for thought as we approach the New Year:

For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things.~ Philipians 3:19

But he answered, “It is written, “‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”
~Matt. 4:4
Be not among drunkards or among gluttonous eaters of meat, for the drunkard and the glutton will come to poverty,and slumber will clothe them with rags.~ Proverbs 23: 20-21


“… We believe that for the daily meal, both at the sixth and the ninth hour, two kinds of cooked food are sufficient at all meals … And if there be fruit or fresh vegetables, a third may be added. Let a pound of bread be sufficient for the day … If, however, the work hath been especially hard, it is left to the discretion and power of the Abbot to add something, if he think fit, barring above all things every excess … For nothing is so contrary to Christians as excess …” ~ St. Benedict

“The appetite is twofold. There is the natural appetite, which belongs to the powers of the vegetal soul. On these powers virtue and vice are impossible, since they cannot be subject to reason … Besides this there is another, the sensitive appetite, and it is in the concupiscence of this appetite that the vice of gluttony consists.” ~ St. Thomas

“It is not a fault to feel pleasure in eating: for it is, generally speaking, impossible to eat without experiencing the delight which food naturally produces. But it is a defect to eat, like beasts, through the sole motive of sensual gratification, and without any reasonable object. Hence, the most delicious meats may be eaten without sin, if the motive be good and worthy of a rational creature; and, in taking the simplest food through attachment to pleasure, there may be a fault.” ~ St. Alphonsus Liguori


  1. As an extraordinarily gluttonous person (blush) I sorta hate you a little bit for writing this.

    No, not really. I still love you. I just hate the fact that this speaks very much to the core of one of those sins that attracts me like no other.

    That bag of Doritos? Just a taste.
    The sunflower seeds on the counter? A few won't hurt.
    A dollop or two (or seven) or icing / whipped cream / whatever? It's the holiday - who cares?

    Blaaaaaa - that's totally me, and gluttony is something I really need to be better about shirking. So thanks for this.


  2. :) This was just the (probably ill-advised) public airing of the thoughts of one who is reflecting on a lifetime of struggles with the topic in question. Ugh. Maybe this year...
    Hugs in return. :)


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