Sunday, September 27, 2009


Does gluttony have a place in your life? Really. Does it? Are you a glutton? I ask myself this, too. And if we discover that we are gluttons, is that okay? What is gluttony, anyway?

Gluttony derives from the Latin word gluttire, which means to gulp down or swallow. And 'gluttony' is defined as excess or overindulgence in eating. Well, everyone does that once in awhile. But when it becomes a regular habit, that makes you a glutton.

(Bear with me here; this really is NOT a religious post). In the Traditional List of Seven Deadly Sins, gluttony is listed together with fornication and greed as sins of lust. Lust after someone's body, after money, or after a quart of ice cream: same basic root. Immoderate want and lack of control leading to doing something that may not be good for you or anyone else (like getting an STD, going to jail for embezzlement, or having a heart attack from too many Big Macs).

Thomas Aquinas was a Roman Catholic priest in the 1200's (now considered a Saint) who had some interesting thoughts about what he called the 'sin' of gluttony. I personally am not Roman Catholic, but I find his writings thought-provoking nonetheless. He was a great theologian and philosopher. Not that I agree with everything he says; my idea of binge eating is more of a 'defect' than a 'sin' but let's not get all religious, shall we? Let's talk about what Thomas Aquinas had to say about gluttony, from a non-religious, purely physical/mental perspective.

Thomas wrote, "The vice of gluttony does not reside in the substance of the food, but in the appetite ill-regulated by reason."

Ah. We need to eat to live. Food is pleasurable to eat. And if we eat and enjoy our food, within reason, that's not a problem! Makes sense.

Thomas defined gluttony as "inordinateness of appetite" in two respects: the food that is eaten, and the actual eating. Getting either thing wrong can lead you to gluttony.

His examples of gluttony stemming from food choices include:
Seeking expensive dishes
Seeking dishes "too elaborately prepared"
Seeking to eat a great quantity of food (aka "too much")

The examples of gluttony in the eating process are:
Eating too soon (before the "due time of eating")
Eating too fast ("hastily")
Eating too eagerly (improper manner of eating; "greedily")

Well. That's interesting, isn't it? Here is Thomas Aquinas giving us basically a 13th century diet plan! Eat simply, eat just until you're full, eat enough to sustain yourself but not more, don't snack too much, slow down, use your manners and enjoy your food! As an added bonus, you avoid a deadly sin!

Thomas explains that when we focus SO INTENTLY on having special, fancy, rich foods, it takes away from more important things in life. It skews our attention too much towards FOOD and our own DESIRES. We might even get obsessed. Because when a person gets used to having all kinds of goodies, then a plain piece of chicken breast with brown rice and steamed broccoli just isn't going to cut it, even though it is a perfectly fine, nourishing meal. Well, he didn't say that. But that's what I got from it.

And then Thomas said some really cool things that are totally true in my experience. He talks about problems that are the "daughters of gluttony." He says, regarding the effect of gluttony:
"first on the part of the reason, the edge of which is dulled by immoderation in meat and drink; and in this respect dulness of perception in intellectual things." Wow, he totally described the sugar fog, didn't he? If you have ever gone OFF of sugar, you know how the fog lifts and your brain feels like it is working so much better. And besides that, can you really sit down and write a research paper or do calculus problems after you had a huge Thanksgiving dinner and stuffed yourself into oblivion? Nah, you need a nap. Thomas was right; gluttony affects your brain. your perception, your reason. He DID explain that after overeating there is a "dullness of sense in the understanding, on account of the fumes of food disturbing the brain." Yeah, I feel that way sometimes. Dorito fumes. Not good.

He also referred to "the guidance of reason slumbering under the immoderate load of meat and drink." Interesting. We all know how getting drunk makes some people unreasonable and leads to some foolish behaviors and choices. I think eating the wrong kinds and amounts of food can do the same thing. We may not get drunk, but how reasonable is it to sneak candy out of your kids' Easter baskets while they are asleep, or shovel down a piece of cake in the bathroom so no one sees you? How reasonable is it to buy junk food when you don't even have enough money to pay the bills? Or to sit on the couch on the computer all day eating chips and cookies instead of doing the work you SHOULD be doing? Get off the food overload. Reason and mental clarity soon return.

So, I didn't write this post to point fingers, or make anyone feel bad. I wrote it because I think most people would agree that gluttony is *not* something we want in our lives. Moderation is. Temperance is. Reasonableness is. We tend to think of gluttony as just eating too much; it's enlightening to consider all the facets that may be contributing to whatever eating problem we may be facing. I personally never really thought about all the various aspects in which I have allowed myself to get crazy with food. And I think it is a good thing to ponder our faults a bit so we may change them. Maybe a piece of fish and some vegetables and rice... enough to meet our needs... is a blessing. I am going to try and cultivate a simpler eye towards food and a more moderate attitude as well. Enjoy it? Sure. But not let it be an obsession anymore. I have too much else to live for.


100togo said...

Amen! This is so true ... and a very good spiritual perspective of overeating.

DownsizingDoc said...

Excellent! Your best post yet! I understand about the addictive effects of certain foods - and how its similar to other addictive substances like alcohol.

A real interested book is Dr David Kessler's "End to Overeating" This former head of the FDA explains how some food is addictive, the food industry's purposely loading food with these, and what you can do about it. I really saw myself in this book.

You don't have a defect - I think you are (like me and many, many others) very susceptible to the addictive, mood altering and numbing effects of certain foods.

Balance and Moderation is something I struggle with - not only with food but with most things

...e... said...

some old bells rang, so i googled:
"Thomas Aquinas (aka "the dumb ox") was a huge, burly man with such a large stomach that the Dominician order he belonged to had to crave out a massive ring in the commune's dining table so their beloved scholar could dine comfortably with them..."

Sarah said...

I just finished reading Plato's, The Republic for the second time. Apparently the Greeks felt gluttony and being obese were bad for us over 2,000 years ago. There are many references throughout the book to having moderation in all things.

In describing a healthy city with healthy inhabitants, the citizans started off eating grapes, figs, olives, etc. As soon as they started using condiments, their desire for food grew and grew and could never be sated, so that they started wanting other things which led to unhappiness. Plato writes that reason should always control emotion and desire, desire being the worst because it can never be fulfilled. If emotion is used under the guidance of reason, it can be beneficial, such as having courage to save your kids from a burning house.

My favorite quote, from book IX, which along with AA, helped change my life:
"Those then who know not wisdom and virtue, and are always busy with
gluttony and sensuality, go down and up again as far as the mean;
and in this region they move at random throughout life, but they
never pass into the true upper world; thither they neither look,
nor do they ever find their way, neither are they truly filled
with true being, nor do they taste of pure and abiding pleasure.
Like cattle, with their eyes always looking down and their heads
stooping to the earth, that is, to the dining-table, they fatten
and feed and breed, and, in their excessive love of these delights,
they kick and butt at one another with horns and hoofs which are made
of iron; and they kill one another by reason of their insatiable lust. For they fill themselves with that which is not substantial,
and the part of themselves which they fill is also unsubstantial
and incontinent."

I read this and thought oh my gos, 2,000 years ago, in the age of intelligence, art, and technology, and science, someone saw how dangerous my eating and behavior were. There is doubt I am an addict. As an adult, it was alcohol, pain pills, downers, whatever "got me out of my head", but I distinctly remember neing six years old walking around the house with a twinkie in one hand and a book in the other. That's when I first learned that their were outside things to control all the chaos, emotiness, and loneliness I felt on the inside. It's no wonder then by the time I was 10, I was wearing a size 14 in women's pants.

It's amazing that all these things just seemed to click into place at a specific time. I'm going to stop now. This is hella-long, but I just get so excited to talk about this stuff.

Sarah said...

Sorry, I was typing so fast. It should say: There is NO doubt I am an addict. I'm sure there are numerous other mistakes.

Vickie said...

I tend to think of this as impulse control. Which I think is something that has to be learned. I think this is a part of maturing/growing/learning many of us missed when we were supposed to learn it as children. Good posting.

Anonymous said...

What a wonderful post! I often think that if I could be free of all impulses to overeat, and eat only when hungry, I wouldn't care what I weighed. Just to have control over food instead of vice versa. After many years it really is about the mental than the physical. Of course, the sugar fogs are a great way to waste a life. Your reflections hit home almost 100% of the time -- I'm sure they do for others, too. Thank you!

South Beach Steve said...

Gluttony has always been a problem for me, and oh what a problem it is. There is nothing healthy about it. Thankfully I have not been a true glutton in a while, but I am certainly not willing to say I have left it behind forever. It is good to always keep it in mind.

Anonymous said...

There is a vicious circle going on, isn't there - at least in my experience it happens when you over-eat. You gain pounds and dissatisfaction sets comfort eating becomes OK. The weight piles on, energy levels dip, we spend our days on the computer or in front of the television, and in my case, doing all I can to avoid necessary housework. Even going out seems too much of a chore, so then we become very unfit as well.
The whole weight-loss business then seems an incredible - and miserable - mountain we have to climb.

We have to unravel our lives completely and it starts with disciplined food choices. I am hoping my days of simple healthy eating are going to kick-start my brain into believing in myself just as I am. This fat isn't going to melt away unless I learn to control so much of my impulsive behaviour.

From somewhere we have to find the will and determination to make changes, but all our bad behaviour and gluttonous eating patterns have become habitual and the norm.

There are so many beasts to tame aren't there, and all of them of our own making. As with most things, the first steps are the hardest. I am hoping healthy eating will become a way of life for me, but I know I need to make some effort to prepare good meals and have a fridge stocked with healthy snacks.

I often dream that one day I'll have enough money to spend lots of time at health retreats/spas...and have chefs cook wonderful tasty and healthy meals for me for months on end...If I was surrounded by nothing but lovely healthy plates of food, on demand, I'd be thin in no time ;-)

It ain't going to happen I have to get my head round being good to myself and making the effort to reduce the size of my body.

Sorry for the long reply, but thanks again Lyn for an inspiring piece. (Food for thought?)

DBee x x

Lyn said...


Very interesting information! Thank you for sharing that. More reading I can look into :)

Three thoughts:
1. There's no doubt Thomas was exceedingly fat, but I searched and was only able to find one reference to a ring being carved out of a table for Thomas to fit/eat there; the only reference I found was a simple (slightly hotile) essay a Mr. Farrell, who is not a historian. There were a couple of historical errors in his essay so I am not sure I believe a table was ever carved for him. Is there a historical reference for this? Just to satisfy my curiosity.
2. A clarification: Thomas was called a "dumb ox" in the meaning of dumb = mute, NOT dumb = stupid. He was labeled such by his peers because of his habit of listening quietly rather than arguing with others.
3. Knowing that these words on gluttony come from a morbidly obese man make them ever more poignant for me; it is evident he knew of the struggles of gluttony himself, yet he was humble enough not to gloss over the issue, but to write about it from the point of view of someone who has experienced the troubles himself.

Camevil said...

As a Roman Catholic myself, it's pretty much common knowledge that Aquinas was obese. Of course, gluttony doesn't always lead to obesity. But it's hard to imagine that St. Thomas was obese without being a little gluttonous himself.

Therefore, he seems to be a bit of a hypocrite by promoting certain values that he himself didn't practice or live by. Not uncommon amongst certain notorious religious leaders who subscribe to the "do as I say, don't do as I do" branch of theology. *lol* It's hard for some to be inspired and guided by the writings of someone who didn't walk the walk.

Still, his message is a strong one.

Taking It One Day At A Time said...

Thanks for the post. I really needed to hear this today.

Karen In Tennessee said...

Awesome post...and wow can I relate. I have certainly seen gluttony in myself and its not pretty. I hide candy from Ed (who actually PAID for it) so that I can have it all. I don't feel compelled to equally "share" any special and expensive food treat we get, rather I feel entitled to much more than half. You know, these behaviors are not those which lead me to be the person I aspire to be and its one more reason to get healthy and stop being a glutton. If I am going to be a "glutton" in the future, its going to be by takng more than my half of the chores or doing more than "my share" of exercise!!!! Here's to the end of gluttony and any other aspect of food hiding or hoarding!!! Thanks Lyn!!!

Megan said...

Well done Lyn, I really enjoyed this. Lots to think about. I agree that his obesity makes this no less relevent, perhaps more. Many of the most inspiring bloggers I read have had incredibly inspiring insights while continuing to struggle with their own obesity. Thanks for sharing I certainly wouldn't have found that on my own.

Louise said...

interesting post. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

Eh, one more association of food and badness. I believe in the simpleness of life as a whole, but not enough for me to feel bad or gluttonous if a situation arises where the simpleness of life is lost for a moment. Not just in realtion to food, but time, activities, material objects, etc.
I do my best to veer away from this type of thought.
Ps-i posted as anonymous not to be hidden, but because it easier then having to log on ;)

MissyM said...

Interesting post and comments. I am going to chew on it a while.

Saje said...

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~ Saje

Crabby McSlacker said...

Fascinating to see so much insight from so long ago!

Lynn Haraldson-Bering said...

Wow. I'd never examined gluttony this way (and I'm a freaking theology minor! LOL) How is it that you always manage to make me think more deeply? You really need to write for a living. I'm not kidding.

Karyn said...

You are so smart, Lyn. I don't think I could have interpreted that essay so clearly. Good advise, in any century.

Sandy D. said...

I love your blog and this most recent post. The honesty is moving and I can relate to everything you have written. For most of my life I have struggled with my weight and was well over 300 pounds at my peak. DownsizingDoc is right that certain foods can be addictive, especially those loaded with sugar and fat. I have kept the weight off for a number of years now once I understood the addiction power of food. But to keep the weight off I work on it every day of my life by substituting more healthy activities for the eating. I am adding you to my favorites. Keep writing :)

Josie said...

Just further proof that the more things change in this world, the more they stay the same.

Thanks for the insights.

Certifiably Fit said...

Awesome post. Really enjoyed it.

Trish said...

Reading this and realizing it completely applies to my life made me literally feel sick. That's a good thing though.

Facing my selfishness is painful but eye-opening.

Thanks for the great post.

cindyay said...

One of my favorite posts! Very enlightening! Thanks and glad you threw in some history! It reminds me of a quote that goes along the lines of us suffering nothing new, that people before us have suffered the same types of hardships. I really like this post, just have to say that again, b/c it's not judgmental of ANYONE but just a different, more positive way of looking at binge eating/overeating, that it also goes by another name: gluttony, and a lot of people have that problem, whether it be of food or consuming other things: drugs, stuff, clothes, internet, etc.

Hanlie said...

I really enjoyed this post and it's made me think about a few things in my life! Thanks for the enlightenment!

stephseef said...

Lyn, I very much appreciated your comment down the line here in response to e's comments about Thomas Aquinas. I, too, felt profound empathy for him BECAUSE he wrote this as a man who struggled with it. That makes it the OPPOSITE of hypocritical to me - it became a confession, too. Thanks for posting it all!

Tammy said...

I can't help but look at it from a religious standpoint...I'm a Baptist, girl!! Very enlightening post...I loved looking at gluttony as more than just "eating too much". Thanks for the info!!!