Gluttony is one of the seven deadly sins and is understood not as an occasional over-indulgence in food or drink but an habitual and inordinate desire for food or drink. Those who have that inordinate desire usually can tell the difference. For those who might be curious, answer a few of the next questions "yes," and you’ve possibly got it (compulsive overeating and/or food addiction):
1. Do I eat when I’m not hungry?
2. Do I go on eating binges for no apparent reason, sometimes eating until I’m stuffed or even feel sick?
3. Do I have feelings of guilt, shame or embarrassment about my weight or the way I eat?
4. Do I eat sensibly in front of others and then make up for it when I am alone?
5. Is my eating affecting my health or the way I live my life?
6. When my emotions are intense—whether positive or negative—do I find myself reaching for food?
7. Do my eating behaviors make me or others unhappy?
8. Have I ever used laxatives, vomiting, diuretics, excessive exercise, diet pills, shots or other medical interventions (including surgery) to try to control my weight?
9. Do I fast or severely restrict my food intake to control my weight?
10. Do I fantasize about how much better life would be if I were a different size or weight?
11. Do I need to chew or have something in my mouth all the time: food, gum, mints, candies or beverages?
12. Have I ever eaten food that is burned, frozen or spoiled; from containers in the grocery store; or out of the garbage?
13. Are there certain foods I can’t stop eating after having the first bite?
14. Have I lost weight with a diet or “period of control” only to be followed by bouts of uncontrolled eating and/or weight gain?
15. Do I spend too much time thinking about food, arguing with myself about whether or what to eat, planning the next diet or exercise cure, or counting calories?
This list isn’t meant as a condemnation of me (or anyone else who identifies), but as an invitation to think about food and live a different way. There’s something that stirs deep within me that has never been satisfied by food; that’s why “one is too many, and a thousand isn’t enough.” Getting to the heart of what will satisfy that yearning is a part of learning to let go of the food.
What creates this immoderate desire? A very wise (and now famous for it) priest, Fr. Robert Barron, said at one of his retreats that fear is the root of all sin. Bet you thought I was going to say “pride,” didn’t you? It turns out fear is the root of pride too. Fear of not being loved. Fear of not being admired. Fear of losing things: youth, beauty, time, looks. Fear of living life. Fear of not living life. A thousand wounding arrows piercing the heart daily and requiring a remedy.
I believe that what I have been taught is true: it’s a sin not because food is bad – all things God has created are good and are meant to be enjoyed (Catholicism is a very sensuous faith). It’s a sin because I frequently use food as a substitute for God, and that both separates me from God (the classic definition of a sin) and prevents me from working on any real solutions.
I am working hard on this spiritual deficiency during Lent – I won’t say I’m giving up gluttony for Lent because you’re not supposed to give up sin for Lent (you’re supposed to give it up all the time), but I will say I’m giving up snacking for Lent and that sacrifice is leading me away from gluttony. God willing, and God make me willing too.