“Ask a Priest: When Does Eating Become Gluttony?”

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Q: When does eating become gluttony? Is it OK to slightly overeat? Say you want the last piece of meat, although you don’t really need it. It is not as though you would be sick if you ate it. Also, is eating dessert OK since it is not necessary for you? –D.L.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: The simplest criterion is to say that we start to slip into gluttony when we eat more than we really need to eat.

I say “start to” because there isn’t a hard-and-fast line involved. Each person is unique, each metabolism is unique. Some people go long periods between meals and thus might be justified to load up as many calories as possible. And there might also be times when an extra bite could be justified if the alternative is to waste something — for instance, at a picnic where cooked meat can’t be easily and safely stored.

Gluttony is a disordered use of food and of the pleasure that eating and drinking gives us. The pleasure itself is part of God’s plan. He made food to taste good. He gave us taste buds. It is no sin to enjoy food, to prepare good food, to have a cake at a birthday party, etc. The point is when we become unreasonable in our pursuit of this pleasure. This leads to a disordered attachment, damage to our health, and spiritual damage too.

Perhaps you are asking the question because you sense that you might be crossing or being tempted to cross the line into gluttony. That might be a reason to pause and see if the Holy Spirit is calling you to a greater spirit of sacrifice.

Forgoing a little food at each meal is a nice way to practice self-discipline and to show solidarity with the poor of the world. It can certainly discipline us to better stand up to other (and worse) temptations of the flesh.

The Catechism briefly puts the danger of gluttony in context. No. 1866 says:

Vices can be classified according to the virtues they oppose, or also be linked to the capital sins which Christian experience has distinguished, following St. John Cassian and St. Gregory the Great. They are called “capital” because they engender other sins, other vices. They are pride, avarice, envy, wrath, lust, gluttony, and sloth or acedia. [end quoted material]

So gluttony – or even just simple overeating – can lead us down a slippery slope of vices if we aren’t careful.

This might be as good a time as ever to see where the Spirit is leading you. Pope Francis has been calling for greater simplicity in our lives and a greater spirit of sacrifice for the poor. Wouldn’t it be nice to give up a little something each day and contribute the difference to the poor? Food for thought.

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