In looking at gluttony we have found that it may not be as easy to identify in others as we have thought, but at the same time, we come to realize that it may affect us in more ways than we knew. So what do we do about it? What ways are there to combat the vice of gluttony? Before we jump into some conclusions, we will go ahead and note that balance must be part of the solution. While we don’t want to be gluttonous in our approach to food and drink, we also don’t want to approach it with a lack of appreciation, denying ourselves what we need. As we look for this balance, we can find three different ways to fight against this habit in the writings of Augustine.
First, he calls us to eat in a way that contributes to and tries to maintain our overall health and well-being. This still does not give us the ability to stereotype gluttons, as we tend to do. Someone who is pregnant might eat more “for two,” or an athlete might need a lot more food as they obtain the proper number of calories. Some diets may have heavy restrictions on sugars, while others may need more. Some might be celebrating and may sometimes eat more than they typically would. There is no hard and fast rule about what or how much someone can eat. We need to eat well enough for our body to function well, which both gluttony and deficiency fail to do.
Second, Augustine calls us to remember that eating is a social act. How and what we eat should be approached in a way that is conscientious about, not only the needs of our family, but about the needs of our community as well. This goes back to greedy eating, in which we might deprive others to seek our own pleasure. It could also condemn acts such as keeping foods in your house that others are forbidden to eat for health or personal reason, or failing to keep your children’s diets healthy because you don’t want to restrain your own. In her book, DeYoung describes the cultural practice of a Nigerian student she had. In this practice, the eldest child would get the first and largest serving of food, but he had to eat slowly enough so that if the youngest child was still hungry after he ate, the youngest could then get seconds from the plate of the eldest. This may seem strange to us, but the family learns to see eating for the social act that it is. Sometimes, for those of us that never miss a meal, it would be good to withhold on seconds so we don’t risk taking from those that may be lacking in food.
Third, Augustine calls us to remember that God made us for a spiritual purpose. We all have gifts that God has given us, and roles that we play in as we fulfill God’s calling. These different gifts and roles might determine to some extent how we approach eating and drinking. We might consider the difference between the roles of John the Baptizer who did not come eating and drinking, and Jesus who did. As DeYoung illustrates “perhaps being a parent or teacher of children means that we have to curb our own desires beyond what we might otherwise choose, in order to set a good example and encourage good habit formation in them.” She also suggests that as Christians living in a culture of heavy consumption we might need to be very careful about our eating and drinking in order to be a good witness to a better way of life. Our eating habits and daily disciplines have social consequences, and can cause others to have a skewed perception of our identity in Christ as well as our mission in Him.
One final tool to fight against this vice could be fasting. While Christians should certainly find joy in feasting and celebration, for one struggling with gluttony, abstaining from food could be a necessary means to “reset” their view of eating and drinking. Fasting can be something that quickly shows the things that control us. Whether we are giving up specific types of food and drinks for a season, or giving up food and drink entirely for a few days, we can find at least two benefits in this in combating gluttony.
First, fasting helps us to be content with simple foods. Concerning this, author Kallistos Ware wrote, “It would be misleading to speak only of this element of weariness and hunger. Abstinence leads, not merely to this, but also to a sense of lightness, wakefulness, freedom, and joy… While involving self-denial, fasting does not seek to do violence to the body but rather to restore it to health and equilibrium. Most of us in the Western world habitually eat more than we need.” While we might often associate fasting with discomfort and hunger pangs, it instead frees us from the power of pleasure so that we might be able to better appreciate the simple foods and drinks.
Second, fasting helps us be more aware of our dependence on God. Again, Ware writes, “If we always take our fill of food and drink, we easily grow confident in our own abilities, acquiring a false sense of autonomy and self-sufficiency. The observance of a physical fast undermines this sinful complacency.” He touches on the fact that, like all of the other deadly vices, gluttony grows out of pride. Gluttony continually leads us to act in a way that tries to provide our own pleasure and fulfillment. Rather than recognizing food and drink as the good gift from God that it is, the glutton turns it into a means to feel self-confident and secure in what he can provide for himself. As DeYoung writes, “gluttons want to be in charge of defining their own happiness in pleasure, with its attainment firmly under their own control.” This is why we must not only seek to properly understand and identify gluttony in our own lives, but also seek to stamp it out through proper discipline.
Especially in our Western culture, gluttony is much more rampant than we might recognize. While we might not have made gluttony a habit in our lives, many of us could be dangerously close and not even realize it. Why? Because as the demon Screwtape noted to his nephew Wormwood, Satan wants us to see gluttony in a very limited way, and only in the lives of others. Because of this we not only often misdiagnose gluttony, but fail to evaluate our own lives and eating habits. Yet there is hope. There are a number of things we can do, and mindsets we can adopt in order to fight this vice. Most of all we must remember that true and lasting joy doesn’t come out of a perfectly cooked steak, the most filling meal, or eating until you can’t eat anymore, but instead from God through His Son.