In many of the conversations I have about food, folks express to me their concern over the topic of eating desserts. They feel guilty, condemning themselves for having food cravings and even more so for eating the foods they are craving.
But, eating dessert doesn’t make you a glutton.
My best understanding of the word (sin) gluttony is using food to try to meet needs it cannot meet, especially the need for spiritual satisfaction. It means being discontented with “boring” food, overindulging past the point of fullness and contentment, or turning to food to try to escape from uncomfortable feelings like grief, anxiety, or shame. Ultimately, I see “gluttony” as trying to use food for a purpose it was not designed to be used for.
However, overeating is not always motivated by gluttony, enjoying food is not inherently gluttonous, and feeling comforted by the pleasure of food does not always mean we are using food in an idolatrous way. (Even if you’re grieving, anxious, or stressed, you still need to eat, and doing so in an emotionally heightened state does not mean you’re not allowed to enjoy the food you are eating.)
Many people think that gluttony and overindulgence are automatically tied to weight gain, and consequently believe that if they cut calories, avoid desserts, and lose weight, they will be honoring God. One of the tools most often used for cutting calories, avoiding dessert, and losing weight is diet food.
I define “diet food” as food products prepared to look and taste like sweets and snacks but with significantly fewer calories (i.e. 100 calorie per serving fat-free, sugar-free ‘ice cream’ or diet coke.) The idea is that a person can still eat and gain pleasure from the product without receiving any nutritive value (namely, calories) from it.
Let’s go back to the definition of gluttony for a moment:
God designed food primarily to nourish us. Yes, the fact that food is tasty is a good thing, but the most important role it plays in the human life is nutrition.
Fuel. Sustenance. Energy.
Taking a food product and removing the nutrition/nourishment from it in an attempt to simply provide pleasure is not using food as God intended for it to be used. While taking pleasure in the foods we eat is honoring to God, doing so outside of the appropriate context for food is not. Eating purely for pleasure is gluttony, and this is exactly what diet products are designed to enable.
In my last post, I explained that God isn’t nearly as concerned with our weight loss efforts as we are. He is concerned with our holiness and the love that we show to others. Using diet foods as a tool for weight loss because we aren’t able to reconcile ourselves with our cravings (and physiologic, God-given need to eat) is a sinful practice. Diet foods do not honor God’s design for the human body or how it works. Period.
I recently read a post from a popular Christian “wellness” blog about avoiding food cravings. The author encouraged readers to drink something to try to trick the body into not being hungry anymore. She then suggested drinking cinnamon tea to curb cravings for sweets. This is so completely off the mark for multiple reasons. First of all, hunger and thirst are different, and God gave us the internal wisdom we need to be able to differentiate the two. Drinking water instead of eating food is not God’s design. (See 1 Corinthians 6:13 for more on this.) Likewise, eating a calorie-free sweet thing to avoid eating a calorie-dense sweet thing is not avoiding gluttony! In fact, its more gluttonous than just eating a cupcake because at least a cupcake is responding appropriately to the body’s signal.
“Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone?”-Matthew 7:9
Tricking our bodies into fullness doesn’t follow the logic of God that we see in Matthew 7:9. Rather, God is all about correctly identifying needs and responding in kind — the body for food and food for the body; spiritual nourishment for the soul and the soul for spiritual purposes.
God’s not in the business of dieting. His vision is life abundant.