By Luke Brannon
- Biblical Perspective: Gluttony
- The biblical term for overeating is gluttony (Prov. 23:2, 21; Prov. 18:7, Titus 1:12-13). Gluttony is the uncontrolled eating of food that is excessive and unnecessary. Gluttony or overeating occurs when a person eats to a level that is wasteful, unhealthy, and lacking self-control. Gluttony, in the Bible, is often related to laziness and excessive drinking of alcohol. Food is a gift from God, and God wants us to enjoy eating food with a spirit of thankfulness to Him (1 Cor. 10:31). However, it is important to understand that gluttony is condemned in the Bible. Believers must exercise self-control over their bodies to avoid falling into the sin of gluttony. Eating becomes gluttony when a person eats in an excessive manner which is unhealthy to his body and is lacking of self-control.
- Biblical Perspective: Gluttony
- Secular Perspective: Overeating
- The most general secular term for gluttony is overeating. Overeating includes any time that person eats more food than is needed for his/her body. Usually isolated instances of overeating are not recognized as a significant issue, but regular overeating is recognized as a major issue. There are several patterns of overeating that are classified as disorders.
- Bulimia Nervosa and Binge-Eating Disorder
- Both of these disorders describe compulsive and recurring binge eating sessions. Bulimia Nervosa is the name for the disorder in which a person compulsively binge eats then uses methods such as induced vomiting or laxatives to expel the food. Binge-Eating Disorder is the title for the disorder in which a person compulsively binge eats, but does not take any measures to expel the food. The secular world views these actions as disorders in which the person’s body and past is responsible for the person’s binge eating sessions.
- History of Overeating
- Overeating, or gluttony, has existed from very near the beginning of time. A biblical example of this can be found in Judges 3 and the story of Ehud and Eglon. Eglon, the king whom Ehud assassinates, is a described as being a very fat man (v. 17). This example, with countless other examples of overeating and overweight people in the past, clearly show us that gluttony is not a new issue. However, it is true that over the past several decades obesity has become a larger issue.
- Evidence of the Problem
- The prevalence of gluttony in our world today is evidenced by the high rates of obesity. According to an article published by CDC Stacks, over the last 50 years the percentage of overweight people in the United States has remained quite steady, but the percentage of obese people has been greatly increasing. This shows that excessive eating has been on the rise in America.
- Gluttony and obesity are connected with numerous medical and interpersonal issues. Gluttony causes numerous health issues such as diabetes, heart problems, and many others. It also can encourage interpersonal issues such as depression, embarrassment, and hate of self.
- Physical Causes
- While physical causes are not solely responsible for gluttony, or what the secular world calls binge eating, they do play a role in enticing a person to overeat. Factors such as genetics, the way one’s body reacts to certain stimuli, or even metabolic damage from extreme dieting can make a person more prone to binge eating.
- Spiritual Causes
- While a person’s body may encourage him to sin by gluttony, each person is still responsible for his own actions. For a person who struggles with gluttony, the most likely spiritual issue is a lack of self-control. A person who is gluttonous gives in to his bodily cravings. However, the Bible commands each person to exercise self-control over his/her body. In 1 Corinthians 9:27 Paul writes on self-control, “But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.” Paul also writes in Galatians 5:16-17, “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do.” These verses show that fleshly desires must be defeated with Spirit-filled self-control.
- Physical Symptoms
- As mentioned above, gluttony can result in obesity which can lead to serious health issues such as heart problems, diabetes, and many others.
- Spiritual Symptoms
- Overeating can lead to depression and insecurity. A person who struggles with gluttony will often feel like a failure. They may begin to develop a fatalistic mentality in which they believe they are unable to overcome temptation in their lives. Discouragement and even apathy are often spiritual symptoms of gluttony.
- Examining the Heart
- The main heart issue behind gluttony is the worship of the comfort and pleasure that food brings. Often times a person who overeats will do so because of stress, anxiety, depression, or some other discomfort. The person who turns to food instead of the Lord for relief to their problems is placing his worship in the wrong place. A person who struggles with gluttony needs to learn to find his refuge in the Lord rather than in the comfort that food brings. In Psalms 121:1-2 David writes, “I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.” He also writes in Psalm 86:7, “In the day of trouble I call upon you, for you answer me.” David’s hope in hard times was found in the Lord. A person who places his trust in the Lord will not be let down, but a person who places his hope for security and satisfaction in food will only make his problems worse. Gluttony stems from a worship of the comfort and pleasure that food brings, but only worship of God will bring true satisfaction and peace.
- Biblical Solutions
- Counseling Agendas
- Kelly Jo Lynch in “Approaches to the treatment of Overeating in Christian Literature” writes that there are 5 key elements that must be present in a counseling plan for gluttony. The five components of biblical response to sin are “acknowledgement and confession of sin; repentance; receiving grace, mercy and power from God; confession of sin to others; and changed behavior.” Any counseling plan for a person who struggles with gluttony must bring the counselee to a point where he recognizes gluttony as a sin and repents of it. He then must come to an understanding of God’s grace and rely on God’s power to overcome his sin. He should confess his struggle to others so that they can keep him accountable as he takes measures to change his behavior.
- Counseling Agendas
- Physical Causes
- Fitzpatrick, Elyse. Idols of the Heart : Learning to Long for God Alone. Second ed. Phillipsburg, New Jersey: P & R Publishing, 2016.
- Lynch, Kelly Jo, and Theological Research Exchange Network. “Approaches to the Treatment of Overeating in Christian Literature,” 2001.
- Mack, Wayne A, and Wayne Erick Johnston. A Christian Growth and Discipleship Manual. Homework Manual for Biblical Living, 3. Bemidji, MN: Focus Publishing, 1995.
- Pritchard, Ray. Man of Honor : Living the Life of Godly Character. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1996.
Recommended Homework Resources
- Adams, Jay E. The Christian Counselor’s Manual : The Practice of Nouthetic Counseling. The Jay Adams Library. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 2010.
- Mack, Wayne A. A Homework Manual for Biblical Counseling. Phillipsburg, N.J.: Presbyterian and Reformed Pub, 1979.
“Binge-Eating Disorder.” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 5 May 2018, www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/binge-eating-disorder/symptoms-causes/syc-20353627.
Chambers, Natalie. Binge Eating: Psychological Factors, Symptoms and Treatment. New York: Nova Biomedical, 2009. https://ezproxy.masters.edu:4443/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=nlebk&AN=333503&site=ehost-live&scope=site.
Fryar, Cheryl D., Margaret D. Carroll, and Cynthia L. Ogden. “Prevalence of overweight, obesity, and severe obesity among adults aged 20 and over: United States, 1960–1962 through 2015–2016,” 2018.
Lynch, Kelly Jo, and Theological Research Exchange Network. “Approaches to the Treatment of Overeating in Christian Literature,” 2001.
Ogunbode, A M et al. “Health risks of obesity” Annals of Ibadan postgraduate medicine vol. 7, 2009.
Parrillo, Vincent N. Encyclopedia of Social Problems. Thousand Oaks, Calif: SAGE Publications, Inc, 2008. https://ezproxy.masters.edu:4443/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=nlebk&AN=474380&site=ehost-live&scope=site. P. 632
Tracy, Natasha. “Types of Eating Disorders: List of Eating Disorders.” HealthyPlace, Healthy Place, 10 Jan. 2012, http://www.healthyplace.com/eating-disorders/eating-disorders-overview/types-of-eating-disorders-list-of-eating-disorders.
 Chambers, Natalie. Binge Eating: Psychological Factors, Symptoms and Treatment. (New York: Nova Biomedical, 2009). 24.
 Tracy, Natasha. “Types of Eating Disorders: List of Eating Disorders.” (HealthyPlace, Healthy Place, 2012).
 Parrillo, Vincent N. Encyclopedia of Social Problems. (Thousand Oaks, Calif: SAGE Publications, Inc., 2008). 632.
 Fryar, Cheryl D., Margaret D. Carroll, and Cynthia L. Ogden. “Prevalence of overweight, obesity, and severe obesity among adults aged 20 and over: United States, 1960–1962 through 2015–2016.” (2018). Table 3
 Ogunbode, A M et al. “Health risks of obesity” Annals of Ibadan postgraduate medicine vol. 7 (2009). 22-5.
 “Binge-Eating Disorder.” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 5 May 2018.
 Lynch, Kelly Jo, and Theological Research Exchange Network. “Approaches to the Treatment of Overeating in Christian Literature,” (2001) 59.