Carol’s Challenging Question – Is Obesity A Sin?

Carol says: I’ve referred to Easter in this month’s spiritual question, particularly as we’re bombarded with images and shops full of chocolate eggs, boxes of chocolate, Simnel cakes, hot cross buns and other associated items almost as soon as Christmas has gone. I personally know that wonderful sensation of having melted chocolate in my mouth, especially if it has a cream filling, and I find it exceedingly difficult to stop bingeing on it once I’ve started. I’m the same with liquorice so my answer is just to stop buying it – or eat it very occasionally.

The food shops generally are full of cheap, high-fat and high-sugar products, often placed near the check-outs, and modern lifestyles encourage eating copious amounts of  “fast” junk food, takeaways and ready meals. These, of course, all have their place in moderation but these days many people take their bad food habits to excess and become obese which often affects their physical, mental and emotional well-being. This situation is made far worse if it’s also linked with other bad habits such as smoking, excess drinking and drug-taking.

I know the desire to over-eat, in addition to having a sedentary lifestyle, is a complex area and involves a multitude of conflicting tensions including lifestyle choices and physiological/ psychological factors. The term “comfort eating” is a cover-all for a wide range of emotional and other problems. I also know that some people have a blood condition which doesn’t tell the body when it’s full up so they massively over-eat as a matter of course.            

Thanks Karolina

Obesity is now a major public health problem, both internationally and in the UK. Being over-weight or obese is associated with an increased risk of several common diseases including diabetes, cardiovascular problems, some cancers, strokes and a wide range of other medical conditions which, while may not be life-threatening on their own, but can have a seriously detrimental effect on their quality of life.

The cost of obesity is another important factor to be considered. It is estimated that the UK costs tied to loss of productivity and increased social care are up to £7.5 billion, while the estimated NHS spend on obesity-related diseases is £6.5 billion.

I know it’s up to individuals how they live their lives and very few of us would want to live in a militaristic or “nanny” state. However, I understand there is a religious aspect to obesity and it is even considered a sin if the excessive desire for food – or chocolate! – causes it to be withheld from the needy.  Apparently, some denominations even consider gluttony to be one of the seven deadly sins! 

Graham – have you ever come across anything in the bible which covers this area? Has God or Jesus ever proclaimed anything about such excesses? What would you think God’s take on modern obesity and sedentary lifestyles would be?

Rev Graham replies:

Thank you, Carol, for that very interesting question that can affect each one of us at certain times in our lives! It is said that during Christmas there are lots of presents and singing. As you have pointed out during Easter time there is an increase in feasting and eating chocolate! Any classification of being obese can be associated to that of being a glutton. In defining what it is to be obese and gluttonous we may add extravagance, self-indulgence, slothful, lazy, lack of self-discipline, overeating, overweight and being excessive. Recommendations to control excessive eating and drinking may be helped by diets and exercise. In the bible there are around twenty six references to being overweight.

Who is your God?

In Philippians 3:19 the apostle Paul offers a reason why people lack love and devotion to God because “their god is their stomach/belly”. Thomas Aquinas (ST11-11:148) compares gluttony to the general virtue of abstinence, each virtue will produce a different response and outcome. During this time of Lent that leads up to Easter, it is an opportunity for reflection and self-control that enables us to focus more on the things of the god/God we serve that will require a measure of mortification and self-denial.

Thanks Karolina

It is said that in the day’s proceeding the return of Christ as recorded in 2 Timothy 3: 1-4  “people will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God”. Gluttonous eating is a result of giving-in to what the stomach desires, and often for emotional satisfaction.

Body image

God has made each one of us uniquely and he loves how special we are and so we should not have to be too concerned about a certain type of body image that can make us anxious. Society should resist setting standards based upon worldly, and almost always ungodly, values and desires. People are born in all shapes and weights and then they grow into an endless variety of sizes and shapes. It is important to remember that God looks upon the condition of a person’s heart which is not determined by anybody’s shape and weight. So being overweight, or underweight, is not a sin.

The intake of food and none intoxicating drinks are vital to maintaining a healthy life that has quality and length. In early church tradition the act of gluttony and its similarity here to obesity, has been included in a list of seven deadly sins and behaviours that have been proclaimed as vices or cardinal sins. The other six vices include: wrath, greed, sloth (laziness), pride, lust, and envy. Many people believe that the list of such deadly sins is found in the Bible which is not the case. We do find however in Proverbs 6 a list of seven sins that God hates and gluttony is not included in it!

Body Discipline

Interestingly we find that Jesus was accused of being a glutton and a drunkard because he was seen as “eating and drinking” with sinners and tax collectors which contrasted sharply with the simple lifestyle of John the Baptist as recorded in Luke 7:33 -35 and Matthew 11: 18-19. Jesus spoke about the parable of a rich man who feasted sumptuously every day and that contrasted to the plight of the poor man Lazarus who lay at the gate wanting to be fed with what fell from the rich man’s table (Luke 16: 19-31).

When our focus in life is on food and drink it can take us away from any capacity to be compassionate and loving to God and our families, friends and neighbours. One of the many reasons why we may become obese is because of our indiscipline in regards to the consumption of food.

However that might not be totally the case because other factors come into play as to what body styles we are given and how or not we are able to mould and look after our bodies. Being overweight is not an outright sin but having a gluttonous attitude which emphasises an inordinate pursuit of food and drink that may encourage other sins such as theft and injustice may be considered a sin!

Thanks Marios

Care for our Bodies

Paul exhorts us in Romans 12:1 to offer our bodies to God as a living and holy sacrifice as a pure act of worship. Paul continues in 1 Corinthians 6:19-20  referring to our bodies as a temple of the Holy Spirit, who lives in us and has been given to us by God. God has made each one of us special and unique so we do not have to worry about what type of body image we have as God loves us unconditionally so every body shape and weight is beautiful in its own way.

To be over indulgent in what we eat and drink can result in becoming obese and it is clearly warned against in the Bible for Proverbs 23:21 says that if we are controlled by an excessive appetite then we should, not literally, “put a knife to your throat if you are given to gluttony” (Proverbs 23:2).

Contentment and acceptance 

In a world where we are constantly being fed on a diet of discontent it can in itself cause us to over eat as a way of alleviating feelings of being stressed and unhappy. If we find ourselves self-focused and controlled it can feel like a long and difficult task to apply greater self-disciple. Yet we can be helped as we apply the fruits of the spirit to our own thinking and lifestyle as found in Galatians 5:22-23 “love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control”.

Thanks Shvets production

As Christians, we know that our emotional needs can only be fully satisfied by Jesus so knowing deep comfort, peace and rest in Him. Sadly, food and drink can be used to obtain a conditional contentment which is fleeting and never lasts and fully satisfies. We should always try to bring under control every thought and behaviour so as to be God-honouring as found in 1 Corinthians 10:31 It is so easy to judge and condemn each person’s actions and reactions but it is far better to show love and compassion to those who are struggling with excessive eating and drinking.

So Carol it is important to remind ourselves that many faithful Christians struggle with weight issues and we need to be encouraged and exhorted by the words of the Apostle Peter to have more self-control where needed. It is important to be a friend to those who struggle and are excessively overweight or underweight? We should never use labels that discourage and hurt them rather we should be an encourager and slow to label any outward appearance as an inward sin and be mindful that being overweight is not necessarily a result of gluttony. It is only God who truly knows what struggles each one of us carry within our hearts and He is always ready and quick to help each one of us as we turn to Him for help and strength. 

Reference Thanks to James F Childress (p 249 ‘A new dictionary of Christian Ethics)

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2 thoughts on “Carol’s Challenging Question – Is Obesity A Sin?

  1. This is a helpful and informative article that addresses the issue of obesity and gluttony from a religious perspective. It provides insights on how to care for our bodies while still enjoying the intake of food and none intoxicating drinks within moderation. It also emphasizes the importance of showing compassion and encouragement to those struggling with excessive eating and drinking.
    founder of balance thy life


    • Thank you so much for your positive feedback about the article on our Christian website. Like many things in life, sometimes it is hard to get the right balance, especially when we are under pressure, and many people rely on excessive food and alcohol to get them through. The shops are full of junk food which, let’s face it, often looks very attractive, especially cakes oozing with cream! It is very difficult to use willpower in a moment of weakness and it is too easy to make excuses for ourselves to indulge in just one more piece of chocolate or another glass of wine. From a Christian perspective, we need to consider what people are going through which makes them want to eat or drink to excess – it is often due to numerous problems or the pace of life which can make them feel inadequate. Encouragement is the best medicine while trying to alter eating/drinking habits and addressing the root of the addiction. People can feel overwhelmed by the uphill struggle in combatting such addictions but, by taking baby steps and not expecting too much of ourselves, it can be a successful long-term plan. These days, everyone wants a “quick fix” and to look like the famous celebrities and social media influencers – hence the growth in stomach stapling and gastric band surgery – but these do not take the problems away which are causing the addictions in the first place. Make realistic goals, be patient, address the problems and take a long-term view rather than expecting overnight miracles. Speak to a good friend, counsellor or a member of the church community who may all offer support and encouragement. And don’t beat yourself up if you have a slip-up – we’re all human, we all make mistakes, and God forgives us if we ask Him to.


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