Continuing my review of Gary Taubes' book, Why We Get Fat and What to Do About It....
The word "gluttony" implies a reference to the moral aspect of eating behavior. Be aware that Taubes doesn't use the word the way a moral theologian would, and indeed he never carefully defines it. In general, he is using it to mean "eating too much," at the same time that he argues that "eating too much" is a meaningless term. He writes "gluttony" ironically, because in his view it implies exactly what he argues against: that a moral defect causes caloric excess, and that caloric excess causes fattening weight gain. Instead, he shows convincingly that growing fatter and heavier causes the caloric excess, and the "moral defect" is something we read into this afterward by naming the caloric excess "gluttony."
Common usage might name "fattening caloric excess" as gluttony, but moral theologians don't, and it's the theological definition of gluttony that we are concerned with here at bearing blog.
So, for instance, Aquinas says that gluttony is immoderation in eating and drinking. To paraphrase him, a glutton eats too much, too soon, too eagerly, or too expensively; or else, he's too picky. (Because of this, we might usefully subdivide the sin into categories, like "gluttony of pickiness" or "gluttony of expense.") On the one hand, a "picky glutton" or an "expensive glutton" might not eat caloric excess by any measure at all. On the other hand, someone eating caloric excess might not be committing gluttony. Eating large amounts of food because you incorrectly believe you need it, points out Aquinas, can't be gluttony because you don't know better. Eating large amounts of food on medical advice isn't gluttonous either.
Knowing what Taubes has to say about hunger signals, I would synthesize this to assert that, however obese you may be, eating in response to the sensation of hunger is never gluttony (provided charity or some other reason doesn't recommend that you wait); the body sends the hunger signal when the cells need food, and the point of eating is to give your cells food. Taubes tells us that we cannot just tell our cells, "If you need food, use my stored fat," and expect them to comply; in the obese individual, hunger persists because the cells cannot use that energy, and they need to be fed somehow. Let's posit that when your body sends you a real hunger signal, that means your body is ready to use some new food. It might not be an emergency -- healthy people can stay hungry for a few hours without disaster -- but it's a real signal for food and it should generally be morally okay to heed it.
So why does gluttony matter at all?
Let's take the first kind: gluttony of eating too much, past fullness. Not all fat people are gluttons of eating past fullness; many obese people feel hungry despite depriving themselves of food. Some, however, are: I know, I was one of them. I ate past fullness all the time -- and whenever I had to restrain myself, I was constantly assailed by temptations, desires, even dreams of food, and had difficulty concentrating on other things. I sneaked food, I hoarded food, I spent too much money on food, I inconvenienced other people to get the food I wanted. I hardly ever let a craving pass un-fed.
Yes, I almost certainly had a physical defect, skewed insulin reactions or something like it, that aggravated cravings. But habit was part of it, short-term gratification-seeking was part of it, fear of even mild suffering, refusal to control myself was part of it. In short, the same things that are part of concupiscence of all kinds.
Some people, maybe, have just a physical defect that makes their bodies hang on to their fat and sends them hunger signals all the time. Maybe those people cut the carbs, their bodies begins to burn their fat for fuel, their hunger signals fade and (not being gluttons) they don't eat as much because they are less hungry.
Other people, however, may suffer from a physical defect and a moral defect as well -- a habit of giving in, not just to real hunger signals, but to any and every impulse to eat (or to eat rapidly, or to eat pickily), even in the face of concerns for health, frugality, charity, or duty.
So: Let's say that you're a glutton, and you're fat. Cutting carbs as Taubes suggests, replacing them with moderate amounts of protein, plenty of fat, and as many nutrient-dense green vegetables as your body can handle, might fix the hunger problem and reduce cravings. And it even might make you thin -- and yet, you could still be a glutton.
But you'd be a smarter glutton, because with hunger pangs arriving more regularly and with uncontrollable cravings diminished, the remaining impulses ought to be a little more obvious, a little easier to root out. You might have an easier time differentiating between "need to eat" and "want to eat" -- or it might be harder for you to rationalize. You'd still have a lot of spiritual work to do, if you wanted to rid yourself of the sin of gluttony. Physically healthy satiety might, now, tell you when you no longer need to eat -- but it would still be up to your will to decide to stop eating while some pleasure still remains on your plate.
On the other hand, if you struggle with real, spiritual gluttony, you might need to work on that from the beginning, at the same time as you try to implement the restrictions that are supposed to cure you of your physical cravings and hunger. That's because the very essence of what gluttony rebels against is restrictions on food: not just how much, but also what, when, and how. Physical hunger may fade, uncontrollable cravings may subside, but you will likely still be left with a whining, childish voice that says, "But I want." And if you can't learn to say, "But I choose" back, resist the voice of gluttony, then you may never get as far as healing the physical hunger and cravings.
Taubes is probably right that gluttony isn't necessarily causing fat people to stay fat, and that in many fat people it might not be present at all. But what he's left out (again, because it's not his area of expertise) that anybody, thin or fat, healthy or unhealthy, might be a glutton. And gluttons are going to have a tougher time with the food restrictions, because gluttony abhors food restrictions. That's its nature. Aquinas named this the sin of eating "too much, too soon, too eagerly, too expensively, too daintily"; we could easily rename it the gluttony which hates the restrictions of capacity, duty, manners, resources, and charity.
So to sum up: If you are fat, you might suffer from hunger and cravings, and still not be a glutton. But if you are a glutton, Taubes' book does not contain all the answers. Gluttony might stand in the way of implementing the food restrictions that will heal your hunger and cravings; and if you do implement the restrictions, if you do become physically healthy, gluttony might remain long after the hunger and cravings have disappeared.