I recently received a question from a reader who agreed to let me share the question and my response. Here we go:
I am 42 and had our 5th child almost a year ago. Previous to that pregnancy, I had cleaned up my eating and dropped to 120 lbs. - my college weight! I never thought I could do it and it was such a victory.
Since then, I have been discouraged day after day because climbing back onto the healthy eating wagon is turning out to be so hard for me. I know what I need to do because I've done it before. Yet, I keep choosing to eat junk.
... You credit the Sacraments to your weight loss. PLEASE elaborate on that if you have the time.
About the Sacraments and weight loss. It's funny, I don't think I've ever confessed the "sin of gluttony." I consider myself to suffer from an eating disorder, and so I was never really aware that I was being gluttonous for a very long time. If one is not aware that one is doing something wrong, one doesn't incur guilt or require confession. And guilt is mitigated in the presence of compulsions or even strong habit. I'm positive my sin [of gluttony] was venial, if there was indeed any sin at all.
After I realized that my behavior was, objectively, gluttonous, and became convinced that I had to change, I asked Jesus for help in the Eucharist, and received that help. Specifically, I asked Him to remove my disordered attachment to all food except Him. I don't think it's entirely removed, but I am much less disordered than I was before!
I have never been "convicted" (as the Protestants say) that I was committing a sin in most incidences of overeating. It has been more a case of trying to develop the virtue of temperance in myself. As such, it's entirely appropriate that I got that strength through the Real Presence... as Food.
Also, one has to eat every day, and it's not helpful to work hard at trying to draw the line [between sinful gluttony and garden-variety overeating]. Eating ten gumdrops is okay, but the eleventh is a sin? Is it only a sin because I'm overweight? Does a normal person need to confess every time she eats a double helping of ice cream and cake at someone's birthday party? Thinking that way is, I'm convinced, harmful to me.
What I did bring to the confessional was my backsliding into bulimia.
Whereas I need to eat every day, and it's difficult to decide when moderate eating crosses into immoderate eating; I don't need anyone to tell me that it is immoderate to make myself throw up. It harms my health (I have damaged my larynx) directly, in a way that eating a bag of chips doesn't.
What's more, I was very aware of my free choice in the matter. I would feel that I had eaten too much. I would see before me two paths:
(1) I could remember the uncomfortably-full feeling and use it as a lesson to eat less the next time, to stay out of the near occasion of sin-by-purging;
(2) or I could go to the bathroom, stick my finger down my throat, and make the extra food go away, thus reinforcing the habit and allowing myself an easy way out that would even promise I could overeat in the future, again and again and again.
Sometimes I chose #2. And that is what I brought to confession. And for a long time after each confession, I believe I had the grace to not be tempted to purge. (It wore off eventually. I have backslid and reconfessed this sin numerous times in my life. But not constantly. I can tell I am receiving real help in the confessional with this temptation.)
It's not a problem for me right now, I should add. But I don't think I'll ever be completely safe from it.