Well … what do you think? Overeating is a sin? Or perhaps ‘sin’ is too strong a word?
Our culture definitely tends to depict overeating as sin. Witness it’s focus on young, lean body images all over social media.
And how the weight loss industry tries to make you feel guilty if you don’t have the “accepted” body type. But is overeating a sin?
- Can overeating be ‘evil’, be a “sin”, when you only hurt yourself, and oftentimes unintentionally?
- Is it a sin to lose self control temporarily? Or is the nature of self control different from our default assumptions?
- What is evil anyhow?
- And what is sin?
In this short article I’d like to briefly explore these questions with you from a Buddhist perspective.
For starters, I believe Buddha would say ‘no, overeating is most definitely not a sin’.
To explore this topic let’s look at the nature of sin and at overeating:
- What does the Buddha say about sin?
- What does the Bible say about overeating?
- How to forgive yourself for overeating and learn
What Does The Buddha Say About Sin?
Generally speaking, in Buddhist philosophy there are no sins.
Instead of sins Buddhists tend to see flaws, or mistakes.
Consider Zen Master Dogen, who founded Japan’s most famous Zen temple, Eihei gi about 700 years ago.
After reaching enlightenment, Zen Master Dogen lay dying on his deathbed.
He reflected back upon his life and supposedly uttered with a smile:
“Life is one continuous mistake”.
Mistakes, yes, mistakes are the teachers of life. Mistakes are The Great Universe saying gently to us, ‘Nope, good try. Try again a little bit differently.’
This is known as dharma, your ‘weaving’, so to speak. Like a certain pattern of clothing, you have a type of ‘life’ fabric but you can sew new life fabric over time.
Mistakes, in the Buddhist philosophy, are how you learn to sew.
Mistakes are not ‘sins’.
What Does The Bible Say About Overeating?
To be honest, I don’t have much experience with The Bible.
My childhood roots are essentially atheist or agnostic. I also lived for 13 months as a Zen Buddhist monk in the mountains.
So for this blog I researched a few Christian food blogs to learn what the Bible says about overeating.
It seems there is a clear consensus on various Christian blogs about overeating and sin.
For example, here’s what Aubrey at Grace Fueled Nutrition writes about The Bible and Overeating:
“There is nowhere in the bible where God calls overeating a sin or where he makes a law specifically about how much food one can eat. There are places where the bible warns against overeating as it may make a person sick (Proverbs 25:16), but nowhere where he calls it an outright sin.“
From my perspective, it seems like these Christian bloggers make the argument:
- The Bible does say ‘gluttony’ is a sin.
- However, gluttony is only mentioned 4 times in the Bible. That’s it!
- The word ‘gluttony’ in ancient Hebrew means ‘to be worthless, vile, to make light of, to be lavish with, to squander’.
Therefore, gluttony is a sin from a holy spirit perspective – but overeating is not necessarily gluttony. Overeating therefore is not a sin.
I really like this perspective! I feel that both Buddhism and Christianity at their core have very similar messages about this.
However, I must admit I get confused by some biblical quotes.
For example, Proverbs 23:2 says ‘put a knife to your throat if you are a person of great appetite’.
Or Philippians 3:19 says ‘Their destiny is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame with minds set on earthly things.”
These quotes from the Bible would seem to indicate you will come to poverty or death if you overeat!
But heck, I’m not a Biblical scholar! I like the idea of Christianity and Buddhism having the same themes deep down …
The Bible And Buddhism Express Similar Messages About Overeating – With Slight Differences
Now, despite my belief Buddhism and Christianity have the same core message, there are slight nuances which I’ll briefly mention.
In my opinion:
- Buddhism leans towards Learning, as in ‘learn from your mistakes’
- Bible leans towards Forgiveness, as in ‘let your mistakes go’
These two concepts – Learning and Forgiveness – are very important!
I believe these two concepts – Learning and Forgiveness – are the spiritual values which make healing from overeating possible.
Learning and Forgiveness intertwine.
- The more you learn the easier forgiveness becomes.
- The more you forgive, the more you become open once again to learn.
Basically, I believe overeating is most definitely NOT a sin, and that you can forgive yourself for overeating and learn from your experience.
How To Forgive Yourself For Overeating and Learn
Instead of focusing on the differences between Buddhism and Christianity, between learning versus forgiveness, let’s focus instead on practical matters.
How do you harness learning and forgiveness, practically speaking?
I believe the key to harnessing the power of learning and forgiveness is a concept called ‘Growth Mindset’.
Carol Dweck, the scientist who originally wrote about Growth Mindset, said the following:
“In a growth mindset, people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work—brains and talent are just the starting point. This view creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment.”
In terms of overeating, a growth mindset means you can change.
Growth mindset means you can learn to be normal with food, although you will need to work hard.
Growth mindset means there’s nothing wrong with you deep down. There’s nothing broken about you.
If you were broken then you wouldn’t be able to stop overeating no matter how hard you worked.
(From a Christian perspective, if you were truly broken then the holy spirit would not be helpful at all.)
In my own personal struggles with food and self-esteem, I deeply know the feeling of being broken at the level of your soul.
It can be hard when you’ve tried so hard so many different times before, to believe that now things will be different.
Why This Time Is Different
If you’re thinking about trying the Eating Enlightenment / Cognitive Behavioral Therapy treatment approach …
This time is different because you aren’t just following arbitrary nutrition or calorie guidelines.
Previously you were following a system of rules. For example:
- The rules of Weight Watchers = Points
- The rules of Keto = low carb, high fat
- The rules of government = previously pyramid, now plate
Of course there are many more approaches — for example, detoxes, cleanses, diets, and other programs — than I could ever list here.
The one thing they all have in common is rules. Somebody tells you what to eat. There’s no thinking for yourself, just blindly following.
Of course this person’s rules might work for themselves, but when you ‘fail’ their rules your only conclusion is that you are a failure for failing.
Right? You never think that their program is broken and impossible to follow forever.
Instead, you blame yourself for being too lazy, unmotivated, and weak to ‘follow’ their rules.
This is why this time is different.
When you increase your psychological awareness around food as in the Eating Enlightenment / Cognitive Behavioral Therapy approach …
And don’t just blindly follow the nutrition or weight loss rules of somebody else …
Growth Mindset becomes possible when you study your mind and think for yourself!
For example, this woman previously followed many different diet eating rules her whole life. And for her whole life she struggled with binge eating.
Yet then she starts journaling and increasing her psychological awareness around food.
- She starts thinking for herself.
- She starts being able to ‘hear’ how her brain is lying to her.
- This awareness then unlocks new ways of thinking
- She starts shifting her eating habits not because I told her so, but because she saw her brain lies and now sees the truth
(And if you are struggling with binge eating I guarantee your brain is lying to you too. But are you still trying to follow the perfect meal plan, or are you actively trying to peer into your own mind?)
Previously, she had never been told to journal her thoughts, emotions, and physical sensations right before eating.
I’m betting this is true for you too, right?
Your diet program just told you to eat X amount of calories, this many macros, or this / that arbitrary rule, right?
Previously your entire focus was on ‘following’ the rules, but never was there any emphasis on psychological, emotional or mental awareness around food. Right?
But now, if you undertake the Eating Enlightenment / Cognitive Behavioral Therapy approach, you’ll be instructed to study your mind.
As part of this, I am telling you to journal right before you eat because once you see the patterns of your brain, you can shift these patterns.
The woman in question is now free of binge eating. This is why Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is considered a first line treatment option for binge eating.
- CBT works
- It’s simple
- CBT unlocks the Growth Mindset!
Overeating is most definitely not a sin.
Overeating in Buddhist philosophy is like a mistake. And mistakes ultimately are your best teachers.
So stop beating yourself up for eating too much or not following the rules perfectly.
Instead focus on what you can learn and do differently next time.
If you feel blocked in learning, then most likely you could do with a dash of forgiveness too!
Finally, for more info on developing a Growth Mindset, please see Carol’s TED talk down below!