Pushing yourself back from the dining
table with a groan after dinner and heading to the nearest soft place that will
accommodate you horizontally?
If misery loves company, rest assured
that you’re not the only one suffering from the cumulative effect of holiday
overindulgence, that some would call, well, gluttony.
One of the original deadly sins as
proclaimed by the Roman Catholic Church, gluttony’s six brothers — pride,
envy, anger, lust, avarice (or greed) and sloth — also rear their
devilish heads this time of year.
Angry as we line up for Boxing Day
sales, greedily buying yet more stuff — cheap — that didn’t appear
under the tree. Envying those who got all of their loot. Lusting after various
configurations of bootie at festive parties. Lounging around slothfully after
stuffing ourselves with whatever was handy in miserable compensation for being
spurned and recovering from said party… you get the picture.
But it’s gluttony we universally
suffer from in this indulgent neck of the woods, and the one collective “sin”
— more like the state of the nation — we pledge to reverse through
diet! exercise! weight loss! as the holidays wind down and the New Year rings
By comparison, when’s the last time
you heard pals resolving to be less angry or more humble in the coming year?
The problem is, in our constructed
free-market universe that not only tolerates but encourages eternally
insatiable appetites, what do we consider gluttonous?
In medieval times, theologian Thomas
Aquinas described gluttony as “not any desire of eating and drinking, but an
inordinate desire... leaving the order of reason, wherein the good of moral
Aside from the moral virtue part,
that pretty much covers the holidays, and beyond. When I asked one friend if
she was suffering the consequences of gluttony over the holidays, she wittily
replied, no. She and her husband suffer from it all year.
But you’d never know, for they both
exercise — exorcise? — away the consequences.
This is normal. While some cultures
used to celebrate, even revere overeating as a hallmark of status and power, we
carefully corset, if not completely closet by whatever means necessary, any
evidence of same.
The paradox is that while most
Canadians are over-indulging and chronically getting fatter, we don’t like to
see or be seen with fat people, especially fat women. Sure, we’ll all be
gluttons, just make sure you don’t show it.
The closest contemporary culture has
come to idealizing anything nearing gluttony was its fascination, perverse or
otherwise, with the Two Fat Ladies. This gluttony-as-celebrity took the
larger-than-life forms of Clarissa Dickson Wright and Jennifer Paterson, who has
since passed on due, not to overeating, but lung cancer from another vice
Defying all things
and snooty, the Two Fat Ladies captured the imaginative
appetites of Brits and North Americans alike with their contradictory combo: A
posh understanding of British culture and cookery counterpointing the weird
earthiness of their leather jackets, double chins, and signature motorcycle and
But the great attraction was their
love of all things forbidden, and in large quantities. No tablespoons of grated
beet root, topped with buckwheat sprout mousse for these two.
No, their style was mounds of meat,
thick stews, heavy puddings, full cream and lard, lots of lard wherever
possible. You could use low fat
, one of them would say. But quite frankly what would be
And what would be the point of not
loving these two and, vicariously, their love of food?
After an insane hyper-indulgence that
would have the best us groaning and heading for the nearest bed, they would
relax outside the kitchen, glass of wine in one hand, and in Paterson’s case,
post-coital cigarette in the other, and quietly burble about the whole
experience, double chins wagging away.
But this is gluttony light, the
naughty pleasure of much-too-much.
On the more sinister side, Pope
Gregory was always concerned about the evils that would be unleashed when the
unbridled appetite for food would stimulate same for sex. Ergo the hermits and
holy men of the deserts who have tried, since the beginning of time, to come to
terms with the tyranny of their desires. And even that can be gluttony of sorts
— the gluttony of self-denial.
Then there are the very real medical
concerns, besides anorexia and bulimia. Sixty-one per cent of Americans are fat
enough to face medical problems, and if Canadians aren’t there already, they
aren’t far behind.
Cardiovascular diseases, diabetes,
arthritis, sleep and breathing disorders, depression, and cancer — all
are stalking us from the shadows of our gluttonous lifestyle. Surrey Memorial Hospital,
for one, has equipped itself with special pulleys and what-nots to handle
patients weighing up to 1,000 pounds.
Since we’ve become a more secular
society, we’ve pretty much shrugged off the sinful shame surrounding gluttony
(with the exception of prejudice against fat people) along with our more
spiritual selves. So what’s holding us back?
Not much, I regret to inform you.
According to a new branch of research
devoted to understanding human satisfaction, self-discipline and New Year’s
resolutions are about all that draw a line in the desert sand between us and a
doomed gluttonous future.
It seems we are never satisfied. Give
us more, we take it. This was corroborated by a Pennsylvania State University
study that showed as portions increased, people simply ate more. Hunger was not
something related to stomach size and caloric need. It seems to be something
more elastic that can be expanded by merely offering more and bigger portions.
Beware the oval restaurant plate!
The fact is, gluttonous binges aside,
we are simply eating more. Between 1970 and 1994, individual food intake by
Americans increased by an average of 200 calories per day. (Sorry, there
doesn’t seem to be any more recent or Canadian-specific information on this
trend. Even the
Canadian Medical Association Journal
cites this data.)
So like my friend said, never mind
the holidays. We’re chronically feeding our insatiable appetites in ways that
would have Pope Gregory and the hermits rolling over in their skinny little
Happy New Year! Have fun wrestling
your gluttonous demons to the ground — and if you find a gym with a
discount, let me know.
Glenda Bartosh is an award-winning
freelance writer who just tied the knot on a bag of truffles. Contact her at