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Food and Drink

Good grief, it’s gluttony!

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 in.

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 virtue consists.”

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 — smoking.

Defying all things nouvelle 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 sidecar.

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 crème fraiche , one of them would say. But quite frankly what would be the point?

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 graves.

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