Ask Father: Is being fat a sin?

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My best friend recently became interested in health and fitness and has been bugging me to get involved in her various fitness programs. I could stand to lose a few pounds, but I don’t like the pressure she puts on me to join her. The last time we spoke, she told me it’s a moral issue and I have a duty to take better care of my body. I’ve never heard that before, and it made me wonder if she is right. Is it a sin to be fat?— DENISE IN MARYLAND

Dear Denise:

If being fat were a sin, we would have to take at least two saints off the list. St. Thomas Aquinas was so corpulent that they had to cut a space for him to fit at his desk in the lecture hall in Paris where he taught. If you see any photos of St. John XXIII, you will notice that he is really fat. So, no, it isn’t automatically a sin to be fat. Sometimes it’s a matter of genes or metabolism. I know some thin folks who eat much more than some heavier people I know. We cannot be responsible for that.

But there still exists the capital sin of gluttony. It’s a hard one to detect because we all need to eat. Gluttony comes in two forms. The first is overeating, indulging, or binging. When someone becomes sick from eating too much, that is a sure sign of gluttony. The second form involves the kind of food one chooses: rich, savory foods, or an abundance of sweets. When someone always eats at the most exclusive restaurants and orders the creamiest deserts, he or she may be committing the sin of gluttony.

The other capital sin that can creep up here is pride. If I am too preoccupied with my appearance or too concerned about what others may say about my appearance, that may be a sin of pride. I’m caring for my body — but for the wrong reasons.

As always, we need to find the right balance. Yes, I may need to lose a few pounds, but I shouldn’t become anorexic. Perhaps I do eat too much, or perhaps I eat the wrong things, and I’m gaining weight. I need to modify my eating habits in an intelligent way. Sometimes it’s prudent to seek the advice of your primary care physician. Mine gently reminds me: “Smaller portions, Father!”

However (and here your friend has a point), we are responsible for taking good care of our bodies. They are a gift from God and hold the precious Holy Spirit received at baptism and confirmation. Our bodies also hold the precious gift of the Eucharist when we receive Communion. In that sense it is a moral, even a religious issue. We have a duty to care for our bodies. That doesn’t mean we should pamper our bodies or be overly preoccupied with health issues. It does mean that we need to be careful about how we use or abuse the body God has given us. After all, it’s with our bodies that we know, love, and honor him while we are still on this side of heaven.

Feeling pressured by your friend is another matter altogether. I presume she is doing this because she cares for you and wants you to experience the same benefits she is experiencing from this exercise program. In that sense, you should be grateful you have a friend who cares for you and trusts your friendship enough to make what she might suspect would be an unwelcome suggestion. However, no one has the right to impose his or her will on another, even for the highest of motives. If you decide to follow her advice, you should do it on your own.

I hope these remarks will be helpful. I will hold you and your friend in prayer so this issue can be resolved without disturbing your friendship.

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