Is it a sin to be overweight?

Dieting ChoiceIn itself, no. Millennia of evolution have finely honed our bodies to store resources for times of scarcity; the unprecedented abundance that the developed world has enjoyed in the last 100 years has revealed how good our bodies are at doing what they are designed to do. When surrounded by such excess, many people struggle to maintain a healthy weight. Stigmatizing this struggle as sinful gluttony overlooks the complex biological and social forces that literally shape who we are.

But that doesn’t mean that being overweight is a good thing or that as individuals we’re totally off the hook. Our bodies are a gift from God, and one of the best ways to thank God for this gift is to treat ourselves with love and respect. God has given us our bodies so that we can love and serve God and one another. And the healthier we are, the more we are able to put our energies toward that service. It can be hard to put down the remote and get up for a walk. It can be hard to pass up the potato chips and opt for salad instead. But the moral life is hard. And, finite and constrained though we are, we do have the ability and the responsibility to make the best choices we can. As in so many moral issues, virtue is found in moderation. One extreme might be neglecting one’s health and packing on extra weight; another extreme might be obsessing over body image and dedicating an inappropriate amount of time and energy in pursuit of the “perfect” body. This can make an idol of the self and displace what should really be at the center of our lives: God and those we love. Either extreme can turn us away from where God is calling. Living well and healthfully allows us to joyfully serve God and others, and that is where the real focus of our attention should be.