The Fast Path to Temperance

Next up in our review of the 7 heavenly virtues and their opposing deadly sins; overcoming the vice of gluttony with the virtue of temperance.

Gluttony is a deadly sin … literally.  The number one killer in our society is heart disease, mainly caused by obesity, which is primarily the result of eating too much (gluttony) and moving too little (sloth).  We’ll tackle sloth next week, I don’t have the energy for it today … ha.

Gluttony is an inordinate desire to consume more than what one requires.  Overeating, insatiability, piggishness, voraciousness. Drinking to excess.

The latest statistics show that over 70 percent of adults and 35 percent of children in America are overweight or obese.  Those numbers have each risen 5 percentage points in the last two years … ugh!  The statistics related to alcoholism and drug addiction continue to deteriorate rapidly as well.

I could go on about all the problems we have related to gluttony, but I likely wouldn’t be telling you anything you don’t already know.  Let’s focus on the solution instead … Temperance.

Temperance is moderation or self-restraint, especially in eating and drinking.  Self-control, self-discipline, self-denial, abstinence, restraint, moderation.

The virtue of temperance is focused on meeting our needs.  In contrast, the vice of gluttony is consumed with fulfilling our wants.  Meeting our basic need for food and drink is temperance.  Anything beyond our basic need is want, and can therefore be considered gluttony.

Have you ever heard the saying, “You sure are a glutton for punishment?”  Gluttony does indeed carries its own punishment. We cause our own health problems by our gluttonous behavior.  Then why do we do it?  Because temperance is hard.  But why?  Because we have to control our appetites.  Wait, that shouldn’t be hard.  We should be in total control of ourselves, right?  Our own behavior is the only thing we really have control over.  Or do we?  Apparently not!

Why is it so difficult to control our cravings?  I think part of it has to do with our definition of needs and wants.  There seems to be confusion about the distinction between the two.  The line between them has been blurred by our expectations.  When we finally get something we want, it somehow magically transforms itself into a need from that point forward, resulting in a never ending “needs” escalation.

For instance, I’m fascinated by the way people describe their needs on those home buying shows on HGTV.  All we really need in a home is the structure; a solid foundation, walls, and a roof over our head.  Well, electricity and plumbing are nice too.  The rest is all want.  But the prospective home buyers always use the word “need” instead of want in describing all that they are looking for in a home.  Do we really need a modern open concept home with an infinity pool and an ocean view?

For purposes of this discussion I propose the following as our working definitions of need and want:

Need – That which is required, necessary, essential … Temperance.

Want – Everything else.  Desires, cravings, excess … Gluttony.

When I catch myself saying that I need something that I actually just want, I remind myself of the movie “The Jerk.”  Specifically the scene where Navin Johnson (played by Steve Martin) is shuffling out of his mansion picking up ridiculous things he says he needs.  If you need or want a 3-minute laugh, check out this scene …

So what do we truly need to eat and drink?  The simple answer is, enough to survive.  I could go into daily calorie and water needs, or bore you with a discussion of vitamins and minerals.  But since our goal is to inspire and motivate ourselves to become more temperate, let’s try something different.  I find that making myself feel guilty about something is a good way to change my behavior.  So lets try this…

I reviewed our last grocery store receipt and labeled each item as either a need or a want.  The result was roughly 30 percent need and 70 percent want.  I noticed that the needs corresponded with the things Melanie picked out, and the wants were primarily mine.  Oops!

We shop weekly and the amount is usually about the same, $100.  I wondered how much we spend on wants in a year, so I multiplied $100 x 52 weeks x 70%.  The result, $3,640.  Wow, that’s a lot of want, or let’s just call it waste to add to the shame.

Then I wondered how many meals could have been provided to the hungry with our annual wasted dollars?  The Food Bank of Iowa states that they can provide 4 meals for every dollar contributed to them.   4 x $3,640 = 14,560 meals.  Okay now I feel really guilty.  I’m a horrible person!  Makes ya think, doesn’t it?!

Here is what I am going to do to become more temperate.  I’m going to Fast.  The fast way to becoming more temperate is to Fast.  A fast is to abstain entirely from or limit food.  I’m going to attempt to limit my food and drink intake to my needs, not my wants.

There are many ways to fast.  I’m no expert.  I think of it as denying myself in some way.  In this case, from food I want but don’t really need.  I thought about starting small, with one food type and then adding others over time.  But I know that won’t work for me.  I’ve tried it before.  I end up substituting one bad food for another and defeat the purpose.  The cold turkey approach works much better for me.  You are probably more disciplined.

Know thyself and choose your own approach.  Fast from one thing for a day, week, year, forever.  Fast between meals.  Fast from a meal each day for a week.  Fast entirely for a day.  Or try intermittent fasting, like not eating for 16 consecutive hours each day.  Do whatever works to help you become more temperate.

To deny myself my wants, I simply won’t buy them.  If I don’t have the wants in the house I can’t eat them.  Brilliant!  Maybe we can reduce our grocery bill in half.  We’ll donate it to a food bank resulting in providing over 10,000 meals annually to the hungry in Iowa.  Interesting, by becoming more temperate we are also becoming more charitable.  Growing virtue in one area tends to grow it in others as well…Nice!

I just realized that the best way for me to succeed in my temperance quest is to not go to the grocery store at all.  Melanie can do all the shopping since she only buys our needs anyway.  Another brilliant strategy.  Think she’ll buy it?  No way!

Here’s the challenge for the week; Fast from one of your food wants.  Pick just one.  One you know you shouldn’t eat anyway.  You can do it!

To Your Health, Scott


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