Q: #463. Is being overweight / fat a sin?
By: Steve Shirley
A: Over the years, I have written on hundreds of topics, and I am not sure why it has taken me so long to get to this one. I think part of the reason is that this is a subject that not many people want to talk about. Statistics by the CDC say that approximately 70% of all Americans are overweight, and over one-third are obese. Therefore, if one preaches that being overweight is sin, that makes a LOT of people sinners. There is a lot of passion on both sides of this issue. As I searched the internet in preparation for this study, I found more debate on this topic than perhaps any I have ever encountered (including baptism, predestination, drinking). As one might expect, most comes from the side that being overweight is not a sin. So, here we go, with as much sensitivity as I can muster.
First, let me begin with this: I am overweight. I am not obese, but to be at my ideal weight, I should lose around 30 lbs. I also want to add that around 2 years ago (2016) I was warned by my doctor that I was right on the borderline for diabetes, and if I didn't cut my sugar and carbs intake, I might need to start taking insulin. I took action on this warning immediately, and cut almost all sugar, many carb foods completely, and other carbs in half (i.e. half a hamburger bun). This resulted in losing about 18 lbs. While I gained a few back, when I went back to the doctor the following year, I was no longer on the edge of diabetes. I am not a huge sugar eater, but the carbs were tough. I REALLY miss pizza and pasta! I haven't cut them completely, but I rarely eat them now. It is a health issue. And, this is the case for most people who have weight problems. It is first and foremost a health issue.
Secondly, I need to say this: I know that there are good reasons why some people who are overweight struggle to lose weight. Genetics and metabolism can play a part. Certain medicines, hormone imbalances, aging, thyroid disorder, and a few other things can cause weight gain. Weight gain can happen after one stops smoking, or as a result of being pregnant. Socioeconomic factors can play a role, with the poor being more likely to be overweight because they eat the wrong foods (i.e. cheap McDonald's), and cannot afford to eat properly (eating healthy often costs more). Finally, and sadly, being overweight can be the result of overeating to cope with stress, depression, loneliness, abuse, pain, and despair.
So, now let me address the question at hand: Is being overweight a sin? My answer is, I believe it can be, but it isn't always. Here is what I believe is important to understand. If the Bible calls a certain act a sin, and we commit that act, then we are guilty of sin. God holds us accountable for that. On the other hand, if the Bible does not specifically call something a sin, then we cannot clearly call it a sin. For example, is smoking or getting a tattoo a sin? The Bible doesn't specifically call them a sin, therefore we cannot clearly say they are sinful. However, there are Christian principles that God's children are to obey and live by, and if we don't, I think it is clear that this can be considered sin (i.e. we should not be a stumbling block, we are not to be a part of the things of this world). (You can click on my smoking and tattoo studies to read more on this.)
Now, in speaking about being overweight, the Bible does not call being overweight a "sin." (Only two men are called "fat" and "heavy" in the Bible: Eglon- Judg 3:17 and Eli - 1 Sam 4:18.) However, it does call "gluttony" a sin. I discuss this in my previous study. A good definition for "gluttony" is: "eating (or drinking) excessively beyond what our bodies actually need to live. This excessive eating often manifests itself as a "craving," which the glutton is unable to overcome." It is important to understand that not every glutton is a person who is overweight, however, I believe a majority of overweight people are gluttons. Anyone can be a glutton. A skinny person can be a glutton, but not gain weight. (Some people have metabolisms where they can overeat and just not gain weight.) Therefore, this was the primary reason I separated this study from my previous one. Having said this, IF a person is overweight as a result of gluttony, then that person is guilty of sin.
THIS is the key as to whether an overweight person is in sin or not (in my opinion). If a person is overweight because of factors they CAN control, and they do not attempt to control them, then this is sin. The Bible calls gluttony a sin. If a person is overweight because of gluttony, they are in sin. Gluttony can be controlled. If a person is overweight because they eat junk, and they are able to eat properly, they are in sin. They aren't controlling what they eat. If a person is overweight because they refuse to exercise, they are in sin. Regular exercise is crucial to good health. Do these things apply to you? Be honest. Only you and God truly know. It is not my job to determine if an overweight person is in sin. However, YOU know if you can do more. God knows as well. God knows if a person has limitations that prevent them from losing weight. If there is a valid reason why a person cannot lose weight, He knows, and I do not believe He will count that as sin. However, if they can take steps to control it, and don't, I believe that is sin.
In addition, as mentioned above, being overweight is a health issue. It is linked to a higher rate of diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, and more. IF we can take steps to reduce our weight, and lower the chance of these things occurring, we NEED to take those steps. Here are a few Bible illustrations to keep in mind.
We are told in the Bible that as Christians, our body is God's Temple (1 Cor 6:19-20)(1 Cor 3:16-17) because God actually lives inside us in the form of the Holy Spirit when we are born again. As such, we need to take proper care of God's Temple.
Paul said that the Christian is "a good soldier of Jesus Christ" (2 Tim 2:3-4). Christians are like soldiers engaged in warfare, see: (2 Cor 10:3-4)(Eph 6:10-20)(1 Tim 1:18)(1 Tim 6:12)(2 Tim 4:7). As such, we can compare ourselves to a real life soldier. The soldier must eat right, exercise, and keep his body strong and prepared for battle. If he does not, he cannot be as effective in his job. The same can be said for us as Christians. (It should be noted that the real life soldier cannot serve unless he meets certain body fat standards.)
In (1 Cor 9:24-27), Paul compares himself to a runner competing in a race, and a boxer. In relation to this, he says, "I discipline my body and make it my slave" (NASB). He did this so that he would "not be disqualified for the prize" (NIV). (Also see: 2 Tim 4:7)
We are also told in the Bible to practice self-control (Gal 5:22)(2 Pet 1:5-8)(Titus 2:11-12)(Prov 25:29), and to "take every thought captive" (2 Cor 10:5). Practicing self-control applies to numerous areas of our lives, not just in our eating. We should also consider the opposite of this too. If we are commanded to practice self-control, and we don't, clearly that is sin.
Keeping these things in mind, taking whatever steps we can to control our weight can result in better health, and help us to serve God more efficiently.
I must conclude with these statistics. When I ran a search for worldwide obesity rates, I found that in Japan, the obesity rate is 3.3% of the population, and in China it is 6.90% (remember the U.S. is over 33%). We often use excuses for why we are overweight. We blame thyroid problems, stress, depression, loneliness, socioeconomics, etc.., and some of these may be valid. However, are we really willing to say that the people of Japan and China have less thyroid problems, stress, depression, loneliness, and socioeconomic problems than us in America? I don't think so.... So, why do they weigh less? Quite simply, they eat less junk than we do! According to the World Health Organization (2-16-18), worldwide obesity has nearly tripled since 1975. Why? The report said that it is primarily due to "higher fat diets" and "less physical activity." This is our main problem, especially in America. Most of us really have no excuse.
So, in closing, what exactly is overweight? Honestly, I believe that almost everyone who is overweight knows they are overweight (there are some exceptions). In fact, I would say that most have probably heard it numerous times in their lives. It is not really necessary for them to be told. Can they do something about it? I believe most can, but ultimately, that is their decision. They are responsible to God, and God holds us accountable for what we can control, not what we can't.
P.S. Quote to remember: I once remember a Christian teacher say something along the lines of: "We want to have victory over demons, but we can't get victory over a piece of chocolate pie."