Catholic Candle note: In a past article, we saw that gluttony is a slavery that must be conquered at the beginning of the spiritual life and, until we conquer it, we cannot make spiritual progress.
See the explanation of this fact in the article at this link: ../faith/we-remain-at-the-beginning-of-the-spiritual-life-until-we-conquer-gluttony.html
We also defined what constitutes gluttony
and recommended strategies to conquer it.
One particular strategy we mentioned to combat gluttony, is to not consume sweets and junk food when you are alone. However, as shown in the article below, that strategy is a wise spiritual discipline for everyone.

We need to do penance and mortify our passions

One of the first truths we learn in the Catholic faith is that God made everyone to serve Him, and to work for no other end than to serve Him. Here is how one children’s catechism states this truth:
Q. Why did God make you?
A. God made me to know Him, to love Him, and to serve Him in this world, and to be happy with Him forever in the next.
Baltimore Catechism #1, question 6.
Here is how Christ teaches us to serve God: “If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me” (Matt. 16:24 (emphasis added)).
Christ enjoins self-denial again in another place: “Unless you shall do penance, you shall all likewise perish” (Luke 13:3).
Therefore, we know we must mortify our passions and do penance.
God is never outdone in generosity and wants our happiness more than we do. Thus, God “repays” one hundredfold those souls who mortify themselves most greatly, out of love for Him. Here is how St. John of the Cross, Mystical Doctor of the Church, teaches this truth:
For each temporal joy which the soul renounces for the love of God, and for the perfection of the Gospel, God will give him a hundred joys even in this life.
St. John of the Cross (the Mystical Doctor of the Catholic Church), Ascent of Mount Carmel, Book III, ch. 20 (emphasis added).

God gave us created things (including food and drink) to help us serve Him, not to hinder us.

God gave us all other things to use only for serving Him and saving our souls. We must only use those things to the extent they help us do that. Here is how St. Ignatius of Loyola explains this truth in the Spiritual Exercises that he received from Our Lady, in the cave of Manresa, Spain, in 1522:
Man is created to praise, reverence, and serve God our Lord, and by this means to save his soul. And the other things on the face of the earth are created for man that they may help him in prosecuting the end for which he is created.
From this it follows that man is to use them as much as they help him on to his end, and ought to rid himself of them so far as they hinder him as to it. For this it is necessary to make ourselves indifferent to all created things in all that is allowed to the choice of our free will and is not prohibited to it; so that, on our part, we want not health rather than sickness, riches rather than poverty, honor rather than dishonor, long rather than short life, and so in all the rest; desiring and choosing only what is most conducive for us to the end for which we are created.
Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola, beginning of the First Week, Principle and Foundation (emphasis added).
The pleasures of eating and drinking are among “all created things”, concerning which St. Ignatius explains that we must “make ourselves indifferent”. Thus, we must deny ourselves the pleasures of food and drink except when it helps us serve God and save our souls. As St. Paul teaches: “whether you eat or drink, or whatsoever else you do, do all to the glory of God.” (1 Cor. 10:31). To achieve this, we must practice making ourselves more indifferent to those pleasures, by mortifying our palates.
Although we obviously should keep all of the Church’s traditional laws of fast and abstinence, we should do more
St. Basil the Great, Doctor of the Church, austerely ate only bread and herbs, along with plain water. Butler’s Lives of the Saints, article: St. Basil the Great.
St. Gregory Nazianzen, Doctor of the Church, austerely ate only bread, herbs, and salt, along with plain water. Butler’s Lives of the Saints, article: St. Gregory Nazianzen.
than that, for three reasons:
In mortifying our palate, it is generally better to perform these penances in private and unknown to others. Our Lord exhorts us that our penances should be discreet (and, ideally, in private). Here are His words:
When you fast, be not as the hypocrites, sad. For they disfigure their faces, that they may appear unto men to fast.
Quoted from St. Matthew’s Gospel, 6:16. St. Thomas Aquinas explains that Our Lord does not forbid fasting in public but that we should not seek attention from others for fasting. Concerning Our Lord’s words: “That thou appear not to men to fast.”, St. Thomas comments:
He does not forbid simply to be seen [when fasting], but to want to be seen; as though He were to say, ‘Do not wish to receive praise or favor from men for fasting.’
St. Thomas Aquinas, Lecture on St. Matthew’s Gospel, ch.6, v.16 (emphasis and bracketed words added).
Thus, we should not do our penances in order to be seen by men, and the best occasions to perform those penances are when we are eating and drinking alone.
Because we must eat and drink for our health and life, we cannot simply abstain from all food and drink. We must both eat for nutrition and also do penance. The ideal foods and drinks to deny ourselves are those which we do not consume for nutrition but rather which we consume merely for pleasure, viz., sweets and junk food. Our doctors typically recommend that we consume less of these anyway.
Therefore, we should deny ourselves these foods and drinks when we are alone and consume only those which our bodies need for nutrition.
Further, eating and drinking for pleasure when we are alone presents a special risk. It is often a sign of a man’s alcohol abuse when he habitually drinks alone because he wants to drink alcohol more often or in larger quantities than his friends and family would condone. He would be embarrassed if they saw him drink so often or so much. Similarly, there is an increased risk of gluttony if a person eats and drinks sweets or junk food alone in order to avoid the embarrassment of people seeing how often or in what large quantities he eats and drinks them. Resolving not to indulge in such pleasures alone helps avoid such risks.

Does the above explanation show that we should never eat and drink sweets and junk food?

Everyone should be as generous with God as possible. It might be God’s will that some persons always abstain from sweets and junk food (although that issue is not the topic of the present article).
But abstaining from sweets and junk food in social situations (i.e., eating and drinking with other people) has three circumstances which are not present when eating alone:
  1. There is a fittingness to consuming sweets and junk food on high feasts (e.g., at Easter banquets)
    It is popularly related that St. Francis of Assisi once declared to his brothers that on Christmas,
    It is my wish that even the walls should eat meat on such a day; and if they cannot, they should be smeared with meat on the outside.
    and on special, important social occasions, (e.g., at wedding banquets). This food lifts our spirits and makes us feel like we are celebrating the important day. This is why the Catholic Church never makes Sundays and High Feasts days of fasting.
  2. It can be an act of charity and friendship to join others in merriment or in their celebrations, as Our Lord describes concerning the man who found his sheep which was lost:
    What man of you that hath a hundred sheep: and if he shall lose one of them, doth he not leave the ninety-nine in the desert, and go after that which was lost, until he find it? And when he hath found it, lay it upon his shoulders, rejoicing: And coming home, call together his friends and neighbors, saying to them: Rejoice with me, because I have found my sheep that was lost?
    Luke 15:4-6.
  3. It is natural and human for friends to enjoy eating a meal together or a treat together. Doing this fosters and expresses their mutual friendship. We understand this natural, social good (sharing a meal) so well that Our Lord uses it to help us understand intimate friendship with Him. Here are His words:
    Behold, I stand at the gate, and knock. If any man shall hear my voice, and open to me the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me.
    Apoc. 3:20.
These social reasons for consuming sweets and junk food are absent when consuming them alone.


We need to do more penance than we do, especially to better mortify our palates and all of our passions. One of the best ways to do this is to abstain from sweets and junk foods when we are alone. Let us do this generously!