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Filling and Emptying the Belly

For audio/video of this article, please visit the Veritas Curat YouTube Channel, or scroll to the bottom of this page.

Being Gen X, I have one foot in the 1900s and the other in the 2000s—straddling the line between a century that began with the introduction of electricity to the average household, and the following century, when the average citizen of any western industrialized nation can have any food from anywhere on the planet, any time they want, simply by tapping the screen of their handheld computer.

One would think that a culture that is sufficiently advanced enough to have food easily accessible to all is a good thing; but external advances mean little if the collective psyche of that culture is still driven by evolutionary tendencies that may have once served a purpose, but are now useless, if not outright self-defeating.

If you lived in a cave thousands of years ago, hoarding food and always eating your fill made sense—you were constantly using your body, and food in the future was not always guaranteed.

Yet today, 1/3 of the U.S. population is not simply overweight, but obese.

When I was in grade school, in every class, there was always one pupil, maybe two, that  was deemed overweight.

It was explained to me that one should not make fun of them, because it wasn’t their fault; it was genetic, and making fun of them would be akin to mocking someone for their skin or hair color.

Yet, today, obesity is running rampant in grade schools. The heavier child is no longer the exception, but part of the norm, and the same can be said for adults.

Attend any large gathering of U.S. citizens and one thing will quickly jump out in terms of physical characteristics: bellies.

It is not a question of someone’s genetics leading them to having a heavier build than average. It is a question of someone having a belly they shouldn’t.

Compared to a life from 100 years ago, today we are more sedentary. More foods are loaded with unnecessary sugars, easily accessible, and delivered to your door in 30 minutes or less, guaranteed! Go to any average restaurant and you will see that a “single serving” is served on a hubcap sized plate.

It is easy to quickly turn to excuses:

  • I have to eat prepared meals because I work long hours
  • I have to eat fast-food because it is cheaper
  • I don’t have time or energy for exercise

Even though valid, they are still excuses, and won’t lead to the life the Stoics promoted – a good one.

Food is fuel. We need to eat. That is what nature dictates. But is the diet you subsist on merely driven by what William Irvine refers to as an evolutionary autopilot, leading to eating things you shouldn’t, and in amounts that are not necessary? Or, is it guided by the only thing that can lead to the highest good? Reason.

This is not being stated out of judgment, but of concern, for others, and from personal experience.

At one point, I weighed in at 257lbs. But, over a couple of years, I lost close to fifty.

I didn’t join a health club or practice any diet that was currently being hyped; no surgery was necessary, no pills were taken.

I simply started eating, well…simply.

Each meal? A little protein, some fruit, and lots of vegetables. Breads and pastas are still eaten on occasion, but viewed on the same level as ice cream or cake.

When I have to eat on the go?

I have realized that just because I am individually served enough food to grant sustenance to a family of four doesn’t mean I have to eat it all.

On top of that, a half-hour walk, four or five days a week, greatly helped diminish the circumference of my waistline. (To paraphrase a wiser fellow than myself, “Humans did not evolve to sit. They evolved to go.”)

And as the ancient Roman Stoic Musonius Rufus put forth:

Socrates said that many men live to eat, but that he ate to live.

The reverse is true as well: If you find yourself on the other end of the spectrum, where all meals must be macro-biotic, non-GMO, organic, vegan, blue-green algae based dishes, probability dictates you spend too much of life focused on food, detracting from the time developing your wisdom and meeting social obligations.

You don’t want to eat so poorly it leads to ill health, yet conversely, don’t think you are so special that your meals must be molecularly perfect.

Protein. Fruit. Vegetables. Walk every day.

It’s not about looking good; it is about having a low resting heart rate, low cholesterol, and a strong heart. You owe it to your loved ones, your community, and yourself, to be in good health.

Acta Non Verba: Find pictures of your parents, grandparents, and even great-grandparents from when they were your age.

If you are the same size, probability dictates genetics are playing a major role. Nature’s beauty manifests in myriad ways, and you are one of them. Never beat yourself up over unrealistic body types constantly thrust into our faces by Hollywood and Madison Avenue.

However, if members of your family tree all looked fit enough to run a 10K without breaking a sweat when they were your age, yet your waistline is ever expanding and you are winded after climbing one flight of stairs, don’t blame genetics; don’t blame work; don’t blame anyone or anything; don’t be a victim. Take action. Now.

Ab Aeterno

The person who eats more than he should makes a mistake. So does the person who eats in a hurry, the person who is enthralled by gourmet food, the person who favors sweets over nutritious foods, and the person who does not share his food equally with his fellow diners. – Musonius Rufus

Care more about your mind than your body. – Epictetus

Carry out your animal functions incidentally. – Epictetus

Don’t let the reasonable guide at the core of your being be swayed by the unconscious movements of the flesh, whether violent or gentle… – Marcus Aurelius

The purpose of eating and drinking for me shall be to satisfy the desires of Nature, not to fill and empty my belly. – Seneca

There is nothing honorable in the stain that disfigures those who surrender themselves to the stomach. – Seneca

How wretched they are, those men whose appetite is only stirred at the site of expensive food! – Seneca

Stephen Sumner is a writer with over three decades experience studying what it means to have a good life. He has a BS in Human Development and Family Studies from Cornell University. His favorite pastimes include reading, fountain pens, and growing insanely hot peppers. Click here to follow him on Twitter.

Original, non-meme image from Jonathan Pielmayer via

Categories: Character

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Stephen Sumner

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