Christian Diets Mix Health with Holy Spirit

By Tamie Ross

(UMCom) -- From fellowships to fund-raisers to funeral meals, food is a welcome guest at many church group functions.

A billion-dollar diet industry eagerly invites us to shed excess pounds with programs such as Atkins, The South Beach Diet and WeightWatchers. But a growing number of Christians are searching for an approach that gives them results on the scale and in their spiritual lives, too.

There are many options. First Place and The Hallelujah Diet are among them. And Bible-based diet books such as The Weigh Down Diet, What Would Jesus Eat?, Slim for Him and More of Jesus, Less of Me are gaining popularity both at Christian and secular bookstores.

When you’re in a Christ-centered weight loss program, you’re praying to overcome these issues, and a group is supporting you. The Scriptures you read help you focus and stay on track. You have God’s help, you have other Christians to help you.
Diane Maier, a member of Ingomar United Methodist Church in Pittsburgh, looked to a church support group in 2002 for help with losing 10 stubborn pounds. She credits the group’s encouragement and her own personal prayer and Bible study to a total weight loss of 26 pounds. 

“A lot of things in life that we might think of as physical have a spiritual dimension to them,” Maier says. “When you’re in a Christ-centered weight loss program, you’re praying to overcome these issues, and a group is supporting you. The Scriptures you read help you focus and stay on track. You have God’s help, you have other Christians to help you.”

Christian diets and diet books debuted in the mid-1950s. In recent years, their popularity has boomed as Americans have looked deeper for the cause of the nation’s growing obesity problem.

Some say it’s a mistake to mix science and religion where matters of weight and health are concerned. Others, like Carol Showalter, say it’s natural for Christians to take their troubles, whether it’s overeating or something else, to God. She says it makes sense for Christians to look to their spiritual families, their faith and their God for help with an eating problem.

There’s a tendency for Christians to think, ‘If I was really spiritual enough, or if I really loved God enough, I’d be thin.’
A nondenominational minister’s wife in Cape Cod, Mass., Showalter was participating in a WeightWatchers meeting in an upstairs classroom of the couple’s church while a Bible study took place on the ground floor. She thought about how she would rather be in the Bible study when she was struck by the thought of using Scripture as the basis of a weight loss plan.

Her book, 3D: Diet, Discipline and Discipleship, paved the way for other Christian diet programs in the early 1970s. The book has sold more than 500,000 copies and has evolved into a 12-week program – and often, a lifestyle – for thousands across the United States. Group leaders help motivate dieters, provide accountability and lead Scripture memorization and devotional periods as key parts of the program.

“Discipline is the key component for weight loss, and we learn that specifically in the book of Hebrews,” Showalter says. “One of the first Scriptures was (Hebrews 12:11) ‘All discipline for the moment is painful.’ I think that was the first effort, recognizing discipline was painful, but not always negative. We have to turn our minds around where food is concerned, many times.”

Christians must retrain their thinking when it comes to weight loss, she says.

We told people at church, ‘If it looks like there’s a whole person missing at our church, that’s because there is, literally, a whole person’s weight gone from our church body.’

“There’s a tendency for Christians to think, ‘If I was really spiritual enough, or if I really loved God enough, I’d be thin.’ The emphasis there is wrong,” she says. “Spirituality isn’t tied with success. Spirituality is like reality – facing my needs, facing my need for Jesus. Whether I lose the weight or become successful on the scale, it’s a matter of concentrating on Jesus and caring about my body.”

Maier, who tried both the 3D and First Place regimens, says it was a thrill to report her diet group of 15 together lost 180 pounds in its first year.

“We told people at church, ‘If it looks like there’s a whole person missing at our church, that’s because there is, literally, a whole person’s weight gone from our church body,’” she says.

Tamie Ross is a freelance journalist based in Dallas.

This feature was developed by UMC.org, the official online ministry of the United Methodist Church.



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