Faith-based weight-loss programs are a rapidly growing branch of the diet industry, some of which -- Bod4God, Weigh Down, and First Place -- were featured in The Chicago Tribune a few days ago.
All these programs incorporate Bible reading, prayer sessions, Scripture memorization, and a commitment to approach food and hunger from Christian-based teachings to traditional weight loss and management strategies.
Advocates and members credit these programs with helping them differentiate between physical and spiritual hunger, replace temporary culinary pleasures with God's word, and finally shed unwanted pounds that refused to disappear with a variety of popular diets.
Many experts -- not affiliated with these programs' religions -- give credit to them for successfully instilling ideas of portion control, hunger awareness, and balanced lifestyles to groups of people who had a hard time grasping these concepts with other programs.
These are certainly no "touch and go" plans.
This, for instance, is what First Place's new members agree to upon joining:
"ATTEND a meeting each week.
ENCOURAGE one other person in your class weekly.
READ two chapters in the Bible daily.
MEMORIZE one Bible verse weekly.
Complete a weekly BIBLE STUDY, which takes about 15 minutes a day.
Follow the First Place LIVE-IT FOOD PLAN.
Keep a First Place COMMITMENT RECORD or food diary.
EXERCISE a minimum of three times a week."
Weigh Down, meanwhile, describes their program in this manner:
"From the day you begin a Weigh Down seminar, you will never again count a single calorie or fat gram, you will never again examine the contents list on a box, you will never again consult a food-exchange list or menu planning card, you will never again do your shopping in the dietetic food aisle of the grocery store, and you will never again step onto a treadmill to work off the candy bar you ate."
Unlike other faith-based programs, they do not advocate a largely vegetarian diet heavy on beans, legumes, and whole grains, instead explaining:
"God did not "accidentally" leave the Basic Four food groups out of the Bible! He created the wonderful flavors of blue cheese dressing, pepperoni pizza, and chocolate brownies. He wants us to enjoy them - within His boundaries of what is healthy for our bodies. The body is the Temple of God, and we must begin treating it as such."
Some health professionals have a more cautious approach to these plans, initially citing a certain degree of inappropriateness they feel accompanies charging for a service on behalf of a religious figure.
Issues of self-esteem and responsibility are also touted as potentially problematic.
Weigh Down, for instance, firmly believes that eating beyond your level of hunger is a sin.
This, some think, adds an extra layer of guilt to emotional binge eating, which is already enveloped in a range of negative emotions and, often times, self-loathing.
Weigh Down has also been criticized -- even by former members -- for not giving any importance to physical activity, citing it as unnecessary and instead claiming that cutting down on portions and forming a stronger relationship with God are the only two things necessary for successful weight loss.
Per Weigh Down's website:
"In Weigh Down, the only exercise God requires is surrendering your will to His perfect system of hunger and fullness."
Weigh Down's overall philosophy also does not sit well with some members of the nutrition community.
It basically claims that as long as people cut down their portions, the actual foods they eat are irrelevant; for all intents and purposes, a Twinkie is equivalent to a cup of oatmeal.
Many find this to be odd -- and not very wise -- advice, especially since the program was created and developed by a Registered Dietitian.
What do you think?