March 2, 2008

In The News: Holy Calories

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.

PRAY daily.
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?


Mia said...

This is interesting. In a way, the advice of these books is not wrong - most people are overweight because they overeat, and could lose weight simply by only eating when hungry. The problem, though, is that weightloss is not equivalent to nutrition. While the plans suggested in these books might get people to lose a few pounds here and there, the real problem for most people is knowing what to eat to sustain weight loss and provide themselves with proper nutrition. Maybe God created all men in his image, but a twinkie is not equal to a bowl of oatmeal, no matter how you slice it.

Frantic Home Cook said...

I've read about the Weigh Down workshop, sat in on a meeting and talked to those who've been a part of it. The woman who started this is controversial to say the least. Apart from her faith controversies, she quotes the Bible about "false prophets" as evidence that DIETICIANS have fed us untruths about food. She does not believe in exercise, antidepressants or vitamins. This program is medically unsound.

jamie said...

I've been to a weigh down workshop meeting before too and have the book... It's controversial within the Christian community as well, as most will tell you they know exercise is just as important as healthy eating and dissagree with a lot of what Gwen says (the founder). Weigh Down has been around for a while and started when all the other miracle diets were coming out...these days most of the nutrition advice out there is about all around health, including the newer Christian based ones. I personally think that weight loss and overall health is strongly connected with my spiritual health so I'm a fan of including God in it. Not through Weigh Down or other strict regimes like it though, but if it works for some, who am I to judge :)