Tyra Banks, the arbiter of all things cool to females 12-24 (and slightly older), recently did a show called, “Church of Thin.” (While it originally aired May 10, it is repeating today.)
On this show, Gwen Shamblin — dietician-cum-pastor — promotes the virtues of eating what God wants you to eat. More important than what to eat is how to eat. First, you must never eat unless you are hungry. Second, you should make sure your food is exactly the way you like it. Third, take small bites and sip liquid between mouthfuls — Gwen recommends coffee or Diet Coke (I was beginning to think she has a product placement deal with Coke she mentioned them so often!). Throughout, you should be checking in with your body to see if you are full. Most of all, Gwen claims that portion control is the most important part of the Weigh Down diet plan.
As someone who first went to Weight Watchers (WW) at age 13, I am very familiar with diets and diet strategies. WW, too, would tell you that portion control is of the utmost importance. The difference is that WW also tells you to eat healthy foods (Gwen does not) and to exercise (Gwen says do this only if you feel like it. Now, come on! When was the last time you felt like it?)
What Gwen stresses is good psychology. First, check in with your body. Not a bad idea. However, the problem with most people who are overweight is that they eat too much because they are emotional eaters. Food is an addiction. No different from drugs or alcohol, food is a means to alleviating the pain. Gwen’s answer to this is to shift the focus to God. If you want to eat, pray first. If you are struggling, talk to God. Whatever the issue, talk to God.
In fact, if you go to the refrigerator and start eating when you are not hungry and you have tapped into God, God will intervene so you cannot eat. One member of her church said God would make her baby cry wherever she would go to the pantry when she wasn’t hungry; another told a story of how a whole carrot cake fell out of her hands and onto the floor so she couldn’t eat it. Whether it is true or not, these women believe it to be true and it has helped them lose upwards of 100 pounds.
The Weigh Down diet and the Remnant Fellowship (Gwen’s church — she is not ordained and has had no ministerial training) are great examples of the marriage of the secular and the sacred. Weight loss is a perennial marketing bestseller. American’s spend $30 billion — that’s with a “b” — on weight loss products and programs every year according to the Food and Drug Administration. If you can’t get people to go to church, use a deep-seated need to get them to have a relationship with God. Simultaneously, the church sells books and tapes to teach people the program. (Gwen told Tyra that she doesn’t take money from people at the church, but she did not say how she does earn a living — something Tyra did not follow up on.)
What secular weight loss programs might learn from this is that they need to find something very specific to focus people’s attention on when they are losing weight. Obviously, you don’t have to pray to God to lose weight. Perhaps teaching people to slow down and take a minute to reflect before they grab the next bag of chips could be equally effective.
Gwen and her group have been accused of being a cult. While I don’t know the group well enough to say, something one of the members said had me thinking that it was. A man and his wife had loss a significant amount of weight and decided to move to Nashville in order to attend the Remnant Fellowship because he wanted to be closer to God. I kept wondering why he couldn’t do that at the church down the street.
Note: Religious books follow what is popular in the secular market. See amazon.com for a listing of other faith-based diet books.