Busted Halo

Most dating and relationships books, columns and shows won’t go near issues of faith. Author, professor and speaker Dr. Christine B. Whelan assumes faith has some role, and tackles even the toughest questions.

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August 25th, 2008

Pure Sex, Pure Love

The God of Thin?


“Does God really care if we gained ten pounds over the holidays? Yes!” announces The Dieter’s Prayer Book.
“If you’ve struggled with obesity all of your life, you may not even be able to imagine yourself free of the bondage of unwanted fat. But God can,” promises The Bible Cure for Weight Loss and Muscle Gain.

As part of the Templeton-Cambridge Fellowship to study the intersection of science and religion, I explored the world of religious diet books. Surprised that such books exist? So are many Catholics, but religious weight-loss and health initiatives that began among evangelical Christians are spreading to other denominations—and other faiths—as Americans continue to put on the pounds.

Worshipping the God of Food?
Gwen Shamblin, author of the Weigh Down Diet, and the grand dame of the Christian weight loss movement since the 1980s, says obesity wounds more than your body—it destroys your soul.

“We’re worshipping the false god of food,” Shamblin says in her online video guide for weight loss. “We have worshiped food and elevated it to a place of unprecedented power in our lives… Our hearts have been devoted to figuring out what the latest fad diet will or will not let us eat” and that has distracted us from a healthy relationship with our creator, she says. Her solution? Pray before you eat so you consume less, and the pounds will come off.

Other religious diet authors claim that eating a specific, fiber-rich, organic diet will bring you closer to God and to a healthy weight. Jordan Rubin, author of The Maker’s Diet, says dozens of doctors were unable to reverse his Crohn’s disease, but when he turned to God, prayer and the basic foods that Jesus would have eaten 2000 years ago, he was cured.

Big Belly = Little Faith?

Most Christian diet books argue that by exerting individual self-control—with the help of prayer and God’s grace—you can lose weight. The underlying message is that if you are heavy you are failing in some way, and not as faithful or devoted to God as you could be.

But weight loss isn’t that simple. Genetic research has repeatedly shown that somewhere between 60% and 80% of the difference in people’s weight can be explained by genetics. What’s more, recent brain chemistry research suggests that some people are simply wired to be hungrier than others.
Obesity is considered to be a secular transgression—studies have shown that we think heavier people are less intelligent, lazy and have less self-control—but increasingly, in religious communities, being heavy is considered a sign of weak faith.

And this is something we as young-adult Catholics need help combat.

Do you make fun of obese people? Do you think you are superior to someone who is overweight?
Or is this even more personal for you: Are you concerned that people will think less of you because of your body size?
As we’ve talked about in previous columns, body image is a very personal and fraught topic. Adding the extra concern that we’ve got to be a certain weight to receive the love and approval of God makes things even more complicated.

Catholic Weight Loss?
I’m encouraged that as Catholic priests and bishops have started to get involved in health and weight-loss initiatives, they are tackling this subject, not from an individual “does God love me?” perspective, but from a social justice angle.

In West Virginia, Bishop Michael Bransfield has created a “Church that Heals” wellness initiative. In a 2006 pastoral letter, he notes that West Virginia ranks #3 in obesity and #4 in diabetes, and that “behind poor health behaviors we often find social injustice and inadequate social services and insufficient economic opportunities… School and church lunches and refreshments may feature food with low nutritional value and contribute further to the problems with diet and obesity in our state. The well-known association of poverty, health and education does not spring from the spirit of our people but from a culture for which we are all responsible.”

While most other Christian weight-loss plans focus on self-control via a partnership with God, Bishop Bransfield’s campaign in West Virginia focuses on the economic injustices, not a lack of individual willpower.

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“It would be terrific if a program like this got off the ground,” says R. Marie Griffith, the Princeton professor and author of Born Again Bodies, a book about the history of Christian diet movements. “There’s a danger of narcissism in these other groups: Why is the concern always about me and my body and my self-discipline, rather than saying that other people—in the developing world, or in rural parts of our own country—are in dire straits and need help learning about food and need help affording healthy food to eat a balanced diet?”

As young Catholics, we are called to help others. Here’s my proposal for some Catholic Weight Loss: Eat less, save up the money you’d otherwise have spent on food and donate it to a Catholic charity. Everyone wins.

Have you ever read a religious diet book or struggled with body image issues and faith? Share your thoughts with me—anonymously, if you’d like—at puresex@bustedhalo.com.

The Author : Christine B. Whelan
Dr. Christine B. Whelan is an author, professor and speaker. She and her husband, Peter, and their dictator cats, Chairman Meow and Evita Purron, live in Pittsburgh. Her book "Why Smart Men Marry Smart Women" is available in stores or at the Halo Store.
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Please note that the editorial staff reserves the right to not post comments it deems to be inappropriate and/or malicious in nature, as well as edit comments for length, clarity and fairness.
  • Matt

    Gluttony is not the same as overeating. Gluttony is a morally disordered relationship with consumption, and in modern Western culture, there’s a lot more gluttony to be found among the skinny than there is among the fat.

    If your attendance at the gym and the Weight Watchers meetings is more consistent and reliable than your attendance at Mass, you’re guilty of gluttony, regardless of how much you eat or how much you weigh.

    All of the classic 7 deadly sins amount to the same basic error…the assumption that “X is more important to me than God is”. If “X” is posessions, the sin is Greed. If “X” is sex, the sin is Lust. And if “X” is food, the sin is Gluttony. This is true _regardless_ of how much “X” you have or want. If you care about it more than you care about God, that’s a sin.

    Jesus reminds us that “it is not what goes into a man’s mouth that defiles him, but what comes out of it”.

  • http://learnhowtoloseweightfast.com/ Braeden Weber

    Why don’t you just pay the skinny people for doing the right thing in the first place…

  • CalHawkeye

    This article didn’t go far enough! It isn’t just about what people intake. It’s also about why there is so much sugar and corn syrup everywhere in processed food, who gets the agribusiness subsidies from our government, what that does to our environment, how it makes starchy and fatty food the cheapest available (especially in poor communities), where the money goes, and where the political influence flows. I am pre-diabetic and read food labels in order to avoid sugars including the ubiquitous corn syrup. I cannot believe how adulterated our food supply has become with this stuff. What a sad use for corn, the Native American sacramental and staff of life. My friends from overseas all comment on how overly sweet the food is here in the US compared to elsewhere, down to the breeds of farmer’s market corn, and even the same brand name sodas for sale. What has happened to the fruit of the earth, to the Body and Blood of Christ? What has happened to our sense of holiness in the gift of food? How many of us even say grace before meals anymore? We need to get back to mindful eating, not just in terms of calories, but where our food really comes from, and what our consumer dollar does to God’s creation.

  • sensei ronald panlilio

    weight should not matter in our relationship with god. But it is written that gluttony is a sin. And that we are supposed to treat our bodies as a temple of the holy spirit. Would a real temple of the holy spirit be so weak to not be able to walk 1 mile to church without breathing heavy and wanting to die. Of course not, our bodies are our responsiblity to protect and care for. When I was overweight, I met a personal trainer and he helped me create a nutrition plan. It was the first time I had ever been overweight and didnt really know what to do. Years later I got certified to be a personal trainer myself. I really wanted to help my mom and my sister because they are overweight. But sadly they never really tapped me while I was working in the gym to use my new skills. But I helped other people at the gym and had some clients as long as 6 or 7 months a couple times a week. We need to learn how to eat, and how to move more often to create the body we want. If you want to be healthy and fit, I suggest reading books on health and fitness. I subscribe to mens health, and oxygen fitness. I also like the clean-eating book by reno tosca. And you can ask me questions and have me train you online at my website http://www.teambeachbody.com/senseironald

    I have helped athletes with performance, and also helped other people to gain lean mass and be leaner and stronger. One of my girls was so happy cause she was getting compliments on her back when she wore dresses, and her snowboarding performance was improving. One of my softball players had noticed her throwing arm was getting stronger since she started with me. Jillian Michaels and Mark Verstegen have some good books and videos that can be bought as well.

    Feel free to contact me if you want to talk to a NAMS certified trainer. I also have a black belt in karate. I would be more than happy to help you rebuild that temple that your body was meant to be. God Bless, be fit, and please do tithe the money you would have spent on unhealthy food to your local parish, worship radio station, or nonprofit company that you love, so they can benefit from your newfound health.

    But in a nutshell, move more than you eat every week and you will slowly but surely see the body you were always meant to have. And be patient, you did not put those pounds on in one week. So give yourself time to change to a more fit version of yourself.

    When you go shopping for pants in a smaller waist size you will be excited. The other day I had to buy a new belt, because my old ones were just to big for me and dangled to the side of my leg. It made me happy. Clothes shopping is so much more fun when you are getting more and more fit and stronger. The image you had of yourself when you were the most fit, is how you are supposed to be. I dont blame obesity on sin, I believe it is caused by the advertising of low nutrition fast food, poor education when it comes to nutrition and exercise, and in part also laziness, or the person just gives up sits on their couch and watches tons of tv, with beer, chips, french fries, soda, and candy every night.

    pray for discipline, making good choices with food, and persistence when it comes to more movement and exercise, and read books on exercise, the two magazines and the nutrition books I mentioned earlier are solid.

  • Jade

    St. Thomas Aquinas wasn’t the thinnest man on earth, but he was a faithful, strong and intelligent man – so much so that he not only became a saint, but also a doctor of the church! I don’t think God’s love for him was based on his size. Furthermore, how much you weigh should only involve God when it comes down to all out gluttony – which we know is a sin. If a person is overweight simply because they eat to constant excess and care not about the consequences, then it’s a matter of the person’s faith being unstable. Other than that, as long as one has a strong connection with God and their community, I don’t think it should matter how much they weigh.

  • James

    Agreed John, however, I was merely stating how disappointing her conclusion was. With all due respect to your situation, most people simply can’t just “eat less” but need more professional (or spiritual) guidance. A doctor (granted, not an MD but still a PhD) telling them just to “eat less” seems slightly lazy and/or irresponsible.

  • John Roach

    Sure James, but all of the research suggests that I, an alcoholic and drug addict in recovery, am strongly predisposed to being more susceptible to chemical dependency than most other people. That means I must make it a part of my own spiritual practice every day to turn over my will with regard to these partially-genetic weaknesses to God. It doesn’t mean I get a pass to destroy myself. Same goes for people who are genetically predisposed to life-threatening obesity, or any other the other myriad crosses we are called to bear that may have a genetic component.

  • James

    Hm, the author completely contradicts herself with her (very lazy) ending solution. The whole article is about how obesity is not just about people eating more than others but how it is tied (more often than not or at least enough to warrant this discussion) to genetics or being “hard-wired” to eat more. So what does the good doctor suggest? Eat less and donate money to the church. Brilliant.

    • BNY_NRS

      But healthier foods cost more… Dieting is more than eating less, if you’re not consuming nutrient-dense foods then your body is going to crave more food to get those nutrients. A lot of people who are overweight eat empty calories. No wonder there is a tendency to overeat, your body is craving vitamins and minerals but not getting them!
      There are also medical conditions that make people more susceptible to gaining weight like thyroid problems, or side effects of medications. You can’t judge someone to be gluttonous, just because of their body size or weight. If you witness them eating an entire pizza by themselves is one thing, judging them to be gluttonous because of their body shape is another.
      There can also be an emotional component (eating to fill that empty space inside that may not even have anything to do with food). You have to fill that void before you stop compulsively eating. It can get complex, especially if there is family/emotional trauma. I knew someone who lost-it/gave up to eating temptations to escape dealing with the emotions of the tragic deaths of people she loved. As a society, we tend to put the walls up when we are upset in order not to disturb others. As a result, she needed another escape, which was food.

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