A Godly Approach to Weight Loss
Most people don't associate religious devotion with weight loss. Gwen Shamblin, a Tennessee dietician, does. She's the author of a new book, The Weigh Down Diet, which teaches that "head hunger," the urge to eat even when the bodydoesn't need food, is really a "spiritual hunger." (Sample chapter: "Isn't Broccoli Righteous and Haagen-Dazs a Sin?") Weight loss the Shamblin way is a matter of "substituting God for food."
Christian diet programs are growing fast. Shamblin organized her first support group in 1986 in a Memphis strip mall; today there are over 10,000 Weigh Down workshops with a quarter of a million participants who meet in churches across the country. Ten new groups spring up each day. Another program called First Place, founded in Houston in 1981, is also in some 10,000 churches, and officials estimate the program is growing 20 percent a year. Less traditional is the Hallelujah Diet. Its founder, George Malkmus, preaches the benefits of vegetarianism, specifically a diet of only raw fruits and vegetables like those found in the Garden of Eden. He says his newsletter, Back to the Garden, has a circulation of 60,000.
Their approaches differ, but their message is the same: Transfer that love of food to a love of God. First Place recommends a low-fat diet supplemented by Bible studies. Shamblin takes a different approach; eat your favorite foods, she says, but cut your portions in half and eat only when you're physically hungry. ("Our God made and loves chocolate!" she often notes.) Shamblin has an answer when her followers feel the urge to snack: "I say, 'Chew on this'--and I hand them a Bible."
This story appears in the May 5, 1997 print edition of U.S. News & World Report.