Faith and fitness: LATimes explores God’s role in weight loss

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There’s a healthy dose of religion news on the front page of today’s Los Angeles Times.

“God is their fitness co-pilot,” proclaims the print headline on this Column One feature. The online version goes with “Cross training” (get it?).

Believe it or not, there’s no mention of that Northwestern University study from a few years ago that prompted Time magazine to report  “Why Going to Church Can Make You Fat” and USA Today to suggest “The devil may be in the pepperoni.” But I digress.

Let’s start with a large portion of the LATimes opening:

When Jim Black leads people on a robust walk three times a week on the grounds of the 120-acre Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, he’s got powerful company: God.

The several dozen people who join him have shown up with the same hopes that anyone brings to an exercise plan: They mean to lose weight, ditch inhalers, get stronger.

But at Saddleback, there’s a lot more going on. Pastor Rick Warren is using the power of his church, one of the biggest in the country, to impress upon his followers that their bodies need the same care as their spirits.

After two months on “The Daniel Plan,” Black gave up his diabetes medication. He has given up wheat, dairy and sugar. He recently bought a bicycle. In a year, he lost 90 pounds; his wife lost 40.

“It’s that one scripture: My body is not my own, my body is on loan and someday I’ll have to account for it,” said Black, 48. “I wanted to serve God at a higher level. And I wanted to be able to fit in the seat of a roller coaster and buy one seat on the airplane instead of two.”

Yeah, that one Scripture (AP style is uppercase when referring to the religious writings in the Bible).

But just to be clear, exactly which Scripture are we talking about? The LATimes just brushes right past that obvious question. I assume Black is referring to 1 Corinthians 6:19-20. From the New International Version of the Bible:

19 Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; 20 you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.

The missing Scripture aside, I like the LATimes lede. It is interesting and draws me into the story. I am compelled to read more (even if I weren’t a GetReligion critic):

Despite a multibillion-dollar industry of programs and books and diet meals and meetings, the secular world has done a fairly lousy job at getting people to lose weight and get fit.

So why not turn to a higher power?

One Sunday afternoon, 3,000 people came to a rally at Saddleback to hear about the Daniel Plan from Warren and others, including two of its creators, Daniel Amen, a psychiatrist who belongs to Saddleback, and Dr. Mark Hyman, who has taken care of Bill and Hillary Clinton.

“If Jesus came to dinner, what would you feed him?” Hyman asked the crowd. “Would you give him a Big Mac, fries and a Coke? Would you feed him all the junk that we feed ourselves and our guests when they come to dinner? Or would you eat real food?”

Personally, I’d serve Jesus a gigantic feast if he came to dinner. I’d take him to my favorite Tex-Mex restaurant and enjoy a once-in-a-lifetime meal with my Savior. But I understand Hyman’s point (and no, I wouldn’t take Jesus to McDonald’s!). But I digress. Again.

But back to the story: After seeing the reference to Daniel Amen (what a name for a religion story!), I wondered if the LATimes would get around to explaining why the church dubbed its fitness program “The Daniel Plan.”

Oh me of little faith! After providing some background on “a long line of people of faith connecting mind, body and spirit,” the story notes:

And Warren is not alone in using as inspiration the story of the prophet Daniel, who rejected the rich food and wine of King Nebuchadnezzar.

(If I understand correctly — and I may not — Jews do not consider Daniel a prophet.)

But then there’s this peculiar twist:

“Millions of American Christians have made a religious duty out of diet,” R. Marie Griffith writes in her 2004 book “Born Again Bodies.”

“Fit bodies ostensibly signify fitter souls,” she said by phone. But they also can be used to support a male-dominated hierarchy; the market is lucrative, and it’s important to look at the underlying messages.

Fit bodies can be used to support a male-dominated hierarchy? Huh!? Please tell me more. (Alas, the story moves on without any explanation.)

Despite my nitpicking, this is actually a pretty fit story, albeit a bit slim in a few places.

Kudos to the LATimes for giving front-page play to this compelling trend.

About Bobby Ross Jr.

Bobby Ross Jr. is an award-winning reporter and editor with a quarter-century of professional experience. A former religion editor for The Oklahoman and religion writer for The Associated Press, Ross serves as chief correspondent for the The Christian Chronicle. He has reported from 47 states and 11 countries and was honored as the Religion Newswriters Association's 2013 Magazine Reporter of the Year.

  • Darren Blair

    Or would you eat real food?

    And what, pray tell, is “real food”?

    In my part of Texas, that could mean something like beef brisket, chili, flour biscuits & white gravy, or a number of other high-fat, high-calorie foods. These foods came about during a period in which people needed all the cheap calories they could get due to so many individuals working in professions involving physical labor, but they’ve stuck around as part of the collective culture.

    In fact, regional grocery chain H-E-B has been trying to re-position beef brisket as an acceptable main course for Easter (in lieu of ham) or Thanksgiving (in lieu of turkey).

    Someone really should have asked Dr. Hyman for clarification as to just what was meant by his remark.

    • helen

      The Texas recipes were also ways to make tough beef, old bucks, etc., edible at all, I suspect. :)

      • Darren Blair

        Chili was invented in part to make less-than-desirable cuts of beef more palatable. Your basic recipe is ground beef, spices, tomato base (or similar), and water. Things like beans, peppers, and other forms of meat were later innovations.

        I’d also be willing to say that some foods like fajitas might have been created for this same purpose as well.

  • helen

    “Fit bodies can be used to support a male-dominated hierarchy? Huh!? Please tell me more.”

    Would guess he means that many women diet to look good for a man, or to look good so they can find a man. [And the impossible airbrushed photos in "girlie" magazines make the effort futile in many cases. Real women do not look like Barbie dolls.]
    Or they diet to get ahead in business… some “heavyweights” succeed, on merit, but more thin women are promoted/marry the boss (or his son).

  • Ashley Williams

    Ugh, combining faith with weightloss? What next? I guess though as long as a person takes their faith in god or whatever to help them stick to a diet and fitness regime it can be a positive. I lost 40lbs using a system from dietplansreviewed.net so I can assure you that some programs will help you lose weight – but you have to stick to them! If using your faith as a motivator to stay the course helps then I see no problem with that.


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