One of the more recent Lord Snow Presides (LSP) posts was about vegetarianism. It provoked a lot of discussion about eating styles in general–and with it, weight loss (and gain). And this might not surprise you much at all, but Christian hucksters have infested diet systems too! Today, Lord Snow Presides over conjobs in Christian weight loss. We’ll look at a few of these hucksters, and examine why they’re so toxic to their adherents.
You know the rule, right? There’s absolutely nothing in Christianity that someone unscrupulous can’t turn into a con.
Horrifying Overreach Against Desperate Christians.
I am not a savvy businessperson. I’m just a dumb blonde with a genuine heart for God, who found the golden product that everyone wanted.
Gwen Shamblin is the difference between a religion and a cult. In other words, she’s the person at the top who knows the entire thing is based on false claims. On the last LSP, Annerdr mentioned her—and a site that criticizes her. And wow, it is an earful. It’s written by a couple who tried her program, Adam and Maria Brooks. After a while, at her suggestion, they joined her church, which is based on her weight-loss regime’s rules.
In essence, it sounds like Gwen Shamblin’s created an ultra-authoritarian system that attempts to replace a person’s lack of self-regulation with total and complete regulation by Gwen Shamblin. Instead of teaching an overweight person self-regulation, she’s just gone the other route by insinuating herself as the regulatory system that person might lack. Instead of rewiring an overweight person’s self-soothing routine, she simply puts herself as the authority demanding that the self-soothing stop. Literally, she just seeks to replace a person’s original addictions and coping mechanisms with her preferred ones.
Shamblin’s system works in the exact manner we would expect. At first, people respond very well to her hijacking of their emotional needs and her demands for authoritarian control over their lives. As long as she’s in charge of their every move and thought, her system works marvelously well. But once away from her control, people go back to their usual routines–and the pounds pack back on in short order, because nothing’s really changed for that person. They still need self-soothing and still can’t self-regulate. Worse, they have quickly discovered that trying to substitute empty religiosity for their very well-established, time-tested soothing and coping routines doesn’t work at all.
In fact, Wikipedia tells us that Shamblin began her church group, Remnant Fellowship, after noticing that people were indeed regaining their weight after leaving her program. Her stated working theory about that strange coincidence was that the doctrine of Eternal Security (“once saved, always saved”) caused the weight regain. Yes. Really. Their weight gain had nothing to do with them escaping her totalitarian clutches. It was all about them feeling like Jesus would never let them go to Hell.
Why That Bothered Gwen Shamblin.
Now, at first glance one might think to themselves, Come on, that’s just silly. Why would a belief in “Once saved, always saved” cause weight gain? And I’d have thought so too! Though this doctrine is hotly-contested in Christianity, almost always the phrase is a pejorative. The Christians who buy into it don’t usually think that’s what they’re doing, and others criticize it as being a “license to continue to sin.” But it doesn’t parse as a reason why people couldn’t adhere to a (terrible) weight-loss regime!
Here’s why Gwen Shamblin blamed this doctrine for people’s failure to maintain weight loss.
Her central teaching, according to Spirit Watch, was that overeating is a grievously-bad sin. And she drew that idea from the Bible.
We shouldn’t be surprised that she came to this conclusion. Besides there being a few Bible verses that could easily be taken that way, the cultures from which the Bible (especially the New Testament) came did not take a favorable view of overeating. They called it gluttony, and considered it a serious mark against a person’s character. When an entire culture fell into gluttony, a lot of ancient people gave it side-eye.
Christianity continued that teaching in spades. One of the devotions of a Christian–and not a negotiable one, either–was supposed to be fasting, which is the total abstention of food and non-water drinks. In the Gospels, Jesus himself ordered his followers to fast, and he himself fasted for forty days in the wilderness where nobody could see him.
So fasting was divine, which made overeating–even appetite itself–a sin.
The problem Shamblin faced was very simple: if someone didn’t really believe that overeating was a sin, or if that person believed it but felt that no sin was really a dealbreaker for their arrival in Heaven after death, then she couldn’t use her preferred threats to scare them into compliance.
The Cloud Has Moved, Redux.
When a person left Gwen Shamblin’s weight-loss program, they left her control. So she had to find a way to get them back under control. And them she had to maintain that control. She founded a church as her solution: Remnant Fellowship.
Adam and Maria Brooks described this church in a way that is very creepily familiar to me. They don’t call it as such, but they’re describing a recruitment tactic I privately call The Cloud Has Moved. Someone tried that on my church back when I was a Pentecostal, and I discovered then how fiendishly effective it is against a certain kind of Christian.
Basically, a shill for these groups tells Christians that their church maybe used to be divinely-favored, but now it’s fallen into idolatry and hypocrisy. “God” has moved on to other churches, which are preaching a better, more TRUE CHRISTIAN™ message. If the Christian wants to be totally TRUE, then they must move with their god’s favor to this new church.
Gwen Shamblin, according to Mr. Brooks’ account, sought her recruits among her weight-loss program attendees:
At these events, she will issue the challenge that if attendees are struggling with offering God perfect obedience in all areas of their lives, then it is likely they are in a “counterfeit church.” By her definition, a counterfeit church is any church that allows one to “keep their idols” and still fellowship. “Keeping one’s idols” is a flexible standard that is largely defined by Gwen’s interpretation of various sanctification passages in the New Testament. Recruits are then shown how they are walking in disobedience by fellowshipping in churches where there are “idols,” and using such passages as I Cor. 5 and Ephesians 5, are challenged to leave these “counterfeit churches” and come to a body with “no idols.”
The people who respond to this come-on just want to lose a little weight. They end up shackled even worse. It’s downright chilling.
There’s No Way This Could Go Hideously Wrong.
But people are desperate for a magic solution to a problem all too many of us face, and Christians are people too.
Hucksters have noticed, along with everyone else, the widening waistlines in America. And church-attending Christians are way more likely to carry extra weight than people who don’t attend church. I have to admit, tying that weight gain to a common Christian mindset like “once saved, always saved” hadn’t occurred to me! But nobody in Christian-Land even thinks about testing these claims.
(WereBear found this next link. It’s an eye-opener!)
As only one example among a constellation of examples, Cathy Morenzie has never met a Christian weight-loss program she couldn’t embrace.
Cathy Morenzie’s blog appears to exist purely to hawk Christian weight-loss programs. I couldn’t find her criticizing a single one of them! And before you wonder, yes, so many of these programs exist that she can actually list a “Top Ten” of the critters.
All of these plans will doom adherents to failure. At least six of them require adherents to vastly increase the time spent in Bible study or prayer. And at least four of them push long-debunked pseudoscience like “detoxifying” or avoiding electromagnetic fields. At least four eliminate whole food groups from a person’s diet, including demands that adherents eat only vegan or organic foods. One, the Hallelujah Diet, pushes the dietary goofiness that is raw veganism.
What I find remarkable about Cathy Morenzie’s “Top Ten” list is that so many of these programs pretend that they will be solving “emotional hurts” or “emotional needs” for their overweight adherents. (Four specifically refer to emotional eating somehow.)
And yet even on a casual reading, I can tell that none of these Top Ten Christian Diet Systems can possibly resolve such deep-seated issues.
The Reality of Fad Diets.One of Cathy Morenzie’s picks is Victory Steps for Women. This system promises “to help women let go of depression and develop healthy eating habits.” And yet I saw absolutely nothing in it that would even come close to accomplishing that lofty goal.
Like its fellows, this system takes a very Love Dare view of weight loss. It offers adherents do-nothing busy-work and meaningless brief exercises, mostly amounting to telling adherents to Jesus Harder. Then the system breathlessly proclaims that The Adherent Has Now Totally Achieved A Vast Personal Internal Victory Over Sin. HOORAY TEAM JESUS! But it provides only bog-standard exhortations; the actual food I saw on their Facebook group looks absolutely horrific–and is loaded with hidden calories that will make lowering caloric intake much harder.
Based on the food pictures in that group, it looks a bit like Victory Steps is just a standard low-carb/keto diet. Indeed, this was the May 8 salad suggestion: Romaine lettuce, dried cranberries, and grilled chicken, which are fine choices. But then they’re buried to death under what turns out to be a full-fat balsamic vinaigrette.
The person posting this was Dora Raine Islamovic, the Facebook group’s “Victory Coach” and leader. She isn’t huge, but she’s definitely not slim.
I went back about six months. Absolutely none of the 280+ members in that group ever posted anything I could see about actual weight loss, or named pounds or inches lost. Since that’s not breaking any of their rules, I’m guessing there’s a very good reason for that omission.
The Cult of “Before” Stories, Weight Loss Edition.
You see, Bonnie MeChelle, the designer of Victory Steps for Women, had finally hit her lowest point.
She totally prayed really really RILLYRILLYRILLY hard for “God” to heal her, y’all.
And then, y’all, “God” TOTALLY HEALED HER. You heard me. He reached down, ignored all the people with cancer and the people facing violent crime, all the starving children and war orphans, and all the other overweight Christians praying for help, and healed her of the desire to binge eat.
And then she lost 100+ pounds in one year and kept it off forever, thanks to Jesus Power.
HOORAY TEAM JESUS!
Examining the Testimony.
Of course, Bonnie MeChelle provides no documentation whatsoever for any of these remarkable claims–not even photos–that I could find. She expects people to take her account on faith. She doesn’t even tell us how much she lost or what she weighs now. Instead, she claims she started at “almost 300 pounds” and then lost “over 100 pounds in a year.” Unless she’s an absolute Amazon, 200ish pounds is still overweight-to-obese for a woman.
Also of course, none of her wisdom is free. If a Christian wishes to learn more, they will need to register for her program.
It doesn’t sound like she’s doing much better with this system than she did with the last thing she hawked, “The Inner Weigh.” Then, a person by that exact name was working under a clinical psychologist named Dr. Dave Smiley. Now she’s out on her own.
(Part of me wonders if she parted ways with Dr. Smiley because he wouldn’t let her talk about Jesus, or if she simply sensed the greater monetary gains she could make by preying upon desperate Christians.)
Unfortunately, it’s just too difficult for a Christian huckster shilling a weight-loss system to stand out from the pack. The market’s flooded.
The Problem With Christian Weight Loss Programs.
It seems to me that a lot of people become fundagelicals because they feel like they need structure in life. They are authoritarian followers. That means they need an authoritarian leader. And they sure find those aplenty in weight-loss programs. Some of these programs sound downright like military boot camp! They offer tons of rules and make lots of demands.
For example, Gwen Shamblin’s control over her adherents in Remnant Fellowship sounds absolutely draconian–right down to her allegedly demanding that members send her lists of their prescription medications so she can decide which ones “block the Holy Spirit.” These Top Ten programs might not be quite so obviously control-hungry, but they also make a lot of demands–just more Jesus-flavored ones.
A Christian in a really authoritarian flavor of Christianity will at first be very happy with programs like these. They simply substitute one authoritarian leader for another. Further, such a Christian will not want to closely examine their belief system or challenge it. They won’t want to find out if their beliefs have something to do with their habit of overeating. These weight-loss systems don’t challenge Christians’ existing beliefs. They just build off of them.
But without making those hardwiring changes, an authoritarian system works only as long as the Christian involved is directly under the leader’s thumb. As Gwen Shamblin discovered, the moment an adherent leaves that control, they go back to their old habits. “Jesus” sure doesn’t make the new regimes stick!
Rejecting a Huckster For All the Wrong Reasons.
The irony for Gwen Shamblin is that nothing about her actual weight loss ideas has caused her to get side-eye from the tribe.
Yes. You heard me.
And Gwen Shamblin herself has written a whole website about this drama. I’m just in awe of anyone who has the time to do all of this. It smacks of a high-school dating drama in the first place. Reading this site makes me feel like I’m reading about a fight between drill team girls Tiffanee and SandEee over the quarterback, Braydin Jaxxon Skuyler. I’m actively losing brain cells here.
Somehow, these critics have missed that the real reason why Gwen Shamblin needs to get side-eye is that she is actively damaging people emotionally to gain money and power at their expense.
Instead, they’re going into overdrive is her difference of opinion about this all-important doctrine.
That’s probably what it takes for a Christian weight-loss guru to fall out of favor. But she’s still got plenty of desperate adherents! Don’t you worry about her none.
Today, Lord Snow Presides over a bizarre little side niche in Christianity: a wildly-lucrative cottage industry that’s sprouted up to take advantage of Christian desperation.
NEXT UP: We’re going to look at complementarianism. What effects on a marriage does it really have? Does it really help create long-lasting marriages? NO, absolutely not. We’ll see if we can’t suss out why. Then we’re going to look at Christian strategies for reversing their decline, a lie about missionaries, and hopefully the SBC Annual Report for 2018! See you soon!
I don’t shame or think less of people of any size. Instead, I offer Unconditional Positive Regard. I do not make any demands or lay any moral judgment upon anyone. I’m writing here only about people who do want to lose weight but won’t because they’re following a ridiculous regime that won’t actually help them reprogram and defeat the various habits that lead to overeating in the first place.
If you like what you see, I would love to have your support. My PayPal is firstname.lastname@example.org (that’s an underscore in there) for one-time tips. I also welcome monthly patrons via Patreon with Roll to Disbelieve. Thanks!
Lord Snow Presides… is our weekly off-topic chat series. I’ve started us off with a topic, but feel free to chime in with whatever’s on your mind! Lord Snow is my sweet, elderly white cat. He used to be a very big boy. But he’s licked Type 2 Beetus through weight loss and exercise! But he’ll still do ridiculously undignified things for any form of chicken.