Calling the Flock To God, Away From the Fridge

Steve Reynolds, pastor of Capital Baptist Church in Annandale, talks to worshipers about developing a
Steve Reynolds, pastor of Capital Baptist Church in Annandale, talks to worshipers about developing a "Bod for God." Worried about being obese, Reynolds said he prayed for guidance and was able to lose 70 pounds over 14 months. (Nikki Kahn - The Washington Post)
By Jacqueline L. Salmon
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, January 22, 2007

Saving souls is serious business for Annandale pastor Steve Reynolds. So is losing weight.

Which is why he stepped out from behind the lectern during a service one recent weekend to deliver a blunt message to those crowded into the pews below.

"About 40 percent of you need to lose weight," he told his congregation at Capital Baptist Church. "When you love potluck more than God, it's serious."

And with that, the preacher, who has lost 70 pounds by relying on God and low carbs, launched a mission to lead his followers into the burgeoning world of religious dieting. "Our body was given to us by God and for God," he said. "He is the owner. We need to take care of what He's given us."

Reynolds, the pastor of Capital, is joining a movement that got its start in Christianity but has picked up steam and spread to other religions. Faith-based diet clubs, books and advice programs are prospering. Books advise Buddhists to practice "transformational nourishment," Hindus are told to eat low-fat vegetarian fare.

A recent book for Jewish dieters advises avoiding high-fat holiday and bar mitzvah foods. Some Muslim doctors offer advice on how to use the traditional month-long Ramadan fast for losing weight.

Many faiths condemn overeating and gluttony. "Be not among winebibbers; among riotous eaters of flesh: For the drunkard and the glutton shall come to poverty," reads one Old Testament verse. "Eat and drink and be not extravagant; surely He does not love the extravagant," the Koran advises.

But no faith has seized on the religious approach to weight loss as emphatically as Christianity. Best-selling books such as "The Maker's Diet" (more than 2 million copies sold), weight-loss plans with names such as "What Would Jesus Eat?" and the Web site (which this year is expanding into church-based workshops in six states) have attracted millions by using Christian imagery and theology to promote weight loss.

"It's about turning to God to fill up this yearning instead of the refrigerator," said Gwen Shamblin, founder of Weigh Down Workshops, which enrolled several hundred thousand people nationwide last year in a diet program that encourages participants to transfer their focus from diets and calories to Jesus Christ.

Christian broadcaster Pat Robertson has developed a $15 weight-loss shake that is marketed nationally through Vitamin Shoppe. More than 1.3 million people have ordered a free diet program he launched in 2004.

Despite all the praying, recent studies have questioned whether faith-based diets work. One 2004 University of Texas study found few links between Christian programs that promote weight reduction and actual weight loss, according to the study's co-author, Mark DeHaven, an associate professor at the University of Texas's Southwestern Medical Center.

Several recent studies have found that Christians are fatter than those of other faiths.

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