Looking to loose weight in the New Year? If so, you need only look as far as the latest fad – a multi-million dollar trend of religious diet books and faith-based weight-loss systems.
This latest crop of diet books come by such titles as the ‘Hallelujah Diet’, the ‘Maker’s Diet’ and the ‘Daniel Plan’. They all suggest a more holistic approach to diet and lifestyle that will transform you from the inside out through a winning combination of food, fitness, focus, friends and faith.
The inspiration for the Daniel diet plan is from a Biblical narrative in the Old Testament – the story of Daniel, who was being held captive by the Babylonian king, Nebuchadnezzar, who wanted to feed and educate a few chosen captives with the riches of his lifestyle. Daniel decided not to follow the monarch’s diet of wine and meat. He felt it would defile him, as the food was not the simple kosher fare of his Jewish faith. Instead, he and his companions ate nothing but vegetables and drank only water for 10 days.
Daniel 1:15 states that, at the end of the period, the men look healthier than those that had eaten the king’s food. Thus, the Daniel diet suggests a fast of vegetables, fruits and water. Common sense would suggest that this is perhaps not ideal on a long-term basis.
Testimonies included in these books cite how followers of the various diets kept to the regimes, but many attribute the real success to the faith element of the diet.
Leslie Bonci, a registered dietitian, says a faith element can make a diet more successful. “We don’t always do ‘I just want to eat better.’ There has to be some other motivation. If that motivation is a higher power, fine.”
This insight fits with the increased recognition by some in the medical community of the link between religion and health.
Dr. Harold G. Koenig, professor of psychiatry and behavior sciences at Duke University Medical Center has conducted several studies that show religious people tend to have shorter hospital stays, lower depression and blood pressure rates and longer life spans.
He attributes part of the success of faith-based diets to support from the religious community.
“If you have a faith community and you’re doing it all together and you can connect it to your belief system, then it makes it a lot easier to change your behavior and maintain that,” Koenig said.
Actually making the change and sticking with it is key to seeing improved health. But in many cases good intentions fall short of the goal.
Is it possible that faith in the Divine is the missing ingredient from any successful lifestyle change?
Inspiration from the Apostle Paul to the faithful in Rome states: “Those who trust God’s action in them find that God’s Spirit is in them….. Obsession with self in these matters is a dead end; attention to God leads us out into the open, into a spacious, free life. Focusing on the self is the opposite of focusing on God.” (The Message by E. Peterson)
I learned the success of changing my focus from what I could control to what I needed to leave to a higher power in my early youth.
When I turned thirteen, I received my first diet book as a gift. I followed the advice given as if this was the sacred book to a better body image. I watched and notated everything I ate. However, this approach to weight control (a whole lifestyle in and of itself) set me off on a roller coaster ride of happy and sad days – dictated by the bathroom scale.
At the time, I regularly attended Sunday School, and I spoke to my teacher about the diet ‘scale of happiness’. She pointed out to me that I was breaking the Second Commandment – I had an ‘idol’ of body image set up and I was worshipping it. Wow! That really woke me up!
I became less self-centred and stopped using personal will power to exercise control over portions, food choices and exercise. But I continued to maintain regular daily Bible study for inspiration and kept an active lifestyle. Letting go of this personal sense of calories and counting to keep my weight normal and, instead, learning about myself from a more spiritual perspective proved to be the winning combination.
As the Psalmist said: “God arms me with strength, and He makes my way perfect.” One of the meanings of the word ‘perfect’ is ‘to make fully accomplished.’ Over many decades now my weight has been classified as ‘normal’. Goal accomplished.
Diet fads – religious or otherwise – come and go. But what can inspire and maintain a longer lasting change to the way we live and eat? Strengthening our relationship with a loving God. It’s a powerful foundation to healthy eating and living that doesn’t come and go with fads.