Don’t be surprised if waistlines around the Bible Belt seem to be shrinking of late. The recent popularity of Bod4God suggests that the Scripture-hungry are gobbling up the advice from faith-based weight-loss programs.
Founded by Steve Reynolds, the head pastor at Capital Baptist Church in Annandale, Va., Bod4God transforms the traditional concept of worshiping God — e.g., sitting and kneeling — into a competitive game that encourages followers to fight obesity with a healthy diet and active lifestyle. Reynolds says the premise of Bod4God is to uphold the First Commandment — "You shall have no other gods before me" — and explains to MSN that some Christians who struggle with their weight may be "unwittingly valuing food over their faith."
Participants engage in a 12-week competition in which they’re assigned to teams and attend meetings once a week. According to the web site, the program has helped Reynolds’ congregation lose more than 12,000 pounds since 2007, and Reynolds himself dropped 120 pounds. Bod4God turned "DIET" into an acronym in order to promote its message:
Religious weight loss plans, when involving healthy diets, can be effective and beneficial. Dieters already have a built-in support system and could use their desire to improve their spirituality as extra motivation to achieve the results they want. However, there is currently no solid research suggesting that religiously based weight loss programs are more effective than secular ones.
That said, Bod4God isn’t the only deity diet out there. Here are four others that use a higher power to drive lifestyle changes — but not always healthy ones.
The Hallelujah Diet
If you’re one of those people who believes Noah actually did build an ark and Jonah actually did survive for days inside a live whale, there’s a diet for you that takes the Bible just as literally. The Hallelujah Diet diet is basically a stricter version of veganism, with heavy supplementation, crazy amounts of juicing, and recommended exercise. But the founder prefers to describe it as "God’s way to optimal health."
Premise: The Hallelujah Diet extracts its guidelines from Genesis 1:29: "And God said, Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in the which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for meat [food]." Thus, the diet relies on fruits and vegetables, and also limits consumption of saturated fat and hydrogenated oils while encouraging more exercise and alleviating stress, plus heavy supplementation. The 12-lesson course "Biblical Nutrition 101" can be downloaded online for free, and followers of the diet can access recipes on the web site. The supplements, which are sold on the web site for significantly more than their cost at drug stores, make this a profitable business for the diet’s founders.
History: Developed by Rev. George Malkmus and his wife, Rhonda, the Hallelujah Diet is promoted by Malkmus’ company, Hallelujah Acres. Thirty-two members of a church reportedly completed the course and followed the diet, which resulted in a total weight loss of more than 700 pounds.
Allowed foods: Raw, uncooked, and unprocessed plant-based food comprises 85 percent of the diet, and cooked, plant-based food is allowed for dinner to make up the last 15 percent. Heavy supplementation is also part of the deal, though we were unfortunately unable to find the Genesis reference supporting God’s approval of supplements.
Restricted foods: Dairy, alcohol, caffeine, carbonated beverages or soft drinks, drinks with artificial or natural sugar, sports drinks, juices containing preservatives, refined salt, refined sugar, artificial sweeteners, refined grains, meat, eggs, chocolate, drugs (including over-the-counter and prescribed drugs).
Other aspects of the diet: Exercise, strength training, and stretching 30 minutes a day; proper cleansing; adequate rest; and sunshine exposure.
Criticisms: Where do we start? The web site is packed with unsubstantiated claims. Exhibit A: "What most people do not realize is that almost every physical problem they experience, other than accidents, has a diet-related cause." This, combined with the restriction on prescription drugs (albeit with a note to discuss with your healthcare provider), is a recipe for disaster. Imagine if people with genetic disorders and diseases believed everything could be prevented or cured with a diet change.
Secondly, the Hallelujah Diet is so strict that it could lead to deficiencies. Stephen Barrett, M.D., founder of Quackwatch, stated: "Although low-fat, high-fiber diets can be healthful, the Hallelujah Diet is unbalanced and can lead to serious deficiencies [e.g., protein]. The overall program is expensive because the recommended supplements cost over $2,000 a year. Rev. Malkmus’ sales pitch includes beliefs that are historically and nutritionally senseless, as well as health claims for which he lacks appropriate substantiation. Using his diet instead of appropriate medical care is very foolish."
In case you’re wondering what Barrett meant by "historically and nutritionally senseless" beliefs, please note that the main reason Malkmus excluded meat and cooked food from the diet is because he believed Genesis indicates that when these foods were added to humankind’s diet, "the lifespan of man dropped from an average of 912 years on God’s original diet to 100 years." He’s currently 79 years old, so if anyone from the year 2923 is reading this, he better still be alive.
WWHWD — What would HellaWella do? Experts claim that this diet could lead to deficiencies of crucial vitamins and minerals. If you really want to "treat your body like a temple," deficiencies aren’t the way to go. Plus, the Jesus who emphasized a minimalist lifestyle probably wouldn’t have spent $2,000-plus a year on supplements.