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Faith Based Diets: Does God Punish You For Being Fat?
By Tom Venuto, NSCA-CPT, CSCS
Faith based diets have been around for decades. But is overeating really a sin? Does God punish you for being fat? A recent column in an issue of USA Today answers, ¡§weight loss is hard enough without feeling that the almighty is on your back, too¡¨¡K
Recently, I was sitting in a wonderful little breakfast ¡§parlor¡¨ on Main Street in Santa Monica (California), enjoying a bowl of oatmeal, a mountain of fresh fruit and a ¡§sexy omelette¡¨ (the bodybuilder¡¦s favorite). There was even a ¡§Schwarzenegger omelette¡¨ on the menu - I kid you not! Although the usual dietary temptations are omnipresent everywhere, I noticed a lot more healthy eateries and healthy options on menus out here, which is okay by me! It seems like people are much more health conscious in Southern California compared to back home in the New Jersey/New York City area.
One thing is for sure - people are definitely in better shape. No doubt, it¡¦s partly due to the year-round beautiful weather. You can¡¦t hide under those winter coats in this weather! When I left Newark airport it was a blustery 37 degrees. It¡¦s 77 degrees and sunny as I sit here on my hotel balcony, laptop on my lap, overlooking the palm trees and Pacific ocean.
A friend of mine once said that ¡§Palm trees are God¡¦s way of saying, LIVE HERE!¡¨
Speaking of God, that brings me to the subject of this article. As I was finishing up the last few bites of my high protein omelette, I came across an article in USA Today that I simply HAD to pass on to you because it¡¦s related to some of the weight loss work I¡¦ve been recently doing and it bears some important lessons.
The column, written by Christine Whelan, a professor of sociology, said that religious diet groups are growing in number and some of them say that ¡§God might not approve of that second piece of pie.¡¨ In fact, some of these groups, reported Whelan, warn that God will punish you for overeating and being fat. The Weigh Down Workshop, one of the most ¡§hard-line¡¨ of such groups, tells their participants that God will ¡§destroy you¡¨ if you abuse your body by overeating.
Well, we¡¦ve certainly heard of gluttony referred to as a deadly sin, but is this going a little too far?¡¨
I¡¦m not sure what other people think, but I prefer to think of God as a loving God, who does not punish a person in the hereafter for being fat in this life. But then again, why would he have to? He has created a magnificent physical world based on immutable physical laws of cause and effect, reward and consequence, which mete out all the ¡§punishment¡¨ needed, right here in this life: diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, osteoarthritis, gout, and even cancer. All of them are linked to obesity. Combined with the emotional pain of being overweight and the lower quality (and sometimes quantity) of life, I¡¦d say that¡¦s punishment enough, wouldn¡¦t you?
But enough of my theological viewpoint, I found some tremendously valuable practical lessons in the newspaper article.
I don¡¦t believe that instilling guilt or fear of eternal damnation is an uplifting way to change behavior. Perhaps it might be effective for some, as fear of consequences can be a powerful motivator. But aren¡¦t there more positive ways to achieve behavior modification than hellfire and brimstone?
For example, metaphors are also powerful motivators, especially because metaphors are language that your unconscious mind can understand. Didn¡¦t Jesus teach in parables and metaphors? What if you said your body was like a temple? Would you behave differently? Would you look after your ¡§temple¡¨ with more care? Those with spiritual beliefs almost certainly would, if they kept that in mind and believed it on a deep level.
In my books, I delve into the emotional, psychological and social aspects of body fat loss.
Some of the chapters are devoted to teaching you how to build a fortress of positive, uplifting, inspiring energy around you in the form of positive, uplifting, and inspiring people. But many of my readers and clients tell me this is easier said than done in their world. ¡§What am I supposed to do when peer pressure from my friends is pulling me down?¡¨ ¡§What do I do if my own family won¡¦t support my new, healthier choices? What if they keep bringing potato chips, cookies and ice cream into the house?¡¨ ¡§What if no one supports me?¡¨
Enter spiritual diet support groups. Not all of these groups are so extreme as to pronounce that being fat is a sin. And as Whelan put it, ¡§religion may be the ultimate trump card of many behavior modification programs.¡¨
No matter how independent we are, we all need support in our journeys toward personal improvement. It¡¦s the great paradox of succeeding in any endeavor in life - you have to do it by yourself, but you can¡¦t do it alone.
Spiritual communities and religious support groups can be the last refuge of support and encouragement for some people. For anyone with spiritual beliefs, these groups may be one of the best places of all to turn for social support. There¡¦s your church, synagogue, mosque or other place of worship. There are also organized weight loss support groups.
One such group mentioned in the USA Today article is BABES - Beautiful Accountable Babes Exercising Sensibly. The mission of babes is ¡§connecting with others to lose weight and build friendships.¡¨ Accountability. Exercising. Connecting with others. That all sounds pretty sensible to me! Moreover, according to BABES co-founder, Barb Swanson, ¡§we are not into sin and judgement. God wants balance and it¡¦s more than the size that you are.¡¨
Indeed it is. As I have said before, body fat is not a person, it¡¦s a temporary physical condition. What we really are is far more than physical bodies.
There¡¦s enough guilt, fear and shame for people who are struggling with weight issues already. They don¡¦t need any more negativity from their spiritual leaders. Instead, if you are a person of faith, use your spiritual community as a source of social support and inspiration, and motivate yourself by focusing on the positive and uplifting side. It will pay you eternal dividends.
Train hard and expect success,
Fat Loss Coach
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