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Diet program looks to religion


March 2, 2001
Web posted at: 2:16 p.m. EST (1916 GMT)

ATLANTA, Georgia (CNN) -- The American way has always been bigger is better. But that maxim doesn't hold true when it comes to weight. Nearly two thirds of the U.S. population is considered overweight, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and that number keeps growing.

Like people many western countries, Americans are losing the battle of the bulge. The reasons are simple, said Chris Rosenbloom of the American Dietetic Association.

"People are eating more and exercising less. There's so much food available ... available 24 hours a day, and it's not always healthy food."

The typical plate at a U.S. restaurant has grown to an average diameter of 12 inches, compared with a home dinner plate, which is nine inches. A decade ago, movie seats were 18 inches wide -- today the industry standard is 22 inches.

More than one half of U.S. women say they don't like their own bodies.

Many who are overweight are now turning to religion for help. In a small church in Lawrenceville, Georgia, near Atlanta, a group of overweight women gathers every week for mutual encouragement and support. They share experiences and talk about how many pounds they have lost, all the time praising God.

It's part of the "Weigh Down" program, a faith based dieting plan that runs 30 thousand workshops across the United States.

Marianne Cook has been on the program for three years, and has lost 40 pounds. When she feels hunger pains, it's God telling her it's time to eat, she explained.

"The faith comes in, in trusting Him to know that He is going to tell me when to eat. And that He is going to tell me when I'm full, and because I'm going to eat the way He has programmed me to eat, I'm going to lose the weight," she says.

"Weigh Down" is all about eating less -- no foods are forbidden and there is no exercise plan. Cook rejects the idea of eating five servings of fruit and vegetables a day.

"I don't agree with that because that's not in the Bible," she says.

That attitude concerns dietitians, who argue that the only way to lose weight and keep it off is to learn to eat healthier food. Chris Rosenbloom also worries about the psychological impact of relying on religion.

"If you're not successful on the program you might have a double whammy. You might not be just letting yourself down, but you might be letting your God down too. So, if a faith based diet doesn't work for you it might be difficult for you psychologically."

Despite the criticism, the number of faithful continues to grow.

Gwen Shamblin started "Weigh Down" 15 years ago in Nashville, Tennessee, and says there are thousands of success stories -- people who have changed their lives, not just by losing weight, but by embracing Christian ideals in every way.

Many program members who have struggled with their weight say "Weigh Down" is their last hope. They believe that, through God's will, they can get better bodies.

Federal diet study: Eat less to lose weight
(January 10, 2001)
Nutrition, obesity and perception
(January 9, 2001)
Healthy diet key for active teens
(November 3, 2000)
The skinny on healthy eating
(October 3, 2000)

The Weigh Down Workshop
CDC - Obesity
American Dietetic Association
North American Association for the Study of Obesity
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