Rick Warren and church tackle obesity

Rick Warren told his church that he gave up carbonated drinks, dairy and fast food. His trainer says he works out twice a day.

Story highlights

  • Pastor Rick Warren started a health plan addressing diet and fitness at church
  • Warren has shed 60 pounds in one year
  • The Daniel Plan uses small groups to encourage healthier habits
The epiphany occurred at a baptism.
With more than 800 people waiting, Pastor Rick Warren took them one by one and immersed them in the church's baptism pool. During this spiritual rite at Saddleback Church, the pastors hold the people briefly underwater, and then pull them out.
"On that particular day, I was baptizing 858 people," Warren told his congregation last fall. "That took me literally four hours."
"As I'm baptizing 858 people, along around 500, I thought this ... 'We're all fat.' "
Warren turned his realization to himself.
"But I thought, I'm fat," he said. "I'm a terrible model of this. I can't expect our people to get in shape unless I do."
Warren, considered one of the most influential pastors in the country, delivered the inaugural prayer for President Obama in 2009 and wrote the best-selling book "The Purpose Driven Life." Now, he was embarking on a new mission: Curbing the obesity epidemic at church.
Warren seems like an unlikely man to lead an anti-obesity crusade. A ruddy man with plastic frame glasses, he has admitted to gaining 90 pounds over the last 30 years and failing at various yo-yo diets. He declined an interview for this story.
Based in Lake Forest, California, Saddleback is one of the largest churches in the United States and has eight locations throughout Orange County. Warren has a casual style in his ministry, usually preaching in jeans.
Since January 2011, Warren has been shrinking. He gave up carbonated drinks, dairy and fast food, he told the church. He works out twice a day, according to his trainer, Tom Wilson. Warren shed 60 pounds on a diet-lifestyle program devised at Saddleback Church called the Daniel Plan.
A slimmer Rick Warren addressed the congregation on January 14.
The program's name comes from the biblical story about Daniel. In the story, Daniel and his friends, who are Israelites living in Babylon, refuse to consume royal food and wine. By eating vegetables and water, "they looked healthier and better nourished than any of the young men who ate the royal food," according to Daniel 1:15 in the Bible's New International Version.
The Daniel Program, which started at Saddleback Church last January, advises how to eat healthier foods, encourages workout routines and urges participants to join small groups. The program was free.
Warren recruited three doctors to develop the plan: Daniel Amen, a psychiatrist; Mark Hyman, a family doctor; and Mehmet Oz, a TV host and cardiac surgeon.
"The secret sauce of Saddleback is we do this as a community," said Amen, one of the medical contributors. "It's very different than most health plans where you do it with yourself or your wife. You get to do this with a whole community."
Studies indicate that people who try to lose weight or adopt healthier habits in groups are more likely to be successful than individuals working independently.
The small groups have health and spiritual curricula, and provide a support network. Saddleback was the ideal place, because small groups already existed at the church and Warren had "instantaneous capacity to make