The Weigh and the Truth
Julie Jones says Gwen Shamblin saved her life. Jones, a fortysomething homemaker and mother of two who was overweight since her teens, had tried "every diet under the sun—Jenny Craig, Weight Watchers, the grapefruit diet. If you've heard of it, I've tried it." But Jones could not manage to keep off the weight. Even when she "successfully reduced," the pounds slowly crept back. Every month, Jones combed the health and dieting sections of her local Borders bookstore, looking for a new dieting scheme that would make the difference.
"Then I found Gwen," Jones says, describing her introduction to Shamblin in terms some reserve for Jesus. And, in a sense, Shamblin's book was her salvation. "I opened The Weigh Down Diet and I knew then and there that it was going to change my life forever. Really, it saved me." At a size 14, Jones was in little danger of death due to medical obesity, but she was contemplating suicide. "I was in despair. I felt ugly and fat, and my husband had lost all interest in me. He made it quite clear that he did not want to touch me until I got the weight off. I thought I may as well just end it, you know. Life that fat just didn't seem worth living."
What was the message that distinguished The Weigh Down Diet from the other dieting guides? "Shamblin," says Jones, "tells overweight women what we want to hear: you don't have to starve yourself to lose. Overeating is a problem of the soul. Put your spiritual life in order and you will lose weight, without cutting out the foods you love from your daily diet."
People should not be obsessed with food, Shamblin argues, and counting calories is every bit as obsessive as compulsive overeating. The real problem is spiritual: get right with God, stop trying to fill your God-shaped hole with food, and your figure will improve.
So Shamblin, 45, does not prescribe a specific menu; she does not encourage readers to cut out "empty calories" from their diets; she does not chastise those who keep Oreos in the cupboard and M&Ms in the desk drawer; she does not suggest snacking on dried apricots or substituting sorbet for ice cream.
Instead, she focuses on helping disciples discern when they are physiologically hungry: "[F]ind [the] rumbling of acid underneath the ribs. … If you are not sure that this feeling is hunger, just wait a little longer." Once you know you are truly hungry, rather than just craving food to fill an emotional or spiritual need, you can eat whatever foods you want to—simply stop when you are full.
Shamblin, whose luminous smile, big blonde hair, and petite figure bring to mind a Southern Barbie doll, is just one of many people who have made a profession out of providing dieting and fitness resources to weight-conscious Christians. Trim and toned, Shamblin may not look like she has ever struggled with overeating, but it has been an issue for her. "I was a thin eater growing up," she confesses in The Weigh Down Diet. But in college, overwhelmed by the availability and variety of food at the campus "megacafeteria" and late-night delis, Shamblin gained the "freshman 15." She took the pounds off easily in 1982 simply by mimicking the eating habits of a skinny friend, who ate only when she was hungry and rarely consumed all the food on her plate. She says she's never been more than 20 pounds over her precollege weight, but her obsession with food left her feeling enslaved.
In time Shamblin combined the eating habits of her thin friend with a renewed focus on God: when she felt like eating but knew she wasn't hungry, she took it as a call to read her Bible or pray. This formula became the foundation of the Weigh Down program. After several years of running a Memphis nutritional counseling center for a primarily secular clientele, in 1992 she launched the Weigh Down Workshop, which tailored her weight-loss program for church-sponsored classes.