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.

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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.

Today Shamblin's business, in the words of her book-jacket copy, has risen from a garage startup to a multimillion-dollar, Nashville-based corporation. There are now 30,000 Weigh Down Workshop locations in the United States, Canada, and overseas. The Weigh Down Diet (Doubleday), Shamblin's first book, rocketed up the bestseller list soon after its release in 1997 and has sold more than a million copies. Her latest books, Rise Above and its companion devotional Out of Egypt (Nelson), focus even more deeply on the spiritual dimension of weight loss. Shamblin's success has put Christian dieting books in the spotlight lately, but the genre goes back nearly half a century.

The weight of a movement

The modern Christian dieting industry probably began in 1957, when Presbyterian minister Charlie Shedd published Pray Your Weight Away. The book, which would never fly in today's Christian self-help market, used the guilt-trip style of a folksy preacher to persuade readers that God never intended for "one hundred pounds of excess avoirdupois" to be hanging around their belts.

"We fatties are the only people on earth who can weigh our sins," Shedd wrote. Along with a host of hokey affirmations ("Today I eat with Him"), He offered an exercise regimen that, among other things, instructed readers to perform karate kicks while reciting Proverbs 3. The book was a bestseller.

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Christian Reader dieting and fitness movement focuses less on sin and more on the individual's addiction and recovery. With Shamblin as its most popular guru, the industry has exploded. According to nutritionist David Meinz, author of Eating by the Good Book, the dieting industry in America is worth $30–50 billion. "A conservative estimate is that 5 percent [$1.5 billion] of that is the Christian dieting industry," Meinz says. "Many Christians are also buying Lean Cuisine. The 5 percent estimate does not include that."

Meinz offers another way to parse it: "Thirty-nine percent of the American population considers itself born again. So [up to] 39 percent of that dieting industry is Christian dollars. That's a huge amount of money."

Christian dieting programs fall into two camps. First are the programs like Shamblin's Weigh Down Workshop, which try to avoid the strict rules and regulations of many diets, focusing on the "spiritual" side of eating to the exclusion of calorie-counting.

Most other Christian dieting programs are more regimented. They advocate food exchanges, measuring four ounces of this and two ounces of that. The national ministry 3D—Diet, Discipline, and Discipleship—embodies this approach. Considered the mother of Christian dieting programs, 3D was founded in 1973 by Carol Showalter, a New England Presbyterian pastor's wife who struggled with her weight. "Weight Watchers met in the church," she recalls, "and I had a hard time not noticing it as I was off to Bible studies." As Showalter considered enrolling "for the third or fourth time. … God spoke to me in a most extraordinary way: through a hand-painted sign on a Sunday-school wall. The message was this: God has the answer.

God's answer, she determined, was for her not to return to Weight Watchers. Instead, she organized 3D, which teaches that Christians, meeting in small groups, can lose weight if they lead disciplined lives: disciplined eating but also disciplined prayer.

A similar program is First Place. Founded in 1981 at Houston's First Baptist Church, First Place preaches "structure," according to Carole Lewis. Lewis, now the national director of the group, was an early devotee. Thirty-nine years old when the First Place meetings started in Dallas, Lewis thought, Do I want to be fat and 40?

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"I had already joined an aerobics class. I had 20 pounds I needed to lose. I had tried Weight Watchers, hypnosis, and I always gained it back." With First Place, Lewis was able to lose weight and keep it off. "We support a recognized food plan—using food exchanges and a food guide by the usda," she explains.

Weigh Down, and other programs like it, is nothing like First Place and 3D. As Showalter puts it, "Gwen Shamblin is saying something dramatically different from 3D. Eat your chocolate, eat your ice cream. The people in her testimonials may be losing weight, but is it healthy? Is it proper? Is it disciplined? I don't think so."

Weigh Down Workshop critics like Showalter ask potential Christian dieters to imagine what a life patterned on Shamblin's loose philosophy would look like. Where is the discipline that the Christian walk requires? Lewis agrees: "The biggest difference between Weigh Down and First Place is that Gwen says eat whatever you want. … [We recognize] that self-control is a fruit of the Spirit."

Jan Christiansen is another devoted "Weigh Downer." Christiansen made her way to a 3D group about three years ago after struggling with her weight for years. She liked the discipline the program provided, but she couldn't stick with it. "It seemed just like another diet. If I have to think about it at all, all I think about is food." Then she stumbled across Shamblin's book in the library.

"Weigh Down worked for me," Christiansen says. "With Weigh Down I don't have to think about food until my tummy growls. Weigh Down doesn't feel like a diet because diets draw your attention onto food—Weigh Down draws your attention onto God."

Indeed, there is much to applaud in Shamblin's approach. In contrast to programs such as First Place that require you to develop a cycle of focusing on what you put in your mouth, Shamblin's message de-emphasizes the centrality of food. As a result, many people have been able to break the cycle of food obsession and lose weight. But even some of Weigh Down's biggest fans also have concerns about the program.

Weigh Down controversy

Christiansen was so devoted to Weigh Down that she wrote a book about it: More of Him, Less of Me: My Personal Thoughts, Inspirations, and Meditations on the Weigh Down Diet, which came out last year. "Writing this book has made me see another side of Weigh Down," she says. And it wasn't positive.

Though she contacted Weigh Down several times when she was first starting to write, she heard no response until she signed her contract with Starburst Publishers. Then Weigh Down officials paid attention, making it clear they did not want Christiansen to publish the book. "At first they tried to warn me off my publisher, saying it was known for plagiarism," she says. "Then they got really concerned with [the size of Weigh Down on] the cover."

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After More of Him, Less of Me was out, Christiansen planned to attend a small Weigh Down conference in Pennsylvania. When she registered, she did not mention her own book, but a few days later a local organizer contacted Christiansen and asked her to bring copies of More of Him, Less of Me to the conference.

"I was surprised. I couldn't imagine, given their earlier treatment, that the national people would support this." So Christiansen asked the local organizer to check with the national office, which promptly contacted Christiansen and told her not to bring the book to the conference. "I don't want to think anything bad about Gwen," says Christiansen, reflecting on the workshop's marked hostility and noncooperation. "But I have to wonder why she is really in this—to help people or to make money?"
"Weigh Down routinely discourages those who seek to profit from its and/or Gwen's name," Weigh Down Workshop spokeswoman Jeannie Propst told Christianity Today when asked about Christiansen's book. Propst added that Shamblin's publisher at the time, Doubleday, "was actually the more incensed party."

Weigh Down has stirred controversy on the Christian college scene as well.

On some campuses, counselors who work with students worry that Weigh Down and other dieting programs could contribute to eating disorders. Students at Wheaton College urged the administration to sponsor a Weigh Down group last year, but the college, concerned that the workshop might somehow create a climate for anorexia on campus, refused.

"For young women who tend to be perfectionistic and concerned about having the perfect body," says Don Ferrell, the director of the Wheaton College Counseling Center, "being fat is one of the most terrible things in the whole world. To have a lot of young, thin, perfectionist women going into a program to lose weight is contrary to what they really need. Women can make use of Weigh Down in a very unhealthy way, like an alcoholic who reads that drinking a glass of wine every day will be good for him and uses that information to keep drinking."

Ferrell is careful to point out that programs like Weigh Down have a place, but that place is not on the college campus. Kelly Williamsen, a former Wheaton counselor now in private practice, agrees. There are many positive elements to programs like Weigh Down, she says: They teach people that some longings can only be filled by God; they confront "the erroneous idea that there are 'good' foods and 'bad' foods."

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But, says Williamsen, most Wheaton students "who struggle with food issues need also to be learning how to develop intimate relationships with others and to recognize that God has created us to need and long for closeness in community, not just with him." Most college students do not need to lose weight, she adds; they need to learn "to get more comfortable with the reality that their bodies will continue to change during the early adult years."

Equally worrisome is Weigh Down's lack of responsible nutritional information. Nutritionist David Meinz, who enthusiastically endorses the spiritual component of Shamblin's plan, worries about its nutritional value.

"Weigh Down has tapped into the issue that people overeat for spiritual or emotional reasons, but you should not turn to The Weigh Down Diet for nutritional information," says Meinz, although he appreciates that Shamblin is a registered dietitian with a master's degree in nutrition. "Shamblin needs to rethink her perspective on exercise," which has little place in her message.

Mary Louise Bringle, professor of religion at St. Andrews Presbyterian College in Laurinburg, North Carolina, and author of The God of Thinness, concurs: "Anyone who says that you don't ever need to exercise except getting down on your knees—that is not a message about fitness."

As for Shamblin, she has misgivings of her own about those who would question the Weigh Down approach. "People don't know what sin is," she told CT. "Sin is these people who keep telling people that God requires you to exercise, that brownies are evil, that sour cream is evil. … Is exercise the measure of letting your heart desire less food?"

Dangerous diet?

Noted Christian nutritionist Pam Smith has offered perhaps the most balanced assessment of Weigh Down's benefits and costs. "People have really grown so much stronger spiritually in Weigh Down, with the power of the small group and the power of the knowledge that God is God and food is food, but the program is scary from a medical perspective," Smith says. "People come away from it with no understanding of what they need for health. Who wouldn't want to hear that you can eat biscuits and gravy and it doesn't matter because somehow it's going to work? But there is no self-control; rather, people are saddled with the anarchy of whatever, whenever, however."

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Smith's latest book, The Diet Trap (LifeLine Press), seeks to turn readers away from "fad diets" toward more natural weight-loss options. She is especially worried about people who go through the Weigh Down program and then begin gaining their weight back: "People schooled in the notion that 'if you're really connecting with God, then you'll be thin' will say they're letting God down when they gain."

Smith adds that the Weigh Down formula promotes shortsighted teachings about nutrition and ignores documented scientific principles. "People can come away from Weigh Down with a distrust of everything research has shown to be true, thinking it doesn't apply to us as Christians," she says. "Through Weigh Down, people trade an obsessive focus on food for an all-out focus on God, and there's freedom there, but that's where it ends."

What are the nutritional teachings of which Smith is so critical? "Almost everything your body needs your body produces: lecithin, cholesterol, brain cells, protein. The main thing your body needs is just gasoline to run it," Shamblin writes in The Weigh Down Diet. "So God in his genius put all these nutrients in almost all foods—protein, carbohydrates, fat, vitamins, water, and minerals. They vary in percentage. Your liver can take those, move the configurations of carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, and nitrogen around, and can turn a carbohydrate into a protein and so forth." She adds that she gets the exact nutrients her body needs: "All I do is listen to my senses."

"To the layman's ear this sounds great," says Smith. "But you can't trust that your body will tell you what it needs. It doesn't have a mechanism, deep in your soul, that says, 'My muscles are breaking down, I need protein.' "

Shamblin suggests that her critics' self-interest may be clouding their judgment. "Nutritionists would love for us to keep the industry going by telling us how complicated things are," she says.

Grand-scale revival

It is easy to see why Shamblin's program has been so popular. Overweight people are often desperate for a solution, and an easy solution is usually preferable to a hard one. What's more, in teaching people to let God—not food—meet their deepest needs, Shamblin is doing the church a great service. While it seems unlikely that historians a century hence will be intoning about any Weigh Down Revival, it is clear that Shamblin's program has helped many Christians move into deeper relationships with God.

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Karen Mitchell, an Arkansas mother of three, says reading Shamblin's books helped her not only lose weight but "reconnect with a God I realized I hadn't really spoken to in several years. And I'm not alone. I know Gwen is helping people all over the country reconnect with their Lord."

In Mitchell's neighborhood alone, three women, all of whom credit Shamblin with their own spiritual reawakening, have formed a Bible study and prayer group. "We don't get together and just pray about weight," Mitchell says. "This has rejuvenated our entire spiritual life."

But according to some observers, Christians should be cautious about embracing Shamblin's brand of theology. Kelly Williamsen applauds the workshop's "strong affirmation that God, as Creator, acted with incredible wisdom in the formation of our bodies." But she worries that Shamblin's axiom, "we can love either food or God," fails to recognize that people can love "several people and/or things at one time. Is it true that all of the longings and empty spaces we find within ourselves are only a quest for more of God? Maybe we also eat when we are longing for companionship, community, family."

Shamblin's enthusiastic following suggests that she goes way beyond the status of simply a dieting figurehead; for droves of Weigh Downers, she is a major spiritual leader.

To have become such an influential voice on spiritual matters, Shamblin has very little theological heft behind her teachings—and she doesn't see the need for oversight from outside pastors or theologians. Her approach to Scripture relies heavily on freestyle prooftexting. In her books and videos, she has adopted the Exodus story as an elaborate metaphor for America's bondage to dieting. ("The Israelites stayed in Egypt for 430 years," she writes in Rise Above, "and then they cried out for a Savior. America has been in a mess for decades, and we have cried out to God again and again to remove this fat and save us from this burden.")

Concerned lately with all the "false information" circulating about food, weight, and nutrition, Shamblin refers to God's warning in Deuteronomy 13 that "false prophets" will rise among his people to test them. "When church leaders confuse the sheep, the sheep don't know where to go," she says. "But God has always allowed Pharisees."

On the same theme, she likes to quote Jude 4: that certain "godless men" will secretly slip in among you and change the grace of God into license to sin. But one of her favorite Scripture verses is Matthew 6:25: "Do not worry about. … what you will eat or drink." In that verse, says Shamblin, Jesus isn't merely teaching about anxiety and trust in God; he also means that folks should not worry about getting enough fiber.

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Shamblin, who does not identify herself with any one Christian tradition, told CT she has been associated with both denominational and nondenominational churches. Thousands of churches use her program, but amid her national fame, she has become increasingly critical of American churches. She suggests they have drifted too far from the scriptural model. "Early Christians died to their will and it was radical," she says. "They wanted people to know that God is your only Lord. Today people are looking for a message that tickles their own ears."

Perhaps because of such concerns, Shamblin and her husband, David, joined another another couple 18 months ago in planting a new church in the Nashville area. Remnant Fellowship meets in a renovated warehouse and currently has about 80 members.

Saving bodies and souls

Shamblin is not the only Christian dieting personality to claim that the primary benefit of her program is spiritual and revivalistic: most Christian dieting programs say that their real goal is not pounds but God. As Lewis says of First Place, "The whole purpose is to draw us closer to Christ."

"The ultimate goal is always evangelistic," says Christian dieter and nurse Judy Halliday, coauthor of Thin Again (Baker) and founder of the ministry Thin Within. "Otherwise this work would be very unsatisfactory to me." Halliday recently was able to lead her client Stephanie Sferra to faith in Christ. Sferra, a California wife and mother, began working with Halliday after yo-yoing with Jenny Craig and other diets.

Sferra's experience with religion had always been "about ceremony, doing it because you had to, walking through the motions," but Halliday seemed to present something more than empty ritual. The two talked about a perfect love that was not performance-based. Soon Halliday invited Sferra to church and later gave her a Bible. "Judy asked me if I was ready to accept Jesus Christ as my Savior and welcome God into my heart. I said I'd never said that out loud, but this time I was ready. Now I'm walking through my life buttressed by the Spirit. And to think it all started because I thought I was 20 pounds overweight!"

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Sferra is not alone. Christian dieting programs have helped many non-Christians come to faith. Secular folks who want to slim down see a coworker or neighbor who took off—and kept off—40 pounds, and ask, "How did you do it?" That the answer is "religious" doesn't trouble many nonbelievers: they figure if it will help them lose weight they might as well give it a shot—and they often leave the program converted to Christ, if not always slimmer.

Carole Lewis of First Place underscores her group's evangelistic successes: the program is "a hook to introduce people to Christ. Many people come who've never darkened the door of a church." Shamblin says Jews and Mormons have come into the evangelical Protestant fold through the Weigh Down Workshop. "Losing weight is great, but evangelism is my whole point," says Jan Christiansen. "Above all I want to tell people God can help you."

Is fat sin?

If professional Christian dieters emphasize their evangelistic successes, they also talk about conversion to thinness. Indeed, Christian weight-management books are nothing so much as modern conversion narratives. The author recounts her own struggles with weight, describes the wrong turns she took in searching for an answer, highlights the datable moment where she realized that food had taken over her life, and then shares the story of her victorious walk to thinness. Princeton University's Marie Griffith is the author of an acclaimed study of Women's Aglow Fellowship and a forthcoming study of Christians, dieting, and food in American history. She observes that in the routinized formula of Christians describing past sins, authors of Christian dieting books tell their readers they can sympathize with weight struggles by recounting their own battles of the bulge.

But have Christian dieters simply bought into a worldly standard? After all, the underlying assumption that programs like Weigh Down share with the more disciplined programs like 3D is the notion that God wants people to be thin. Although evangelicals are typically outspoken in their analysis of worldliness, weight is one area where we seem to have embraced a worldly aesthetic uncritically.

As a writer in Daughters of Sarah put it, "The message, whether blatant or subtle, is that fat-is-sin-and-the-righteous-are-thin-amen."

Evangelism is one of the most popular justifications for Christians jumping on the weight-loss bandwagon. First Place's Carole Lewis teaches that a slender appearance is crucial to being an effective witness. "Although God looks on the heart, man looks on the outward appearance," she says. "I think we have a responsibility in our world to share Christ. If I'm 100 pounds overweight and trying to tell them about God's power in their life, they will look at me and wonder why there's no power to help me in this area." After publishing her 1979 book Free to Be Thin, Neva Coyle received scads of letters like this: "What shall I do? At a size 16 I look awful! How can I ever tell anyone about Christ until I take this disgusting body back down to a size 10?"

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Uniting Christ and weight-loss is no innocent, self-evident act but one laden with theological implications. Mary Louise Bringle has struggled with her own weight and body image for years. Critical of the ways in which Christians have embraced the cult of thinness, she suggests that hidden assumptions about women may be buried in Christians' adoption of an aesthetic that privileges thinness. "We've got to think about what this says about women, and what women are valued for."

Though men do participate in dieting programs, from Weigh Down to Weight Watchers, Bringle observes that the vast majority of dieters are women. "Men get stroked by their wives whether they gain weight or not," she says. In contrast, countless Christian women are motivated to diet because they fear their husbands are repulsed by fleshy thighs and protruding tummies.

Since the days of the early church, Christianity, has had a lot to say about food from the days of the early church. As sins go, gluttony is right up there with sloth, avarice, and lust. But, as Griffith notes, "the Christian tradition [also] has resources for critiquing" the diet craze. And there are signs that some Christian dieters are beginning to offer that critique.

When pressed, professional Christian dieters admit that, in the words of Carole Lewis, it doesn't "matter to God whether we're thin. … it matters to us." Showalter echoes that sentiment: "I can't believe that God is looking at my scale."

Feeding the sheep

At least two women who formerly had success as leaders in the Christian dieting world have recently shifted the focus in their ministries. Their stories now serve as cautionary tales for others.

Neva Coyle regained over 100 pounds after writing the bestselling Free to Be Thin and founding Overeaters Victorious. She now had an added motivation to lose weight: not only would it please God and her husband, but her career depended on it as well—an obese woman would not have much success hawking a dieting program. But Coyle was also fighting "a severe health crisis": her doctors told her she would have to reverse the stomach-stapling procedure she had undergone years before. "I was faced with the realization," says Coyle, "that it was my weight or my life." After some hesitation, she chose life and had the intestinal bypass reversed.

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Fifteen years later, Coyle has moved away from her earlier obsession with slenderness, and her book Loved on a Grander Scale (Servant) reminds readers that God loves them no matter what their size. She urges them to ask Jesus: "Forgive me for putting my body size before you. For spending so much time on how I look, how much I weigh, and caring more about pleasing others than I cared about pleasing you."

Probably the most straightforward critique of the industry is found in a short book published in 1993 by Thomas Nelson—the same publisher now selling Weigh Down to the Christian market. In One Size Fits All and Other Fables, Liz Curtis Higgs recounts battling her waistline for years. When she became a Christian in 1982, she joined Weight Watchers—"only this time, I told myself I would give God the glory for any changes that took place."

When she quickly lost 50 pounds, her friends at church urged her to start a weight-loss group. She founded Will Power, which stood for "My Will Surrendered to God's Power." The group, Higgs recalls, brought her and many other women closer to God. But Will Power "and most Christian diet groups of recent years. … promoted the lie that thin equals righteousness. … heaped additional guilt upon women who felt plenty guilty already. … [and] baptized all these efforts as 'dieting' unto-the-Lord.' It simply was not biblical!"

Now Higgs has a different take: "Sinful to be fat? I don't think so." And she asks "all my sisters in Christ and especially those whom I unintentionally misinformed during my Will Power days: please forgive me and accept God's complete and unconditional love for you."

There are hopeful signs that Christians will find a wise balance between physical fitness and spiritual growth—and not accept cultural notions of size 2 supermodels as an attainable reality. However, the success and very existence of a Christian dieting industry suggest that believers will continue to walk a fine line on the issue.

Phyllis Tickle, contributing editor to Publishers Weekly and a contributor to The Bread of Life: A Cookbook for Body and Soul, has watched the booming Christian dieting industry both as a journalist tracking publishing trends and as a devotional writer who believes Christians need to see themselves as whole beings: body, spirit, and mind.

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Tickle says evangelicals have mostly focused on the mind and spirit. She is encouraged, however, by the dieting industry's sincere, if not always perfect, attempts to help believers look at their physical bodies through a Christian perspective.

Tickle recognizes Gwen Shamblin as an influential voice in this effort. "Shamblin is showing us that you diet as a Christian, you choose your food as a Christian, you exercise as a Christian—and that's a fairly new phenomenon," Tickle says. "We are beginning to say the world of the body can indeed be approached by a soul who is devout and in service to his or her God and sees the world of the body that way."

Achieving the proper balance in our image-obsessed culture, however, is another matter.

Jane, a striking twentysomething graduate student with smooth mocha skin and shapely legs, unwittingly offered what may stand as the best caution for the Christian dieting industry and its disciples. Dieting constantly, subsisting on yogurt, anxious to slim her already fit figure down even further, Jane went to church and heard a sermon on discipleship. "Listening to Jesus tell Peter to feed his sheep, I thought, How well am I going to feed any sheep if I don't feed myself?" she recalls. "He said feed his sheep, after all. He didn't say diet them."

Related Elsewhere

Shamblin responds to her critics in " 'Judge Us by Our Fruits,' " also appearing today at ChristianityToday.com

Shamblin and Weigh Down have been profiled in The Washington Post,The Abilene Reporter-News , The Holland Sentinel , U.S. News and World Report , Charisma magazine, World magazine (which profiled the diet this year and in 1997 ), and Christianity Today sister publication Today's Christian Woman For a brief overview from Shamblin's perspective, read an article she wrote at the Christian Broadcasting Network 's site.

You can listen to a reading from Shamblin's Rise Above, read her biography , or chat about her diet plan at Ann Online.

View the official Weigh Down Diet site .

Chat with other dieters, read a dieting journal, or purchase products at the 3D (Diet, Discipline, and Discipleship) site .

Visit lizcurtishiggs.com or read a short biography about the author of One Size Fits All and Other Fables.

Previous Christianity Today articles about dieting include:

Evangelicals Embrace Vegetarian Diet | Christians are flocking toward the Hallelujah Diet as a healthier way of life. (Sept. 6, 1999)

Was the Messiah a Vegetarian? | PETA tries to win Christians to a "nonviolent" diet. (Aug. 9, 1999)

Hungry for God | Why more and more Christians are fasting for revival. (Apr. 15, 1999)

How Healthy Is Fasting? | Physicians and clergy alike say fasting is as good for the body as it is for the soul. (Apr. 15, 1999)

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