Cults are not the way to lose weight

As obesity rates continue to increase, so does the business and political push to lose weight. Every time I turn around, there is another fad diet or workout phenomena guaranteed to help you shed the pounds quickly and keep them off.

However, some of these fads, especially when they aren't followed correctly, go too far. I'll admit that I'm one of the many who is constantly searching for an easier, faster way to drop those extra pounds. But all of these fancy diets and exercise programs that seem to be pouring out of the woodwork the past few years simply leave a bad taste in my mouth. Many of them are unhealthy and require permanent dieting to maintain results. To me, it just isn't worth it.

But, while reading a recent edition of Self magazine, I realized that weight loss ideas can get worse - one has now become a cult.

The article told me about Weigh Down and the Remnant Fellowship, the religion it has spawned.

The article, "Praying to be Thin," introduced readers to Gwen Shamblin, the diet and religion's founder.

Shamblin says, "If you are dieting, taking pills, counting fat grams, using exchange lists, changing the content of foods, then you believe your basic problem is food. Dieting keeps a person focused on what he or she should and should not eat. This focus on food only increases the magnetic pull of the refrigerator because you fall in love with what you focus on."

Makes sense, right? It's not a bad theory - lose the focus on food, and you will lose weight. In short, her premise is that the key to weight loss is learning to love God instead of food. This is paired with eating only when your stomach growls.

So far, I still hadn't seen much wrong with the plan. For years, experts have said our habit of eating when we're bored, tired, sad, etc., is a sure-fire way to add extra pounds. There is also nothing wrong with enlisting God's help and/or guidance in helping achieve your goals.

However, when Shamblin founded Remnant in 1999, things began to go downhill.

While Melba Newsome, the author of the article, said the overly religious message wasn't for her, she said the program got results. When she first started an eight-week class in 2002 through a church near her home, she lost 10 pounds in a month. Her hectic schedule interfered, cutting the program short. But in 2005, when a new online course was offered, she had no hesitation in shelling out $125 for the eight-week Exodus Out of Egypt: The Change Series. Newsome said the name symbolized the "deliverance of God's chosen people from slavery (the bondage to food and dieting) to the promised land (being permanently thin)."

"This time, I noticed stark differences in the program," Newsome wrote. "Weight loss advice was overshadowed by the rhetoric implying that overeaters are courting eternal damnation. In class videos, Shamblin was self-righteous, her tone dictatorial. Gradually, I realized that Weigh Down had become a recruitment tool for the church Shamblin founded in 1999."

To date, approximately 1,200 people have joined Remnant Fellowship; 650 picking up roots and moving closer to Shamblin's multimillion-dollar estate in Tennessee.

However, Weigh Down and Remnant seem to do more harm to those who join than good. Goals are set, and if they are not met, Newsome said members are told they will go to hell. Guilt and shame are used to keep the members in line, and eternal damnation is said to be the punishment for "overeating."

Laura Nichols is a prime example of how dangerous the program can really be for someone's lifestyle and health.

After attending a Remnant retreat in 2002 (she had been teaching Weigh Down classes since 1998), Nichols left her Southern Baptist church to start a Remnant congregation in Houston.

Newsome reported, "When Nichols weight plateaued at 280 pounds, she says Shamblin chastised her for not losing more and told her to 'stop being a billboard for sin.' She had already had a gastric band put in and was eating a saucer of food per meal; now she started eating only nine bites of food a day. She lost 13 pounds in 10 days, bringing her total weight loss to 70 pounds. Church leaders wanted more. 'Gwen told me to quit eating, that I had enough fat on my body to live off for many years,' Nichols recalls."

While Shamblin said she did not remember this specific conversation, she didn't deny that it was something she would have said.

No matter what light it is portrayed in, not eating is anorexia, plain and simple. Coloring it under the guise of religion is just an ignorant portrayal

Losing weight and being fit is always a good idea, as long as you stay healthy. Shamblin, on the other hand, seems to brainwash people into not eating as a way to get into heaven. Nothing in the Bible ever said that food was evil or bad.

If you want to lose weight, do so wisely. Eat better food, be more active. Cults are not the answer.