The Christian Diet Craze

The guru of godly dieting could afford to lighten up a little

In the last few years, thousands upon thousands of pounds have been lost in the name of God thanks to

Gwen Shamblin's The Weigh-Down Diet

. Spilling out of Christian bookstores into the major chains, Shamblin's book, with its thinness-is-godliness gospel, soon sold more than a million copies. Shamblin herself turned up on "20/20" and "Larry King Live," urging thousands more to turn themselves over to her devotional program for transforming obsessive love of food into a nourishing relationship with God. Flush with her success (which she takes as evidence that she's purveying God's truth), Shamblin is back with "Rise Above," a second weight-loss book that manages to be bolder, cheerier, racier and yet ultimately grimmer than her first.

"Rise Above" recapitulates much of what Shamblin preached in her first book: God is the "genius" who invented foods from brownies to Fritos; He designed all bodies to be thin; thin people are not in love with food, but heavy people are; it's not what you eat but how much; there are few physiological addictions but many spiritual ones. But newer, harsher doctrines emerge in Shamblin's second effort, even as her earlier teachings seem to have grown more severe.


The principle Shamblin seems to hold dearest is submission. The subject stirs in Shamblin such vehemence that her prose suddenly loses its usual corny humor when she writes about it. Wifely surrender to a husband is paramount, second only to employees' submission to their employers. "If you can't submit to your boss that you do see," Shamblin writes, "you can't submit to God, whom you don't see." Shamblin speaks from firsthand knowledge, having dealt with her own insubordinate and disloyal workers (for whom our sympathy grows in the course of the book). Shamblin says that she now understands how God must feel, shepherding his own unruly children.

What does such crude obedience have to do with liberation from food? Shamblin crafts a link from the Biblical theme of serving two masters: you can't love one without hating the other. "What wonderful news," writes Shamblin, "as you love God, you will not be able to bow down to the brownies! It will be repulsive to eat the second half of the hamburger. You will despise worshipping the food. You cannot serve both God and someone or something else, therefore, the Promised Land is in sight-you will lose weight!"

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