Beliefnet
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!"

Shamblin's program is, admittedly, less restrictive than her predecessors in the Christian dieting field. Neva Coyle's "Free To Be Thin" which made the connection between God and losing weight in 1979, came on the heels of Patricia Kreml's "Slim For Him" and Joan Cavanaugh's "More of Jesus, Less of Me," both published earlier in the '70s; these were all descendents of Charlie Shedd's 1957 book, "Pray Your Weight Away," which emphasized counting calories. Shamblin doesn't concern herself with number- or stomach-crunching.

But neither does Shamblin, a Christian writer, question the secular culture's obsession with thinness and beauty. She seems to accept that women's satisfaction lies in superficiality. More than once in "Rise Above," she shares her devastation when she breaks a fingernail. God is called the "ultimate shopper," who delights in being consulted about clothes and interior decorating.

Overeating and sin are also more closely equated in this book than in previous Christian diets. Shamblin lacks sympathy for anyone not up to her high standards of prosperity and thinness. Being five pounds overweight or eighty is all the same to her. She shows a mocking indifference toward deeper causes of overeating, like spousal abuse. Her feverish narrative hews to a single principle: submitting unquestionably to the Weigh Down program (and therefore to her own authority) is equivalent to obeying God Himself.

Like other gurus, Shamblin includes an implicit promise of erotic fulfillment. The Lord is "the best-looking and most-loving and richest husband of all times," she writes. He is "not a wimpy lover," but "a passionate, jealous God," the "hero we have all been dreaming of." She writes, "I have a crush on the Father, and this is what it looks like: I dress for Him and say, 'God, do you like this outfit?' . . . I look forward to a rendezvous with God. . . . I can't take my eyes off Him now." And though she cautions us to enjoy, not love, food, Shamblin describes meatloaf, mashed potatoes, extra-butter popcorn with salacious pleasure. Food, that adulterous lover, takes us away from our marital bond with God. Freed from its yoke we can take luscious delight in food's carnal pleasures, divinely purified and blessed.

The proposition that we can walk this tightrope with Shamblin's finesse, ignoring the contradictions and simplifications built into her message, is a precarious one indeed.

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