Soon after its publication in November of 2003, "Body by God" by Dr. Ben Lerner, a Florida-based chiropractor, Olympic trainer, and motivational speaker, hit the Wall Street Journal and New York Times bestseller lists. The book includes a holistic and faith-centered fitness, nutrition, and stress-reduction program that combines scientific research with Lerner's interpretation of the Bible. The key to a healthy lifestyle, he writes, is sustaining ourselves the way he believes God intended us to; for example: choosing "foods by God"-fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean meats-over "foods by man"-heavily processed or refined foods, items with preservatives and chemicals. Lerner believes it is a separation from God (in terms of diet, exercise, and spirituality) that leads people to illness, stress, and obesity. He spoke with us recently about his program.

What inspired you to create the Body by God program?

It really began with the desire to not be fat. When I was 12, while other kids are being told they are going to be astronauts or presidents, I'm being told I'm going to be fat. So I did not want to head down that road.

So I wanted to find foods that you could eat a lot of-because I love to eat-and not gain weight, still look your best, and also perform, because I was an athlete, I was a wrestler. As I began to study nutrition I started to understand there are certain foods that are created for the body, certain natural foods, and I realized you can eat an awful lot of oatmeal and apples and chicken and eggs and vegetables and still look and perform your best.

I became more spiritual, I learned to understand that those natural foods were actually the foods that God created for your body, so we call those "food by God" in the book. And that's part of the plan.

So nutrition is one part of being healthy, and it's really not even the most important part. Studies show that if you're overweight, but in shape, you're healthier than if you're thin and out of shape. God created us to move. He built people that needed to go out and hunt for food and build shelter and had to plant gardens and to travel by foot. So we were built for exercise.

And stress, we're learning, may be even more dangerous than poor nutrition and bad fitness, because if you're stressed, you increase your production of the stress hormones that create obesity and that cause high cholesterol and high blood pressure. So again, there's the scientific side. But on the spiritual side, when you feel overpowered by your stress, like there's nothing you could do about it and like it won't go away, then spiritually that's a problem because it means you don't have hope-that indicates a separation from faith and God.

The subtitle of your book is "The Owners Manual for Maximized Living." You believe the Bible is actually the best owner's manual but that your book is a supplement to the Bible?

Yeah, because the Bible as far as a manual for your ethics, your morals, your relationships with people and with God; the Bible is the perfect manual for that. But it doesn't give the complete information on how God wants you to eat, exercise, and manage your stress and your time. So we just wanted to aid the Bible and aid God and serve him though helping people deal better with their lifestyle in a more spiritual and scientific manner.

You say the reason other health books and diet programs fail is because too much of the information in them is "man's information" and not God's. But you're not suggesting that your own book was divinely inspired?

No, no. God didn't speak to me at three in the morning or anything. But it's just common sense. Because you can obviously look and say, here's how God created us. And so from a food perspective, here's the foods that he created for our bodies. To dismiss that knowledge and just eat things man made, it makes sense that that's not what God intended. The same goes for fitness. It makes sense that God built us to move and to not sit in front of computers. So you don't need voices from heaven to know when the way we live is not the way God wants us to live.

At this point everyone knows that an apple's good, McDonald's is bad. I don't think anybody on the planet doesn't own at least one diet book, but obviously we're sicker and more overweight than ever before in our history. So the problem is not that we don't have the knowledge. The problem is we're not acting on it.

What I found is that if people recognize the body as a temple, that it is a "body by God," that they'll be more motivated to take care of it-versus when you feel fat after Christmas and want to go on a diet and then that lasts for a few weeks and then you quit. If people understand our bodies are a gift, and that they're called to be good custodians of this gift, then it's more likely they'll take care of the body for a longer period of time and get back on track when they get off track.

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