Filling up on the Spirit, packing on the pounds?

Go to church? You may not only be going to be filled with the Spirit, but end up packing on the pounds as well.

Ever since Northwestern University’s study earlier this year found that church-goers were 50 percent more likely to become obese by middle age than the general population, the figurative (perhaps even literal) blubber’s been flyin in congregations across the country.

A pastor in Mississippi, spotting more than a few broad-beamed behinds, bulging bellies and thunder thighs among his parishioners, went so far as to ban fried chicken from his church’s get-togethers. In Texas, Florida, California and other states, a variety of church campaigns aimed at weight loss and healthier eating have blossomed.

However, perhaps the most visible attack on Christian fat has been launched by the decreasingly rotund pastor of the Southern California Saddleback megachurch, Rick Warren, whose series of Purpose Driven books has sold millions of copies. Pledging himself to lose 90 pounds in 52 weeks, Warren and his staff have made a big-time push of their Daniel Plan: God’s Prescription for Your Health campaign.

For this preacher’s kid, potlucks and church picnics were laden with friend chicken, potato salad, spaghetti, lasagna, casseroles, cake, cookies and pies. These mountains of calories were as much a part of growing up in a pastor’s home as Bible studies, prayer meetings and enduring hot Sundays sweating in the pews watching the clock’s slow and cruel pace toward the end of the service.

Potluck: Breaking bread, gaining weight

While the mechanics and causes of any addiction are complex, those meals – laden with carbohydrates, fats and sugar – sure didn’t help me. When I was young and athletic, I kept the pounds at bay rather well; but the eating patterns were set. By 30, I was closing in on 300 pounds; by 50, I was over 400. So entrenched was my overeating addiction – with food as much a drug-of-choice as alcohol or cocaine is for others – that I finally took, at age 54, the drastic route to saving my life: a gastric bypass operation.

Losing 200 pounds, and having the break needed to address the psychological (and spiritual) roots of my overeating, was also life-changing in more ways than appearance. I thank God I’ve been able since to keep the weight off and adopt a schedule of resolutely healthy nutrition and regular exercise.

It’s never easy, of course. Actually, it is extremely difficult. Some people are making that healthy transition without the extreme of surgery; I could not. I applaud those who do, though.

And really, what better place should there be for positive life change, including weight loss, than your church, synagogue, mosque or temple, the place where you meet with God, and share common faith with others?

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