July 25, 2006: As [overweight] Americans get more and more desperate, they're going to extreme measures to try to lose weight -- gastric bypass, bariatric lap band, "The Biggest Loser." Some are even turning to a higher power: the Lord. In addition to belief systems and theology, God, Yahweh, Buddha and Xenu (via L. Ron Hubbard) all have slimming tips!

"Obesity is a crisis, and in crisis situations you turn to religion for help," says Jeff Sharlet, associate research scholar at the NYU Center for Religion and Media. But do religious-inspired diets work? According to New York nutritionist Judy E. Marshel, "If you believe something can work, you can make it work."

Hallelujah, then, that "The Hallelujah Diet," inspired by the Bible, is flying off the shelves (it reached No. 1 on Amazon just after its March release).

Here, we examine how the hottest religious diets stack up:

Diet Bible: "The Hallelujah Diet," Dr. George Malkmus (Destiny Image Publishers)

Deity: Judeo-Christian God

The Gist: Based on an interpretation of Genesis 1:29 as "God's natural laws for healing and health," the meatless meal plan follows a strict ratio of 85 percent raw and 15 percent cooked food.

The Goal: Healthier living is the diet's main promise, although Malkmus emphasizes the diet's healing abilities - and claims it cured him of colon cancer.

Target Dieter: Sick or overweight churchgoers

What the experts say: "Anyone who says he was healed from cancer from food, consumers should be wary of," says Yonkers nutritionist Alan Lee. Religious scholar Sharlet notes, "The irony is the New Testament makes it clear that you can eat absolutely anything."

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Diet Bible: "Pat's Weight Loss Challenge DVD," starring Pat Robertson

Deity: Pat Robertson, chairman of the Christian Broadcasting Network.

The Gist: A high protein, low-carb diet with three meals a day (such as chicken breast and whole-wheat bread or salad) plus three snacks (including Pat's Diet Shake).

The Goal: Pat promises you will lose weight - up to 1 pound every 2.64 days, if followed properly - without any hunger pains.

Target Dieter: The over-the-hill dieter, "700 Club" members

What the experts say: "The weight-loss shake recipe contains too many calories and too much protein," Lee says.

* * *

Diet Bible: "Clear Body, Clear Mind," by L. Ron Hubbard (Bridge Publications)

Deity: Xenu, the alien ruler of the "Galactic Confederacy."

The Gist: Less a diet plan than an overall detoxification process, the emphasis is on a strict regimen of niacin, large quantities of vegetable oil, vitamins and ample time sweating in a sauna.

The Goal: Though the program's Web site reports weight loss, the plan is oriented more toward cleansing the mind and drying up addicts.

Target Dieter: Drug addicts, Katie Holmes

What the experts say: "Many of the vitamins and minerals and dietary supplements recommended in this book far exceed the upper tolerable limit set forth by the USDA," Lee says.

Diet Bible: "The Maker's Diet," Jordan S. Rubin (Siloam Press)

Deity: Yahweh

The Gist: This 40-day plan based on Leviathan 11:9 or "God's dietary laws" combines the kosher diet (no pork or shellfish) with the elimination of processed, man-made foods.

The Goal: Weight loss is reported but it's mainly about a healthier lifestyle.

Target Dieter: Kosher folks, those looking to improve health

What the experts say: "The elimination of processed foods is a good way to eliminate unnecessary calories," Marshel says. "The only danger is when you classify food as good or bad, it can lead to a binge cycle with the food you can't have."

* * *

Diet Bible: "The Prayer Diet," by Matthew Anderson (Citadel Press)

Deity: Jesus

The Gist: If your stomach growls, it's hungry for spiritual nourishment - so instead of chowing down, just pray.

The Goal: To become thinner, more patient, more loving and understanding.

Target Dieter: Fat, impatient, hateful and dense people

What the experts say: While the nutritional benefits aren't confirmed, religious scholar Sharlet admits that leaving your fate (and weight) in God's hands is "a little more grounded biblically than the other [diets]."

* * *

Diet Bible: "The Zen of Eating," by Ronna Kabatznick (Perigree Trade)

Deity: Buddha

The Gist: Uses the principles of Buddhism to gain lasting nourishment without quick-fix food - through working at a soup kitchen and meditating on the origin of your meal.

The Goal: To quit yo-yo dieting and instead find balance and consciousness of your food intake.

Target Dieter: Overeaters, yoga-rexics.

What the experts say: Marshel recommends this as a good way to "get real satisfaction and not use food inappropriately for satisfaction."

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