La Vita WeaverAfter years of yo-yo dieting and struggling with her weight, La Vita Weaver added gospel music to her exercise routine for motivation. Soon she was inspired to recite hymns and Bible verses. She found that celebrating her faith energized her workouts-she was losing weight and sticking to her routine. These workout sessions were the genesis of Weaver's "Hallelujah! Aerobics," a series of videos that incorporates Bible verses and hymns into an exercise routine (Watch a video clip.) and her eight-week "Fit for God" program, which combines prayer, exercise, and nutrition advice in a holistic approach to a healthy lifestyle. Now an ordained minister and fitness instructor, Weaver spoke with Beliefnet about her fitness philosophy.

What does it mean to be "fit for God"?

Basically being "fit for God" is being totally fit in your spirit, your soul, and your body. And acknowledging God in everything you do, including your fitness program.

1st Thessalonians 5:23 says, "Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you wholly and may your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ." That's one of the scriptures that God led me to place in my heart when he gave me this vision for this book. And the second Scripture is 1st Corinthians 10:31, "Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God." I realized that I could not maintain control over my eating habits, until I included God in my fitness program.

There are so many diet plans out there-even some faith-based plans-and so many different fads and trends. What do you think makes your plan different?

I think what makes my plan different, number one, is my personal experience. I know what it feels like to have no control over your eating habits. I know what it feels like to be obese. I know what it feels like to be ashamed of your body. To think everyone is looking at you because of your weight. I know how it feels to not want to live, to be in a severe, depressed state. I have been there. I lived it.

Many of the plans out there may talk about the spiritual component, or they may talk about just the diet, but I think my plan is complete in that I talk about the spiritual issues in addition to giving advice about eating right. And I believe in exercise. I don't believe you just pray the weight off. God gave us this great gift of exercise to relieve stress, to reduce the risk of illness. And a lot of the other spiritual plans that I have read do not necessarily include the exercise component.

So nutrition and exercise is not enough to be completely whole. And "Fit for God" is about complete wellness.

Studies indicate that America is the fattest country in the world-25 percent of us are considered not just overweight but obese. Do you think this may be a symptom of something deeper, like a widespread spiritual hunger?

I have trained Indian or Asian clients and they told me when they first came to this country, they were thin. And they said that once they stayed here over a period of time, they gained a significant amount of weight. So number one, I definitely believe it's fast foods, and it's our diet in America.

But I also feel that because we're so opportunist and we believe in the American dream-obtaining as much power and money and success as you can-I think that is what sometimes can drive that spiritual hunger as well. Because we're trying to fill a void with power, with wealth, with education.

Some would say God doesn't care if you're fat, but you believe it's ok to care about the way you look. Can you talk a little bit about why you feel that way?

Well I do believe that God specifically does not care about the way you look. I believe in my heart that God loves each and every one of his children the way they are. There is a scripture in the Book of First Samuel, when Samuel was going to anoint the next king over Israel and God told Samuel, "Do not look at his appearance." Because God doesn't see as man sees. Man looks at the outward appearance, but God searches the heart. He cares about whether you have a relationship with him and the way you're treating others.

I think there's nothing wrong with wanting to look fit or being neat in your clothes. I don't think there's anything wrong with that as long as that fitness does not become your God.

In reality, I do care about the way I look. Most women I meet, and men, care about the way they look. I mean, who wants to have rolls and cellulite on their thighs? So instead of me being so spiritual, I'm also being a realist in that it's ok to want to be fit, to want to be healthy-and to look fit and healthy.

So you'd say we have to be good stewards of our bodies?

Of course. According to First Corinthians 6:19-20, "Our body is a temple of the Holy Spirit of God." Therefore, if our body is the house of God, where the spirit of God dwells, we do have an obligation to care for this temple. So if I'm not healthy and fit. and what I mean by healthy and fit-I don't mean looking like a body builder or looking like a professional athlete or a marathon runner-I mean not being obese. Obese is not necessarily a size. According to the American Heart Association, obesity has to do with the amount of fat on your body that puts you at risk for disease. So that's what I mean when I'm saying obese. That puts you at risk for a disease; if you're at risk for a disease then you cannot necessarily do all that God would want you to do. So I think health is really the focus.

What if we're not "good stewards"? Is obesity a sin?

I think any overindulging in any activity, including over-eating, can be interpreted as a sin, even if you're thin. You can be a glutton and have a high metabolism. Or you can have another problem, or another sin in other areas and they aren't visible. So that's why I don't judge obese people like that. They're no different than anyone else with a weakness in another area.

You say that accepting Christ as your savior isn't enough. Could you talk more about that-because I think some Christians think, "I accept Jesus, I go to church. Isn't that enough?"

You have to develop a personal relationship with God. You just can't go to church as a routine. The only way to really get to know God is to read the Bible, study the Word to find out what God planned for your life. I think you also need to take the time to pray to God. And that is a great way of developing a personal relationship with God.

This is what happened to me, and a lot of other people I have spoken to: You may have prayed about a certain situation in your life and as you're reading the Bible then all of a sudden this passage or scripture will just jump and leap out at you like it never has before. And you receive in your heart that God was answering that prayer. So the only way a lot of times that you can develop that personal relationship and be led and guided by God is by praying and by reading the word as well. And then not just reading the word, but then you have to be a doer of the word. You have to be obedient to the word of Christ.

Your story is so inspiring, and in the photo on the book's cover, you look ready to conquer the world. But you don't claim this program is easy. There was a period when even you started gaining weight again. You write you were grateful for this. Why?

I was glad that I gained weight again because salvation or sanctification is a process. You don't get saved one day and all of a sudden you're perfect in every area of your life. And I didn't realize that there was still something else that needed to be worked out in me. It has been over 10 years, I guess, since I had gained weight. So I had not realized that my identity was not just only connected to God, but it was still connected to my size. And so this time around when I gained the weight, I truly learned to love La Vita, whether I gain weight or not. I love the person that God created La Vita to be and also because it had been years since I struggled with being overweight, I understood again the desperation that people feel.

Because I'm going to tell you, when I gained weight the second time, I was so desperate, I was so tempted to try another diet. But I never did because I felt that if I tried another diet, I would be calling God a liar. And nowadays we have so many more diets available that everywhere I went, I saw another diet.

How did you not fall off the wagon? How did you stick to it?

Through the word of God. Again, just through praying, through reading, and then again through support, speaking to other Christians. And that's why I strongly believe in a support system or a network or a fitness buddy or a prayer partner. You know, talking to other people and keeping those connections, because as you read in my book, I strongly believe that God created us for one another and to be there to support one another. And so I encourage everyone, grab a prayer partner or a fitness buddy. Create a whole network of people that are striving to be healthy.

What would you say to the people who might be feeling desperate right now-maybe depressed and overweight and at their wit's end. Is there anything you'd like to say to them?

Yes, I would tell them to have faith in God. That this time, if they try this plan, they will not be doing this plan alone. This time they could do it by having the help of God. If you start doing what it takes, if you start reading the word, praying to God, if you take the first step, I believe that God will be right there to help there and encourage you. If you allow God to assist you and help you, He will give you the strength you need to overcome this battle. You can win with God.

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