Weigh Down Diet: No Way to Health

by Karen Railey

The Weigh Down Diet and Workshop is a program with a Christian base that was developed by Gwen Shamblin. Gwen is a registered dietitian with a master's degree in food and nutrition. I chose to critique this program because my church is using this workshop at this time.

The Weigh Down Workshop is given at a cost of $103.00. This includes the classes, a workbook and a binder of 12 audiocassettes, along with 17 lessons. Videotapes are used in the classes. The Weigh Down book has also been used alone for 6-week classes. In this case the main cost involved is the price of the book. This program is being used in many churches in this and other countries.

I spoke with a counselor from the Weigh Down organization and the results of that conversation are as follows:

  • The main philosophy behind the Weigh Down Diet is to take the focus off of food and onto God.
  • The core of the program is taking full responsibility for your own actions and not blaming background, upbringing, genes, or circumstances for weight problems, but squarely face the fact that your weight is a result of eating too much food - period.
  • Weigh Down teaches that the body is the temple of the Lord and we should not do anything to hurt or abuse it.
  • The content of the food doesn't matter all foods are OK because God put all food here for us to enjoy.
  • We are no longer under the food laws and can eat all foods. The idea is to eat all regular foods but cut the amount down.
  • One theory put forth in this program is that the stomach is the size of a fist so that is about the amount of food that should be eaten at one sitting and that all people need that same amount of food.
  • The body should be given a variety of foods and needs to be listened to and given what it is asking for.
  • Drinking water, diet sodas, and artificially sweetened teas is emphasized, but it is not important to consume several glasses of water a day.
  • Distinguishing between true physical hunger and head hunger or emotional hunger is an important point in the Weigh Down program.
  • The signal to stop eating is when you are "pleasantly full." You are to train yourself to eat between the boundaries of true hunger and satisfaction (not stuffed); your body will automatically crave those things that it needs to be nutritionally sound.
  • This program teaches that exercise is not necessary and that there is no need for it unless you enjoy it and really want to exercise.

The main benefits of the program are seen to be:

  • A renewed sense of spiritual well being as one draws closer to God by living within His original plan for eating.
  • A sense of "control" - I am in control of the food, it no longer controls me.
  • Freedom to eat any kind of food I want within the boundaries of hungry and slightly full.

Following are my comments on the points made by the counselor during our conversation:

The main philosophy behind the program is good. It is good to have the focus on God and not on worrying about the food you eat. It is simple then to look at those foods that God has actually created and eat those in preference to man made non-foods. These are the foods that were created for us and are physiologically compatible with the human body and conducive to creating and maintaining health, quality of life, and longevity.

Personal responsibility is a significant issue in all areas of life as well as the nutritional arena. It is an important part of any program. It is very cut and dried to tell everyone that their weight problem is caused only by over eating. Denying the possibility that there can be other factors other than eating too much involved concerning weight problems is unfortunate. In some cases obesity can be caused by a physiological problem. Genetics and body build could influence to some degree, what your optimum weight is. Not everyone is destined to be a size 6 or 8. Could it be that weight problems could come from eating the wrong foods? The personal responsibility is side stepped in this program when it comes to being responsible for what you eat.

It is a point well taken that the body is the temple of God and we should not do anything to harm it. Our bodies and our lives are precious gifts for which we have been given a personal responsibility, and we should care for and nurture these. We have also been given a mind and we should engage that organ in determining if something is harmful or healthful to the body. Many of the foods advocated in this plan are detrimental to the body. This is contradictory to the goal of not hurting or abusing the "temple."

Our bodies were created to require various enzymes, vitamins, and minerals to function properly. The foods God created will satisfy those requirements. Fresh, whole, unprocessed, or minimally processed foods are best. By contrast, the concoctions that are man made or foods that have been adulterated by man lack the proper nutritional content to maintain life and/or contain substances that are toxic and disruptive to our health and our bodies. The content of our food does matter and there is harm being done to the temple if we eat a diet of empty and harmful foods.

It is true that we are not under the food laws. We have free will to choose what and how we will eat. We can choose to eat for health or to eat "everything". We are not free to choose the results of our choices. Natural physical laws were put in place during creation and they will always apply. If you eat a diet of poor nutritional content you will reap the results of that choice. Likewise if you choose to eat in a manner that properly nourishes your body.

The amount of food one needs to eat is not totally determined by the size of one's stomach. Metabolism, activity level, individual differences in physiology all come into play, as does the type of food being eaten. It would seem that some guilt could be caused by this idea if a person needed more than the recommended fist sized amount of food. This idea is contradicted in the Weigh Down book by the statement that harm is done to the body when it is denied the kinds and amounts of food that it wants.

Offering the body a wide variety of foods is a good idea. The best would be to have that wide variety chosen from healthful, nutrient dense foods and not from empty, chemical laden, processed foods. The content of what you eat does matter and can make the difference between health and disease, life and death.

I like the concept of listening to our bodies. We were created with a built in sense of what our bodies need and what we should eat. However, this intuition has been highly distorted for many of us by diets high in foods (or non-foods), such as sugar, that trick our bodies into telling us that is what it needs. It takes some retraining of our taste buds and our bodies signaling system, by eating healthful foods and experiencing the results of that, before we can fully depend on our innate ability to determine what our body needs.

Advocating the use of diet drinks and artificially sweetened teas is not health promoting advice. Aspartame is a substance that is a neuro toxin, and has caused a whole host of problems for people consuming it: headaches, memory problems, joint pain, weight gain, and brain tumors to name a few. The advice concerning water consumption is misleading. Our bodies are made up of a great percentage of water and we need water for life. It helps flush toxins from our bodies, aids in weight loss, and is necessary for hydration.

Learning to distinguish between emotional, spiritual, or psychological hunger and physiological hunger is important. There are many reasons we eat when we are not really physically hungry and Weigh Down does talk about anxiety, depression, anger, fear, etc. in relation to eating. What this program does not address is the hunger caused when the body is being fed empty foods and is crying out for nutrients; something it can really use to rebuild it's cells. Cutting your portions of "regular food" will never satisfy that type of hunger, and eating whatever you want to eat may play into one of the things this program is trying to prevent.eating to deal with emotions.

The concept of eating only when you are truly, physically hungry and stopping when you are pleasantly full is a good one. It is not healthy to stuff yourself until you can hold no more or to eat instead of dealing with underlying emotional / psychological problems.

Exercise is necessary if weight is going to be lost as fat and not lean body mass. I don't think many people really want to lose bone, muscle, and organ tissue, but rather want to lose the fat. The idea that exercise is not important is an unhealthy idea, because exercise will help with losing weight as fat, will raise the metabolism, and increase lean tissue mass. Dissuading exercise contributes to discouraging beneficial life style changes in the lives of the participants.

I do not believe eating the SAD, even less of it, is God's original plan for eating. To encourage focus on God and spiritual growth the following could be implemented into a program:

  • An understanding of the intricate, complex way God created our bodies and the fact that they can be healthy and are self healing if given the proper fuel.
  • The concept that God has provided for the need that he created in our bodies by giving us foods that will supply the nutrients (fuel) our bodies require for proper function and regeneration.
  • A look at what those foods are and the effects of the fresh whole foods as opposed to the effects of consuming over processed adulterated foods routinely included in the SAD.
  • Our responsibility to care for this "temple" includes what we put into our bodies and understanding whether it is harmful to our body or if it nourishes and rebuilds it.

The freedom to eat what we want would better serve us if exercised within the boundaries of eating those foods that God provided for us. The truly healthful foods. This is not to say that eating something outside of this is not OK occasionally. It is to say that as a lifestyle the foods we eat should be chosen from the realm of fresh, whole foods rather than the typical foods found in the SAD. Food loses its control when we eat properly and our bodies respond to receiving the needed nutrients. We feel and see the changes and our bodies begin to want those foods that will truly build and regenerate our bodies and our health.

The emphasis of Weigh Down Dietis on weight and eating less and it totally disregards the issue of health. If a healthy lifestyle and healthful eating were addressed first, the weight issues would, in many cases, resolve. People would be healthy and would lose weight as a bonus. This is where my emphasis would be -- health and fitness first.

Here are a few direct quotes from the book The Weigh Down Diet and some thoughts that came to mind as I read them.

"Good health is more related to when you eat and how much you eat than what you eat, since most meal selections are so similar in chemical and nutrient content."

I do not see a nutrient similarity between a breakfast of a donut and coffee and one of a fruit smoothie, or whole grains. What you eat is just as important, or more important than when and how much you eat.

"If organic means chemical free to you, think again. All foods are chemicals. God made your body (without your having to worry about it!) to detect and rid itself of harmful chemicals that are a part of the normal dietary process" -- "So if you like foods advertised as being "organic," fine. Just do not count on their being better for you -- just more expensive."

It has been proven that organic foods have a higher nutrient content than conventionally grown foods. Fresh whole foods contain chemicals.naturally occurring chemicals that our bodies can use. This is entirely different than adding man made chemicals to foods or spraying with pesticides, fungicides, and herbicides. These things are foreign, and harmful to our bodies.

"Your body does not know if it ate honey, unrefined sugar from the sugar cane plant, refined table sugar, or bread because all the units are converted to glucose in the liver then dumped into the bloodstream to be used by the body cells."

Some sugars contain vitamins, minerals, and enzymes and some - such as sucrose, do not. Our bodies know the difference. Sucrose will rob our bodies of the vitamins, minerals, and enzymes it does not contain so that is can be metabolized.

"We propose that we are not what we eat, but that health is adversely affected when we deny the body the kinds and amounts of food it wants."

If we eat empty foods with little or no nutrient content, our bodies will not be able to build cells properly. Sooner or later there will be a break down in health. There is a myriad of research that shows what we eat has a direct relationship to health and disease.

"The liver is a large (silent, thank goodness) organ that converts Fritos, M&Ms, Doritos and dip, and Twinkies into usable substances that are sent into the regular circulatory system."

The liver is not going to make usable substances out of something that has none to begin with. These foods can be extremely harmful to our livers. If this were true we could eat Twinkies and Ice Cream all the time and it wouldn't make any difference.

The more I have read of this book the more I am appalled at the total lack of understanding of nutrition, the needs of the human body, and foods that can cause or contribute to disease or those that can heal. I have found it to be contradictory in many of its statements and ideas.

The testimonials indicate that people are losing weight on this plan. My question is how is it impacting their health and what kind of health problems are they going to eventually develop as a result of eating this way? It is inevitable that there will be a day when health problems will come. As a whole I believe this program is a great disservice to those participating in the Weigh Down Workshops.

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