Once upon a time in America, pastors, priests, rabbis spoke against what are commonly referred to as the seven deadly sins: lust, avarice, gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath, envy, pride (translation: intense sexual desire; insatiable craving for wealth; excessive eating/drinking; excessive desire for possessions; laziness; fierce anger or resentment; longing to own something possessed by or achieved by another; inordinate opinion of one’s own superiority).
Those sermons don’t often happen these days, and that’s a shame. Especially with regard to excessive eating and drinking, which – apart from causing all manner of medical ailments ranging from shortness of breath and impotence right up to the big C – has knock-on financial effects out the wazoo. In the UK – I’m not kidding with this one – hospitals are paying a premium for extra-wide fridges to store their extra-fat dead bodies before they must be hydraulically lifted on their way to the funeral home. Most of those bodies are chilled not because of old age, in case you thought obesity lengthened life.
If hospitals must pay through the nose for cold storage, it’s obvious they won’t have money for health-promoting programs like monthly well-baby visits. Thus fat adults are harming the health of small children by using up medical resources, even after the adults are no longer alive. My friends, that is a sin.
That the US leads the world in adult obesity is well-known. Few American church leaders are willing to chastise their congregation – as, Biblically, they are tasked to do – for the sin of gluttony. In fact, churches have been described as a feeding ground for obesity. In a 2006 scholarly article, the researchers found that overweight or obesity was more common in church attendees. Although they explained the result by referring to “multiple sociodemographic variables”, the simple fact remains that the preachers of these churches failed to remind their fat members, loudly and often, that eating much and exercising little is spiritually wrong.
Religions are not created equal. Some church-minded people (Seventh Day Adventists and Mormons, for example) prioritize weight management. Some religious communities have high rates of obesity (Baptist, 30%), while other have very low rates (Jews, 1%; Hindus and Buddhists, less than that). A 2012 study found that religious media use (watching televised religious programming, or listening to it on radio) was very highly correlated to obesity – since those people do not even rise up to go to church.
If everyone faithfully monitored their body changes, we would not need cautions from religious leaders – or Weight Watchers, for that matter. Many of us think obese people must be well aware of their condition. Not so! According to a recent survey, 55% of Americans do not perceive themselves as overweight or obese. Yet two-thirds (66%) of us carry way too much fat.
That’s a lot of self-deception.
The situation is not improved by the American healthcare “system” (really, a market), which recently ranked last among 11 developed nations. That’s right, dead last. We’re the Mississippi of the wealthy-nation world. Not a promising designation, is it?
So where are the spiritual people encouraging their flocks to care for their bodies as well as their souls? Largely, they’ve been silent. Partly, that’s because they, too, are toting a pantry around their waists. They’re somewhat embarrassed to talk about what is blindingly obvious. Often, they’ve washed their hands of the matter. “Not my job,” they say.
Ah, but it is. Gluttony, see, that’s missing the mark. It’s a mistake.
There’s a little light at the end of the tunnel. The huge Saddleback Church pastored by Rick Warren has begun an exercise and fitness program using the Daniel Plan. Co-authored by Warren with the help of several physicians, the plan came about when he realized he needed to let go of 90 pounds. Ninety whole pounds. He did it, too. But that came after confessing to his congregation that he had made eating errors for years (and sat around in meetings too much – another plug for the stand-up meeting), and asked for their support in his upcoming struggle.
While it was an unusual act on his part, it was not particularly brave, not on a par with facing down a snarling dog or rescuing a fellow driver from a crashed car that may blow up at any second.
In other words, any overweight or obese person of the cloth can do it.
They can also tell their congregations, look, enough is enough. What we’re doing (me and you and you and you) is unhealthy. It’s therefore acting against God. Think you’re a good Baptist/Catholic/fill-in-the-blank? Show me. Show us. There are so many ways to let go of unnecessary weight, but doing it with at least one other person is essential. We all need someone to encourage us, help us correct ourselves, call us on our bullshit.
Over the first year on the Daniel Plan, the Saddleback Church members collectively lost 250,000 pounds.
Go ahead, people behind the altar. Take that step.