Does God Want You To Be Thin?

A Bible passage inspired Pastor Rick Warren's congregation to lose a collective 260,000 pounds. How faith can fight obesity

  • Share
  • Read Later
Bryce Duffy for TIME

Pastor Power, Warren has lost 55 lb. so far, with 35 to go.

(3 of 6)

Even the sins of gluttony and vanity — dieting's opposite poles — have no real role in the Daniel Plan. "That doesn't reflect my heart," says Dee Eastman, a Saddleback member and the director of the Daniel Plan. Instead, she explains, it is about freeing people from shame or illness so that they can fulfill God's plan for them. God does not necessarily want you to be thin, but he very much wants you to be healthy.

All of this works well on the Saddleback campus, but Warren has dreams of taking the plan wide — to a billion people around the world in the next decade, says Hyman. That means either recruiting and converting a great many new members or finding what's scalable and nondenominational in the program and getting it out to a global population that's getting fatter, slower and sicker all the time.

Bodies on Loan

It was just 16 months ago that Chloe Chiquita Seals decided to change her life — and it badly needed changing. At 270 lb., she spent most of her time in her house, too self-conscious to leave. "I was a hermit," she says. "I was afraid to go out, to walk down the street." Seals didn't have much, but she did have a friend — Etienne Stephen, a Saddleback member she had known since college. He encouraged her to attend the Daniel Plan kickoff rally, and she signed up for the program straightaway.

More important than simply introducing Seals to the program, Stephen has also guided her through it. Daniel Plan participants are encouraged to form small groups with only five or so members, led by what the church calls a champion. Currently, about 5,000 such groups meet regularly, and they are the true core of the program. Stephen takes his role as Seals' champion seriously — helping her make food substitutions, teaching her to read supermarket labels, even paying for a gym membership for her.

The plan has worked extraordinarily well for Seals so far: she has lost half her body weight and gone from a size 22 to a size 2. And in the spirit of the pay-it-forward fellowship that the Daniel Plan is designed to foster, she has recruited Carol Hasbun, a friend of four years' standing who has been in the program for about a month. Seals has helped her shop, taught her to make healthy pizza, gone through her kitchen cabinets and, following a Daniel Plan video, cleaned out all the nasty stuff.

"My goal is to lose 80 lb.," Hasbun says, "hopefully in a year or two years." Seals is quick to back her up. "You are going to get there," she says.

By keeping the menu interesting, the Daniel Plan makes such an ambitious goal easier to reach. Cooking classes and recipe tips are offered on the Saddleback campus and online and include dishes like agave-glazed-salmon tacos in blue-corn tortillas with poblano-and-avocado lime sauce accompanied by napa-cabbage slaw — weighing in at just 370 calories.

It would be easy if the Daniel Plan called on its members to do nothing more than meet, shop and cook, but it's a decidedly more vigorous regimen than that. On a recent Sunday morning, 60 people had already shown up on the campus for a 9 a.m. boot-camp class, led by Tony Lattimore, a church member and personal trainer. Lattimore's usual rate is $75 per hour, but his Saddleback classes are free. "We live completely on faith," says his wife Kimberly.

  1. 1
  2. 2
  3. 3
  4. 4
  5. 5
  6. 6