WORLD’s Nov. 30 cover story looks at the religion of healthy eating that’s spreading to many churches. And with so-called experts sharing rational-sounding but contradictory advice on eating, it’s not surprising that many Christians are afraid of making a mistake.
The Institute for Integrative Nutrition (IIN) is the largest “nutrition school” in the world. Some 1,600 students each year learn about “holistic health” on site, and the school has more than 30,000 students and graduates in 100 countries. Its 10-month curriculum, conducted online, teaches students about 100-plus dietary theories, including macrobiotics, raw foodism, and veganism. Graduates become certified “health coaches” who help their clients choose a diet and lifestyle that leads them to holistic health and happiness, according to IIN’s website.
IIN graduate Clare Brady said “health coach” is a fancy term for mentors paid to “provide support for people who are lost when it comes to exercise and diet today. … It’s 100 percent different from medical school.” Brady, now a pre-med student at the University of Virginia, added, “IIN is not science-based,” but its graduates get jobs because the health field is “a mess, and people are lost.”
Brady, 25, is also a “healthy living” blogger who logs and photographs what she eats and how she exercises—but she’s searching for “the line between wanting to take care of the body that God has given you … and idolizing it.” At first, her fellow bloggers—fit-looking women who preach love for healthy food and exercise—inspired her. After years of fleeing various food groups, she finally accepted carbohydrates such as oatmeal and sweet potatoes, ran a marathon, and discovered Bikram yoga and Crossfit—only to find herself sliding from passion to obsession. She was logging too many hours at the gym, thinking too much about food throughout the day.
Since she started pre-med classes at Virginia, Brady has been attending a nearby church. Once a Roman Catholic schoolgirl, Brady took a while to get used to the longer sermon and casual structure of a non-denominational evangelical church, but now “I get excited to go each week. I’m sad that it’s Saturday, not Sunday.”
She still remembers the first sermon: the difference between knowing Jesus and having a real relationship with Him.
“That applied to me so much in the health issue,” she said. “That you can know all this information, but not enjoy it. … This church helped me get healthy again, because it made me realize that I was valuing my physical body over my spiritual one.”