Cover Story

What goes into the mouth

"What goes into the mouth" Continued...

Issue: "American bounty," Nov. 30, 2013

Yet another woman, speaking for the first time, spoke up for her beloved fast-food chain. In-N-Out is a Christian business, she reminded them, and did you know you can get the burger “Protein Style”—wrapped in lettuce instead of the starchy bun? And they have a vegetarian patty, another woman added. Montgomery tries to steer the conversation back to the key verse, “Everything is permissible, but not all is beneficial.” She asked class members if they had enviously watched their children chomp on a cheeseburger, then had lain awake before sneaking downstairs for a leftover cold fry? 

That’s no way to live in Christ, Montgomery suggested: “Maybe we can go to In-N-Out with our family. Instead of guiltily reaching for the skinny burnt fries, maybe we can go for a few nice, fat ones. Just slow down, breathe, and enjoy the conversation. Enjoy your family, enjoy that fry … everything in moderation.”

Montgomery, a blond, taut-limbed personal trainer, told me later that she found “The Daniel Plan” useful for its resources: books, study guides, and online videos comprised of devotions, meal plans, and workout routines. She initiated the group but doesn’t adhere to The Daniel Plan as religiously as her group members do: “Let’s think about what food really is. Food nourishes you. But it’s not supposed to be your god. It’s not something you should focus on, or shop and plan for all day, or talk about all the time on Facebook. It’s supposed to be a tool for God’s glory.”

LIVE AND LET DIET: Dr. Oz measures the waistline of Rick Warren during a health and fitness seminar at Saddleback.
Carlos Delgado/Orange County Register/Zuma Press/Newscom
LIVE AND LET DIET: Dr. Oz measures the waistline of Rick Warren during a health and fitness seminar at Saddleback.
LIVE AND LET DIET: The launch of The Daniel Plan at Saddleback Church.
Ana P. Gutierrez/Orange County Register/Zuma Press/Newscom
LIVE AND LET DIET: The launch of The Daniel Plan at Saddleback Church.
LIVE AND LET DIET: Members of The Daniel Plan group in Temecula.
Priscilla Montgomery
LIVE AND LET DIET: Members of The Daniel Plan group in Temecula.
EVERYTHING IN MODERATION: Participants run in a 5K during The Daniel Plan Fun Walk & Run at Saddleback Church.
Ana P. Gutierrez/Orange County Register/Zuma Press/Newscom
EVERYTHING IN MODERATION: Participants run in a 5K during The Daniel Plan Fun Walk & Run at Saddleback Church.

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Physical therapist and nutrition professor David Lightsey has offered a similar message over three decades. He’s met clients who refuse to eat apples or oranges because they have Type O blood, others on the Paleo Diet who only eat what their Neanderthal “ancestors” ate, and vegan students who believe “dead flesh” rots in the body and destroys Mother Earth. 

Each time he hears about such diets, Lightsey fights the urge to face-palm. “Just go and consume,” he tells clients: “Eat your fruits and vegetables, your grains and lean meats. And then don’t worry about it! Go about your life. Eating shouldn’t be that big of a deal throughout the day.” 

Lightsey says most of them respond, “That’s too simple.” He says, “Their fears have become a religion … of health and fitness. We’ve basically become obsessed with it. … As modern culture disengages itself from religion, an obsession of self—how I look, how I feel, how long I live—has filled that void. Self is our God now.”

Absent the faith that God holds dominion over all things, the world becomes a scary place: pesticides, genetically modified foods, nutrient-depleted soils, corrupt Big Agriculture companies, crooked government agencies in cahoots with dairy and soda industries, chemicals and hydrogenated oils in processed foods, environmental toxins and allergens—the list goes on and on. We worry about getting enough, and then we agonize over getting too much. 

How can people feel at peace, when every bite holds incomprehensible and imagined risks? The Bible reminds us that God made many things for our good, and there’s no need to live in fear. Obesity is a real condition with uncomfortable, destructive effects, so it needs to be fought: As Lightsey says, “It’s very depressing. But that’s why we need to approach it with the gospel. It brings us to our knees.”

Many studies have shown that social support groups can help people to adopt healthy lifestyles. Church small groups are vital to our spiritual health, so why not incorporate discussions on physical stewardship? Most people already know what to do, and need moral support to follow through: That’s The Daniel Plan’s foundation.

It’s worked for many Daniel Plan participants, including Warren, with some losing up to 125 pounds. People have regained energy and improved blood pressure and cholesterol levels. But it’s always a fine line. Daniel’s health was a great testimony of God’s favor. But it never was about the food.

Sophia Lee
Sophia Lee

Sophia is a features reporter for WORLD. She graduated from the University of Southern California with degrees in print journalism and East Asian language and culture. She lives in Los Angeles with her cat, Shalom. Follow Sophia on Twitter @SophiaLeeHyun.

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