Fat Like Us

The real face of diet culture.

What Would Jesus Weigh?

Can faith help you lose weight?

"Jesus walked on water so he didn't weigh much, if anything" spoke our leader at the spiritual weight loss group. "Jesus was so filled with the spirit that he had no physical weight at all. Gravity and the natural laws didn't touch him." We were on a mini spiritual retreat (in a church basement) so we could focus on our soul, our sinful, earthly eating habits, acknowledge our overeating, and lust of fattening food, and hopefully, purge ourselves of our destructive design, get right with God, and lose at least 5 lbs. Our leader wants us to think of our unruly, earthly bodies as sacred space where God lives. I looked around the group; heads bobbing in agreement, some heads bent in prayer while others were deep in the Word. I sighed. Everyone wanted to be like Jesus - weightless and spiritual, but here we were in our earthbound heavy bodies praying for a miracle. I think Jesus, being a traveling preacher, lived off the fat of the land. Of course the fat of the land was much leaner in those days, but still, his diet was episodic. Jesus ate whatever his hosts provided for him and his disciples. Jesus probably ate what he felt like eating.

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I have been going to variations of spiritual weight loss groups for decades, but they have been around forever. The fasting saints of the Middle Ages proved their love of Christ by eating hardly anything at all. The less they ate the greater their piety. Thin is good, thin is godly. Fat is bad, fat is sinful. I started going to Overeaters Anonymous meeting in the late 1970s. Overeaters Anonymous was founded in 1960 by Rosanne S and follows the tenants of Alcoholics Anonymous. The fourth step of any 12-step program is to conduct a fearless moral inventory of self. We stumble on that step. Admitting our moral weaknesses is not an easy job. From that step, numerous faith-based weight loss groups sprang up around the world. The largest one, Weight down Workshops was founded by thin, perky Gwen Shamblin. Weigh Down views obesity as oppression - just like the Jews were slaves in Egypt. The foundation of Weigh Down is getting out of Egypt into the promise land of - -slimness.

There are hundreds of other faith-based Christian weight loss groups. There are even more books about eating for God - What Would Jesus Eat, The God Diet, The Hallelujah Diet, A Course in Weight Loss :21 Spiritual Lessons for Surrendering Your Weight Forever, and Women, Food, and God. Many of us carry these books along with our bibles to weight loss meetings.
Another member spoke up. "If Jesus truly loved me, I would be thin." This is a common feeling and leads to deep shame and guilt. Our leader counters "If YOU loved Jesus you would crave to be with Him instead of craving pizza." "Being at a healthy body weight is how we show our devotion and obedience to Christ." I thought of potato chips immediately. Yes, I am an emotional eater. Guilt, anger, and sorrow drive me to my twin pacifiers - sweet and salt. Potato chips first, and then M and Ms. This combo has been my emotional tranquilizer since I was about five years old and starting hiding Kitty Clover potato chips under our sofa in the family room. The M and Ms I hid in the bottom of my toy chest.

The leader admonished us that temptation and sin were around every corner like a Starbucks, and in a Starbucks, in the form of Caramel Macchiatos, and Venti anything. Going into a Starbucks- she went on- would be like going into an opium den. I wondered immediately how opium would be with a shot of caffeine. Clearly, I wasn't paying attention to the motivating faith to change my destructive eating patterns. I guess the tenets of faith-based diet programs just didn't take root in my jaded soul. I am not a true believer, and I have never figured out why. I was raised a Christian in the upland, Evangelical South. I went to Sunday school every week, church group on Wednesday night. I knew all books of the bible and can still recite them in chronological order. Heck, I still remember the taste of the cupcake I received after reciting them all in Sunday school. It was a yellow cupcake with blue frosting. Deep down, I just don't see how God could care about what I weigh when there is war, famine, disease, and heartbreak in this world. I just don't believe it.

Jean Anspaugh studies the folklore of dieting. She is the author of Fat Like Us.

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