Those who made it their New Year's resolution to lose weight in 2013 have probably been making plans to exercise and thinking about all the foods they can and cannot eat in order to reach their goals. Some things they may not have considered, however, are the emotional and spiritual issues that may have been leading them to make poor eating decisions in the first place.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, over 35 percent of adults in the U.S. are considered obese. Medical costs associated with obesity were around $147 billion nationwide in 2008, and the condition can lead to type two diabetes, stroke, heart disease and some forms of cancer.
While approximately 45 percent of Americans make resolutions each year, according to the University of Scranton Journal of Clinical Psychology via WPRI.com, only about eight percent of those who set these goals for the new year will be successful. The top resolution heading into 2013 was weight loss.
The Christian Post reached out to the leaders and founders of several faith-based weight loss programs on Wednesday, all of whom said emotions may have more to do with eating than many people realize and that faith can play a significant role in helping people find a healthy weight.
Dr. Rita Hancock, author of The Eden Diet: You Can Eat Treats, Enjoy Your Food, and Lose Weight and the soon-to-be-released Radical Well-Being: A biblical guide to overcoming pain, illness, and addictions, used to eat in order to feel in control. She grew up "morbidly obese" and, as a junior in high school, weighed 207 pounds at around five feet tall.
Hancock remembers, while she was still a pre-medical student in college, being stuck on a difficult calculus problem, so she "chowed down" on peanut M&M's simply because it was something she could control.
"For people who are like me, who have had weight issues their whole lives, there's an emotional reason why we eat, and so the food part of it, the eating, is actually a symptom of an underlying problem," said Hancock.
Sometimes those emotional issues can be underlying, unresolved problems from the past, while oftentimes they are just the stresses of daily life.
"Some people, what they really need to do is learn how to differentiate true physical hunger from those emotional stressors, and discipline themselves to wait until they're physically hungry."
While sources of encouragement are important to a person's weight loss success, Hancock says dieters should be aware that support groups can sometimes do more harm than good. Some people like to "roll around" in their troubled identities – such as being labeled a compulsive dieter – but God wants to give them an altogether new identity.
She also says it isn't a bad idea to enjoy unhealthy treats occasionally and in moderate amounts, even when trying to lose weight, so long as eating is the reaction to hunger and not emotion. God made honey, she pointed out, and although honey isn't a necessity we can still enjoy it as a part of His creation.
Gwen Shamblin, the founder of Weigh Down Ministries and author of The Weigh Down Diet, is a Christian dietician, former university instructor and church founder who has also struggled with weight issues of her own. After having tried a wide variety of diets for herself, she agrees that telling someone not to eat certain foods could actually cause them to gain more weight in the long run.
"All these things are telling me 'you can't eat this, you can't eat that'...and you're sitting there lusting after it all day. So it's only ignited the lust inside of human beings," said Shamblin.
"I had fought weight gain so much," she later added. "I was doing everything they told me to do, everything,...and I was getting bigger and bigger every year...I'm still mad about it. That's why America's big: we've been sold that dieting is the answer."
Weigh Down Ministries offers a variety of support resources, including on demand video classes, access to accountability partners, counselors and more. The ministry is helpful to those who struggle with a variety of addictions, Shamblin says, including issues like lust, smoking and drinking.
One big mistake dieters make, according to Kimberly Taylor of Take Back Your Temple, is they try "overhaul" their entire diet right away. They might try to eliminate all junk food, eat only vegetables or resort to other extremes, and it eventually causes them to panic. Instead, she says, focusing on just a few small goals at a time until they become habitual is a better way to approach changing one's eating habits.
"What I discovered is the most important thing is to start slowly and, from a Christian perspective, to start renewing your mind according to how God would have you to eat and manage your body," said Taylor, who started her successful journey to losing 85 pounds in 2003.
Emotional eaters consume food when they are angry, stressed or bored, Taylor says, but they need to learn that God, not food, is there to help them with their emotional issues. She believes it is important to start each day with prayer, as well as to make time for Bible reading and praise.
"When you're dealing with weight issues you're used to thinking a certain way, so scripture will help you to renew your mind according to God's higher purpose. And as you renew your mind, you take your focus off of food...and put it on spiritual things," she said.
As far as weight loss tips were concerned, each of the three Christian weight loss leaders offered similar ideas. First, each of them either want people to "stop dieting" or had some kind of anti-dieting language on their websites. In addition to dealing with emotional issues, people should identify when they are truly hungry, and, when it's time to eat, smaller portions should be consumed.
Lastly, it is important to "run to God," as Shamblin put it, whenever the desire for food is not due to hunger. All three experts agree that junk food shouldn't be cut out altogether, at least not right away, but with discipline, balance and dealing with important life issues people can learn to eat even unhealthy foods in moderation and with joy.