(Photo: Saddleback Church)
Are American churchgoers becoming too fat and unhealthy to practice their faith? One prominent doctor thinks so.
Dr. Daniel G. Amen, M.D., co-author of The Daniel Plan at Saddleback Church and author of the new book Use Your Brain to Change Your Age, told The Christian Post that our brains use 25 percent of the calories we consume.
"If you want your brain to be healthy, your food had to be. It's your brain that connects with God," he said.
Amen also stressed that a lack of brain function increases your risk of sin. "You have to have good frontal lobe function to inhibit saying hurtful thing or having the discipline to show up at church or Bible study – optimizing brain function can bring you closer to God and community," he said.
According to a media release, Amen said he had the sobering thought that "churches are sending people to heaven … early" when he saw donuts, bacon, sausage, and hot dogs at his church one Sunday. The church minister also mentioned a recent ice cream social.
The clinical neuroscientist and brain-imaging expert writes that although well-meaning, churches are "hurting us with the food they offer," and that they should start thinking about a new way of looking at food, one he likes to call a brain-healthy approach.
Many parishioners have had similar experiences with less than healthy food at church. One woman from The Bridge Church in Iowa told The Christian Post that she recently helped out with a breakfast there and the menu included breakfast pizza with sausage and bacon, coffee cakes, and mixed fruit.
She wrote via email, "We thought the fruit would be great and offer a healthy choice, but those who want a healthy choice turned up their nose at canned. But in our defense, it was winter and the price of fresh fruit was cost-prohibitive."
Another churchgoer from North Carolina told CP her church usually served hot dogs – which she said were "sick" – potato chips, coffee and pastries.
And in Texas, at Park Cities Baptist Church in Dallas, the church recently had a Valentine's brunch with egg casseroles, fruit salad, biscuits and brisket meatballs.
In his book, Amen offers some basic approaches churches can take to make healthier food choices.
Some of these suggestions include replacing donuts with fresh fruit, nuts or oatmeal; rewarding children with stickers or healthy treats instead of candy and cookies; replacing vending machines with healthy snacks; and changing the habit of serving fatty foods at gatherings.
But he said in order for any change to take place, the lead pastor has to be behind the movement.
He pointed to Pastor Rick Warren and his vision for Saddleback Church to lose weight. He also said that churches can adopt Saddleback's Daniel Plan, a healthy eating guide, and implement it in their own congregations.
Even though it takes some forethought on the church's part, "being sick is always more expensive" in the long run, Amen pointed out.
He told CP he hopes his book will at least start conversations in churches, and encourage people to rethink what they eat. Amen said that "the secret sauce of the Daniel plan [was that] people did it together. That's where churches have a huge in. The hardest thing is to get people to change their mindset and stop lying to themselves."
Although Amen is not asking churches to throw out all of their traditions, he said he is encouraging them to be more thoughtful about their traditions, instead of doing something just because it's always been done that way.
"If you're overweight and not healthy, you are dishonoring the gift God gave you," he noted.
His question for congregations is this: "Are churches are going to be part of the problem or part of the solution?"