Late dietician Gwen Samblin Lara pegged church cult leader in new HBO Max documentary

Gwen Shamblin Lara and Joe Lara (L) pray with children.
Gwen Shamblin Lara and Joe Lara (L) pray with children. | YouTube/Life with Gwen and Joe

Late religious leader and diet guru, Gwen Shamblin Lara, is being pegged as a cult church leader in a documentary coming to HBO Max at the end of the month. 

HBO Max recently debuted the trailer for the five-part docuseries "The Way Down: God, Greed and the Cult of Gwen Shamblin."

In the series, Lara's behavior is criticized through various interviews with people who were exposed to her Christian diet plan, "The Weigh Down Workshop," and her ministry, Remnant Fellowship Church in Tennessee. 

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The Remnant Fellowship is said to have over 1,500 members and 150 congregations worldwide. Critics have often accused the ministry of being similar to a cult for its focus on weight loss and addiction.

HBO Max describes Lara's ministry as having "a carefully curated image," stating that "Lara and the church soon fielded accusations of emotional, psychological and physical abuse, and exploitation for their alleged cult-like practices."

Lara and seven of her church leaders died in a May 29 plane crash in Percy Priest Lake. Following their deaths, the church founded in 1999 hailed the victims as "some of the finest and most loving people that you would ever come across."

"The Way Down" series, however, paints a very different picture of Lara and her church. 

The trailer features a clip of Lara saying, "God revealed to me that the key to permanent weight control is a matter of the heart."

Describing an experience with Lara, an individual featured in the film is heard telling cameras, "You taught your kids about drugs and alcohol, but you never think to coach your kids on a cult."

The first three episodes of the documentary begin Sept. 30, while the final two will air early next year. HBO Max lists controversial model Chrissy Teigen among its executive producers. 

While alive, Lara was known for helping people turn to God instead of unwanted behaviors and emotions. The registered dietician took credit for having a Christian approach to dieting. According to her website, her program used "Bible-based … positive educational and motivational seminars that teach you how to actually desire less food and eat less food."

Lara's book, The Weigh Down Diet, sold over 1 million copies and thousands of churches nationwide used her books and videos as guides. The minister often encouraged people to strengthen their faith in God to lose weight.

The May plane crash also claimed the lives of Lara's husband, Joe Lara, an actor who starred in the 1990s television program, "Tarzan: The Epic Adventures," as well as the couple's son-in-law, Brandon Hannah. 

David and Jennifer Martin and Jonathan and Jessica Walters were also among the other members of the church's leadership team who perished in the plane crash. 

The small jet, a Cessna Citation 501 airplane, was headed to Palm Beach International Airport in Florida when it crashed into Percy Priest Lake, a reservoir in north-central Tennessee, according to ABC News.

As previously reported by The Christian Post, Lara had also faced criticism for insensitive comments she made about thin Jews in concentration camps. 

In a statement released following Lara's death, Elizabeth Hannah, Brandon's wife and Gwen's daughter, stressed that her mother was the "kindest, most gentle, selfless, loving mother and best friend to me and my brother."

"Her actions and words changed thousands of lives for the better — and her message of 'Loving GOD with ALL your heart' — will live on forever and ever — and continue to change lives for all eternity."

The church also said that Lara's work and ministry would continue after her death. 

"Finally, as far as Remnant Fellowship Church and Weigh Down Ministries are concerned, Michael Shamblin and Elizabeth Shamblin Hannah, Gwen's two children, and the church leadership intend to continue the dream that Gwen Shamblin Lara had of helping people find a relationship with God," the church's statement said. 

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