Pastor Rick Warren and members of Saddleback Church have undergone life-changing weight-loss experiences after collectively realizing three years ago that many of them needed to shed their extra weight. About half of the megachurch loyally participated in the challenge, resulting in a collective weight loss of more than 250,000 pounds after the first year. Now, Warren aims to go beyond his own congregation and spread the word about living healthy with his new book, The Daniel Plan: 40 Days to a Healthier Life.
Warren, who said he had an epiphany to lose weight while he lowered hundreds of people into the water during a baptism ceremony years ago, embarked on his journey to be fit along with his members who like him, were dealing with additional weight gain while others dealt with health complications. In his new book released this week, he explains how readers can become fit using the combination of faith, fitness, food, focus, and friends.
"There's a verse in the Bible that says Jesus went into every village preaching, teaching, and healing. I say that preaching is evangelism; teaching is education; and healing is health care," said Warren, during an interview with Parade Magazine. "Jesus didn't only care about getting people into heaven. He cared about spirit, mind, and body. To me, health care isn't simply helping the sick get well, but helping the well not get sick."
His book, which is contrary to its title's perception and steers away from the well-known Daniel fast, was inspired from the advice he sought from health care professionals, including cardiothoracic surgeon and TV personality, Dr. Oz. Together, they built a program focused on the 'five F's' that Warren considers to be "the first piece of the puzzle" in living a healthier lifestyle.
"People say they want to work on their marriages, their careers, or get their finances in shape. If you can get your energy level up by living healthier, then you can say, 'now I can start working on my marriage, then I can work on my finances or my career or my parenting.' We're really starting at a base level," said Warren.
He also says there is a link between spirituality and wellness and unlike other fitness regimes that currently exist, he says The Daniel Plan is about spiritual motivation and one that people from different faiths can embrace.
"The congregation could be a Jewish temple or a Muslim mosque or a Christian church. Most people don't realize that every weekend, as many as 130 million people go to church. That's more than a third of the nation. There are 335,000 churches in America. Imagine the potential impact if health became an issue in even a portion of them," said Warren.
A major factor that helped Warren lose weight was the support of his members which he says was the main component to overcoming his weight loss challenge.
Saddleback Church's emphasis on getting attenders to be a part of a small group (Bible or book study) that meets regularly each week gives members the ability to form a community of like-minded individuals amongst the thousands of congregants and pursue goals such as weight loss.
"What we've found is that people who pursue any kind of life change with the help of a group change far faster, and are more likely to stick with it, than people who do it on their own," said Warren.
Although he was able to successfully maintain his weight loss, the death of his son last April and the grieving that followed placed a halt in his journey to a healthier lifestyle.
"When Matthew died, my wife and I went through a period of four months of grief. I didn't want to exercise. The church would bring us all kinds of great food, far more than we could eat, and I started adding back some of the weight I'd lost," said Warren. "My reaction was to be open about it. When I say, 'you know what guys? I just went through the biggest crisis of my life, and I put 20 pounds back on,' that actually encourages people. They don't want to hear about the guy who lost the weight and kept it off forever."
While Warren says that he has cried every day since his son's death, he has been able to get through the grief by not hiding it, and now, he has taken up being healthy again with the support of his church.
"Most people know what to do to get healthy. It's not rocket science. The problem is that most people have the wrong motivation and therefore don't stick with it," said Warren.
He adds, "Why you do something always determines how long you do it. So we give people spiritual motivation. There's nothing wrong with saying, 'I want to live longer.' But why do you want to live longer? We say, 'change your life and change the world.'"