In the beginning, pastor Rick Warren had an epiphany.
“Wow! Everybody’s FAT!” he wrote on the first page of his book, The Daniel Plan: 40 Days to a Healthier Life.
He goes on to explain that as pastor of megachurch Saddleback Church, he struggled to baptize 827 overweight adults in one day. And then he realized he was fat, too.
He developed a plan for eating healthier, following the biblical example of Daniel, who refused the rich foods the king offered and chose to eat only vegetables and drink water. At the end of 10 days, he looked healthier than the other young men who served the king.
Warren built a health plan with doctors Daniel Amen, Mark Hyman and Mehmet Oz, eschewing rich, processed foods for fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean meats.
An estimated 15,000 members of Warren’s congregation followed The Daniel Plan with him.
Together, they lost a collective 250,000 pounds, he wrote.
As soon as she saw the book, Lillian Howard, a member of Trinity on the Hill United Methodist Church, knew she wanted to try it.
“Our church did The Purpose-Driven Life several years ago as a whole church. I think Rick Warren, when he does something, he just does it in the right way. It’s all Biblically based,” said Howard, who facilitates a class that meets in her Evans home every Monday morning. “When I saw this, I never even opened the book. I just said ‘I’m going to do it.’ ”
The plan is more than a diet. It focuses on five key areas to take a more holistic approach to health: faith, food, fitness, focus and friends.
“It’s more of an opportunity to come together as a small group and encourage each other, whether you need to lose weight (or) whether you just want to learn how to be healthy,” she said.
Monday was the group’s second meeting.
Howard said she has strictly followed the plan, which begins with a 10-day detox, and lost six pounds the first week. It has introduced her to foods she would not normally try and forced her to plan, which she doesn’t usually do.
She has noticed positive changes in other areas. Her family eats dinner at home more, and she maintains a meal plan instead of eating out every night and grabbing whatever happens to be nearby.
But Howard said weight loss was a side effect, not the reason she wanted to try the plan. Her motivation is to stave off health problems she is at risk for, such as diabetes.
“As I’ve gotten into it, just realizing everything has to change. The way you have thought about food. The way you have done everything,” she said.
Renee Howell is facilitating a second small group at Trinity, which has met for three weeks on Wednesday nights.
She said the plan is not at all what she expected.
“I thought it was all about weight loss and probably some fitness, too,” she said. “It’s not. It’s preparing your whole body, your whole being, for serving the Lord.”
It starts with eating whole and fresh foods and cutting out excess sugar and preservatives. Though the class lasts for six weeks, it is intended to become a lifestyle.
“It’s more about just choosing healthy,” Howell said.
Followers are encouraged to eat three meals and two snacks each day and to steer away from high fructose corn syrup, monosodium glutamate and hydrogenated fats.
“You have to look at them as poison,” Howard said.
But food isn’t even discussed until the second week, she said. The first week of the program talks about faith.
“With your faith, you’ve got to realize that your body is God’s temple,” she said. “We’re put here on earth to glorify God in everything that we do. To be at our highest potential to do that, our temple has to be at the very best it can be.”
Howell said she expected The Daniel Plan to also come with prescribed workout plan. She was pleasantly surprised.
“The best exercise that you do is the one you actually do,” she said.
Her class discussed their different fitness levels and favorite forms of exercise. Then they were challenged to find an exercise that they would actually do, and do it.
Howell said the purpose of the plan is for people to get healthy so they are better equipped to serve God.
“You’re doing this in obedience to God as a way of thanking him and praising him, to live more fully for his purposes,” she said. “It’s pretty cool stuff. (Warren) makes this whole thing like an act of worship. You have to be poised and ready to serve. If you are fat and lazy, then you’re not ready for what He needs you to do.”