MIAMI (AP) — When Eve took that forbidden first bite of organic apple, she had no idea she would be linking food and religion forever. Now, evangelicals and worshippers are worrying about how many carbs are in their communion crackers.
In the first go round, dozens of books like the Hallelujah Diet and The Maker's Diet harkened the fare of Biblical times to take off the pounds that church potlucks and Sunday picnics packed on.
But the latest crop of faith-based diet books are moving outside the realm of food and exercise, touting a more holistic approach that encourages everything from advanced hygiene, a challenge to feed the poor and a call to add a side of prayer and meditation alongside your veggies and hormone free meat.
Author Tom Hafer says diet and exercise don't just benefit you, they allow you to live a longer, healthier life to better care for others.
In Faith and Fitness: Diet and Exercise for a Better World, Hafer says the bulk of the $40 billion diet industry is all about self. But this hippie-preacher who is more U2's Bono than Billy Graham says the real focus should be consuming the right amount of food for ourselves and saving the excess resources for the millions dying from hunger.
"This is motivation like no other. When we switch the understanding of self to the global community, we have more than enough motivation to last a lifetime," said Hafer, a recent seminary grad and physical therapist from Cape Coral.
Jordan Rubin says his latest book, The Great Physician's Rx for Health & Wellness, is a "God-inspired road map to wholeness for the body, mind and soul." It also includes a series of 35 smaller books targeting diseases including diabetes, cancer, arthritis and irritable bowel syndrome.
While his first book, The Maker's Diet, called for dramatic diet changes, this series was written for the average person, interested in making one change a day. It also gives more credence to advanced hygiene — cleanse your nasal passageways and mucous membranes and use an essential oil-based tooth solution. It also calls for reducing toxins in the environment — be wary of chemicals in makeup and cleaning products — and live a life of prayer and purpose.
"You can't be healthy if you only care for your physical body. There is an emotional side, a mental side, a spiritual side," said Rubin, who lives in West Palm Beach with his wife and son.
Some scientists are also acknowledging the link between religion and health.
Dr. Harold G. Koenig, professor of psychiatry and behavior sciences at Duke University Medical Center has conducted several studies that show religious people tend to have shorter hospital stays, lower depression and blood pressure rates and longer life spans.
He attributes part of the success of faith-based diets to support from the religious community.
"If you have a faith community and you're doing it all together and you can connect it to your belief system, then it makes it a lot easier to change your behavior and maintain that," Koenig said.
Health experts say its no surprise that people are looking for a dose of religion with their diets, considering rising obesity rates. But they recommend taking religious dieting advice with a grain of (low sodium) salt and checking to see if the author has a medical background.
"Some of these diets don't have science behind the ideology. But you can have a strong interest in science to back your faith practices and ideas and still lose weight," said Keecha Harris, a spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association.
Simon Cohen, managing director of Global Tolerance and owner of www.faithandfood.com. in the United Kingdom, said faith-based dieters tend to have a greater motivation — God.
"Few people would be troubled at the prospect of offending the ghost of Dr. Atkins if they fell off the biscuits bandwagon, but defying the will or the way of God is something altogether different," Cohen said in an e-mail.
Effectiveness aside, it's hard to deny the rising popularity of faith-based diet books, though no figures have been reported.
Rubin, a Messianic Jew who claims the diet cured his Crohn's disease and sells dietary supplements under the Garden of Life label, says about 85% of his books are being snatched up by women, mostly soccer moms who are juggling caring for their children along with their aging parents.
Lori Rowland, 37, mills her own grains, bakes her own bread and juices spinach, carrots and other veggies to serve to her four children and often to her father, a diabetic in his 60s who lives nearby.
The svelte Boca Raton mom and her husband, Bill, a family medicine doctor, also serve up healthy doses of prayer and Bible lessons to their children and equate their healthy lifestyle with being good stewards of their God-given bodies.
It's also a message they share with others. About once a month, Lori Rowland leads nutritional seminars at her home. She cooks various organic and hormone free-meat dishes, passes out recipes and invites guest speakers. Topics include the dangers of refined sugars, high-fructose corn syrups and other processed foods.
"It's called the standard American diet. It's so sad. It's nothing I didn't do. I used to be addicted to Coke," said Rowland. "But once you have knowledge that something is very harmful to you...I have four children. I want to live a vital life."
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