We've all heard the phrase "your body is a temple," but Rick Warren, leader of the 20,000-member Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California, is taking the mantra to a new level.
Topping the New York Times bestseller list with his diet book The Daniel Plan: 40 Days to a Healthier Life (which he wrote with psychiatrist Daniel Amen, M.D. and physician Mark Hyman, M.D.), Warren has inspired hundreds of thousands of people to make their diet about more than losing weight, but about getting spirituality healthy.
Warren's diet gets its inspiration from the Bible's book of (you guessed it!) Daniel. In that chapter, the Jewish noble Daniel and his compadres are captured by the Babylonians, who offer them decadent foods like meat and wine. But Daniel and his men refuse to "defile" themselves with the food and instead eat only vegetables, which ultimately makes them stronger and healthier than their oppressors.
How to Eat Like Dan
Though we may not have tyrants trying to force feed us "body defiling" foods, plenty of manufacturers, supermarkets, and restaurants have stepped in to take on that role in our lives. To combat these modern oppressors, Warren's plan kicks off with a 40-day boycott of sugar, caffeine, alcohol, and processed foods.
Then, the diet pretty much settles into a general plant-based diet composed of 70 percent fruits and vegetables and 30 percent lean protein, whole grains, and low-fat dairy. The diet emphasizes fresh, organic, unprocessed foods and relies heavily on coldwater fish (such as wild salmon, halibut, and black cod) that are rich in omega-3 essential fatty acids, for animal protein. High-fructose corn syrup, trans fats, artificial sweeteners, and fat substitutes (like Olean) are sworn off forever.
The plan also encourages dieters to exercise, meet in small groups to stay accountable, and lean on friends, family, and, of course, faith for support. "It's pillars—support, balance, exercise, and accountability—are vital when making any diet change," says Lara Field, MS, RD, CSP, LDN, a dietician at the University of Chicago Medical Center.
But do you really need religion for all of that?
Religion and Food: A Match Made in Heaven
The Daniel Plan is undoubtedly the most commercially successful faith-based diet on the market today, but combining religion and food is nothing new. From kosher and halal food to Buddha's "Five Contemplations While Eating," religious dietary rules and restrictions have been around for centuries.
More recently, the vegan Edenic diet attempts to replicate Adam and Eve's menu; the Maker's Diet names foods either good or evil (okay, actually "clean" or "unclean"), and the Hallelujah Diet promotes up a primarily raw, vegetarian diet.
On the Daniel Plan, proponents are claiming to have lost weight, upped their energy, and improved their health markers, among other benefits. Warren's Saddleback Church even reports that the plan has helped 15,000 of its members lose a combined total of 250,000 pounds (about 17 pounds per person).
In the end, though, the benefit of any faith-based diet probably isn't all about the food—or the faith, for that matter. It's about making healthy eating a part of your identity and set of values, says Field, which increases your odds of actually sticking with a healthy eating strategy over the long term. So whatever your particular brand of faith, treat your body like the temple it is.
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