Wow! Everybody's fat!

That one thought reverberated through acclaimed pastor Rick Warren's mind that day as he baptized 827 adults at his Saddleback Church in southern California.

The megachurch, the largest in the United States, baptizes the traditional way, by lowering people into a pool of water and lifting them back out. Warren quickly calculated he had lifted more than 145,000 pounds that day. Everyone he baptized had been overweight.

He then came to a second realization that hit closer to home.

But I'm fat, too! I'm as out of shape as everyone else is!

North American Phenomenon

That epiphany galvanized Warren to consider his own health issues as well as those of his congregation.

In his research, Warren learned the following startling facts:

  • For the first time in history, while millions of people suffer from not having enough to eat, as many millions are struggling with the effects of being overweight.

  • Seven in 10 North Americans are overweight.

  • Diabetes, heart disease and other “lifestyle-based diseases” kill more people than infectious diseases worldwide.

In consultation with three nationally known doctors—Daniel Amen, Mark Hyman and Mehmet Oz—Warren developed The Daniel Plan, a lifestyle program based on biblical principles and five essential components: food, fitness, focus, faith and friends.

Named after the Old Testament's biblical account of Daniel, who refused to eat the rich foods from the king's table and challenged the ruler to a 10-day health contest, the plan was phenomenally successful at Saddleback, where the congregation lost a collective 250,000 pounds. Encouraged by its success, Warren developed The Daniel Plan into an eponymous book, study plan, journal, DVD and even a Daniel Plan cookbook.

“The Father made your body, Jesus paid for your body, the Spirit lives in your body,” Warren recently said to CNN. “You'd better take care of it.”

Life-Changing Plan

When a church study group at Ontario's Kingston Citadel were looking for a follow-up to their series based on Rick Warren's Transformed, one of the members came across his Daniel Plan.

“The 12 of us come in all different sizes and shapes,” smiles Colin Laird, a member of the corps. “Some of us wanted to lose weight, others wanted to get healthier and still others simply wanted more energy in their lives. The Daniel Plan fit all our criteria.”

Over the course of six weeks, the group met every Sunday evening for about two hours. During the week, the members worked with the study guide and Laird created a Facebook group where members could share success, commiserate with temporary setbacks, and share tips and recipes.

“That also gave us all a place to connect with the whole group regarding any prayer requests or concerns,” says Laird.

For Laird, The Daniel Plan meant eating healthier, avoiding trans fats, MSG and junk food. “My grocery list changed from being mostly junk to mostly fruits and vegetables.”

By the end of the six weeks, the group declared The Daniel Plan an unqualified success. One member lost 17 pounds as a result. But weight loss was only a small part of the collective victory. Lifestyle changes were also in evidence. Laird started giving the church youth group he leads healthier snack options, for instance.

The week after, the group reconvened for a celebratory potluck, where everyone brought their favourite Daniel Plan dish.

“The Daniel Plan can be looked upon as simply a weight-loss plan at first glance,” concludes Laird, “but it's really a knowledge- and Scripture-based program for a healthier life. Without exaggeration, it's changed all of our lives.”

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