Jesus says, "No fatties"

Fat people make God angry, and fat people are going to hell. That is, unless they decide to pray to him for guidance in resisting Big Macs.

This Chicago Tribune article talks about how churches are now combining the two things that, apparently the world needs more of: weight loss schemes and religious indoctrination.

Somehow some pious folk agreed that the reason fat people are fat is that no one has taken the time to point out to them how ashamed they should be for letting themselves go. Now, you could just walk up to a fat person in your congregation and say, “You sicken me, you fat piece of crap.” Surely that would shame her into thinking twice about second helpings at the post-sermon pancake breakfast. But let’s face it, that’s just mean. There has to be a better way…

Oh, hey, what if you tell your congregation that gluttony is a sin, and if they are fat it’s because they’re bad Christians. Because if you had faith, you would ask God to help you not be so weak. This way, you’re not saying they disgust you, per se, you’re merely a holy messenger.

Steve Reynolds, the founder of (not making this up) Bod4God, is that holy messenger:

“Jesus Christ was not obese,” Reynolds told the audience, pointing to passages in the Bible that describe Jesus walking 40 miles in one day. “I believe the heart of God is so sad today when it comes to our physical shape.”

Come on, that’s not fair! How can you be obese when your body is made of bread and wine? Though I find it suspicious that there’s no mention of Jesus’ love of all-you-can-eat fish buffets.

One woman, who totally got God’s message, talked to the reporter about her problem with over-eating:

“That’s not OK,” said Grier, who had stuffed extra granola bars in her coat pocket at lunch but decided to give them back. “You’re representing God in a bad way. … I just think you should be an example in every way.”

Yeah… God hates granola bars. To hell you go!

This woman doesn’t drink, smoke, or have sex because they’re all sins. She’s working very hard to stay in line with what is “good” and “righteous”. But somehow she felt empty, so she turned to food. Now I’m not a Christian, a preacher, a pastor, a nutritionist, a social worker or Jesus but I have a feeling that this woman needs some love and support and a program focusing on her eating disorder.

I don’t think she needs to be told that “pies make baby Jesus cry.”

Of course the article gives examples of happy, newly-skinny folks that have prayed and cardio-kickboxed their way to God’s love by losing 40, 70, or 100+ pounds. Nowhere in the article, or on the Bod4God website, does it say whether the results are or are not typical. (If I were playing Bod4God roulette, I would put all my money on “not typical”.)

Take Karen Cunningham, for example, a Christian who has always been overweight but never realized that she was going to hell for it:

“I didn’t think what I was doing was sinful,” Cunningham said. “Going to McDonald’s was getting a hot meal.”

Cunningham says she and her daughter cut down on fast-food trips, started drinking water instead of sweet tea, read the Bible and exercised. She’s lost 70 pounds; her daughter Laura Belle has lost 40 pounds.

So let’s go over that again:

  1. Gave up Whoppers
  2. Gave up sugary beverages
  3. Started drinking more water
  4. Read the Bible
  5. Started exercising
  6. Did it all with a diet buddy for support

I’m going to tell you, I think Karen got it pretty close to right. This is a good plan. But I’m guessing it was all possible without #4.

Its almost like someone couldn’t decide which evil was more powerful, the weight loss industry or religion as an industry, so he combined them to make one über-powerful evil industry.

I fear more people are going to be hurt by this than helped. Telling obese people that their weight problems are an affront to God can only backfire. If curing obesity were as easy as saying, “Hey you’re fat, but I’ve got some inspirational Bible quotes that will make you skinny”, the diet industry wouldn’t be making $64 billion a year.

I have a feeling these people are going to end up feeling emptier and sadder in the end. I hope I’m wrong. I really want these people to lose this weight and keep it off. Failing at a diet is heartbreaking, but what happens when failing your diet means failing your diety? No one wants to be the 300 pound person shamefully returning pockets full of granola bars a second time around while God and the congregation look on.

Rebecca Watson

Rebecca is a writer, speaker, YouTube personality, and unrepentant science nerd. In addition to founding and continuing to run Skepchick, she hosts Quiz-o-Tron, a monthly science-themed quiz show and podcast that pits comedians against nerds. There is an asteroid named in her honor. Twitter @rebeccawatson Mastodon Instagram @actuallyrebeccawatson TikTok @actuallyrebeccawatson YouTube @rebeccawatson BlueSky

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  1. I once got a pamphlet from a JW that seemed to hint that Jesus could help me lose weight. Now there's a deep and meaningful reason to join a religion.

  2. Shit, if you can't pig out as a Christian, what vices are left to you? No sex, no smoking, no drinking, no drugs, no tea or coffee (for Mormons anyway), and now no fatty foods? Christianity drains all the fun out of life.

    Here's something I read about this some time ago:

    A study by Ken Ferraro of Purdue University, published recently in the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion (nope, that title is not an oxymoron!), found that 27% of Baptists and 20% of other fundamentalist Protestants are obese. Those figures contrast sharply with only 1% obesity among Jews, Muslims and secular people.

  3. I have a feeling these people are going to end up feeling emptier and sadder in the end. I hope I’m wrong. I really want these people to lose this weight and keep it off. Failing at a diet is heartbreaking, but what happens when failing your diet means failing your diety? No one wants to be the 300 pound person shamefully returning pockets full of granola bars a second time around while God and the congregation look on.

    I think they'll be ok – as you pointed out, a lot of the advice given has helped lots of people to lose weight.

    And when God is brought in, people who aren't succeeding in losing weight say "Yes, I haven't lost much yet BUT this is bringing me closer to God".

    I know because I've done one of these types of programs.

  4. I found the portion of the article that discussed the obesity rates within different faiths really interesting.

    The sociology professor the article cites has a hypothesis that I am inclined to agree with, though I don't think it fully covers the depth of the problem for Baptists and other fundamentalists.

    "Ferraro believes Baptists' and fundamentalists' absolutist views on alcohol and smoking may contribute to the rate of obesity, because they're not learning to practice moderation."

    Another factor (among many) may be that the repression of natural sexual attraction (especially hard on the gay fundamentalist) contributes to eating to cope with problems.

    It does seem like this is more than just a weight loss scheme, certainly gluttony was seen as a sin long before this movement began. The Bod4God people have just begun to weigh each sin equally (pun wasn't intended, really). Whenever fundamentalists focus on their own shortcomings instead of bashing gays or promoting creationism, it is a good thing.

    I have a very religious friend who is extremely overweight. He doesn't associate taking care of himself physically as connected to his religious life, maybe this approach would be good for him.

    I wouldn't worry about the people for whom the plan doesn't work, they'll just join another church that emphasizes other so-called sins. Just like people in the middle-ages shopped for a confessor who would let them off easy, Bod4God apostates will look for a church that lets them eat what they want while condemning the non-believers.

  5. Whenever fundamentalists focus on their own shortcomings instead of bashing gays or promoting creationism, it is a good thing.

    I think there is a huge problem with telling people that being overweight is a "shortcoming". If having the willpower to get yourself thin was enough, people would be thin.

    For people who are looking to lose 10-20 pounds, the program will probably get results, at least short-term.

    But this program seems to be targeting people who are severely obese. Contrary to popular belief, fat people are not fat because they'd rather have a cheeseburger than be thin, nor are they fat because they don't care. There's a much bigger problem, be it physiological or psychological, that needs to be addressed. Telling people that their obesity is a sin is not going to be helpful. If the problem is physiological, no amount of prayer will help them get thin.

    And when the problem is psychological, shaming people with eating disorders is more likely to end up in weight gain than weight loss. Emotional eaters do not tend to respond well to having their weight and eating habits ridiculed. Telling them that they are not only letting themselves down, but that God does not look kindly upon their "choice" to be fat is not a solution.

    This seems to be nothing more than another weight loss gimmick. They have some success stories, much like the ones you see on TV with the asterisk beside them. In the end, most people will fail this program like they did every other program they've tried. And when they do, they've not only let themselves down, but they now have the added burden of eternal damnation…. what's a person who doesn't drink, smoke, swear, dance, or have sex to do? The only thing that's left – eat.

  6. Expatria said

    I vote for a “Pies Make Baby Jesus Cry” T-shirt, but I’ll settle for a photoshopped image of Jesus wearing a “No Fat Chicks” shirt.

    If only we didn't already have a March contest ready to go…

  7. Well, the quote “treating your body as a temple” is pretty old, so it’s been around for quite some time.

    I remember hearing somewhere, I think during a documentary on alcoholics, that the incidence of depression among the Amish was much higher than in the rest of society, but at the same time, that of alcoholism was much lower. The study that came up with those numbers essentially concluded that people are as fucked up no matter where they live, and if their religion forbids one vice, they’ll substitute it for another, or just become depressed.

    I think the suicide rates among those “self-hating fat people” may rise dramatically, as will the occurance of depression. Perhaps they can substitute addictions to drugs, booze or burgers with an addiction to prozac (or newer equivalents that actually WORK).

  8. Got a little carried away there, didn’t you?

    I didn't even notice that until a couple of hours ago… unfortunately, I'm not clever enough to come up with that one on purpose.

  9. Oh, Elyse! Don't admit to that! Accept the accolades! BE FABULOUS! Don't disclose any limits to your cleverness!

  10. I think this program could backfire. If your body is a "temple", and you are supposed to limit how much good stuff you put into your temple, does that mean you are supposed to limit how much you give to your church?

    Give your church only enough so it becomes a lean functional organization? Not an obese bloated whale of an organization? Only build temples that are functional and economic, not gigantic bloated monstrosities? Only support religious leaders with modest lifestyles? Lifestyles of the sort that Jesus lived?

    If emulating Jesus is important, isn't it important for the religious leaders? How many pairs of shoes did Jesus have? Pretty sure it was at most one pair, perhaps zero.

    I suppose their rationalization is that they are doing this to protect their flock. Allow their flock to live in poverty while the religious leaders consume all their excess wealth. What an amazing sacrifice. How very Christian of them.

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