What Would Jesus Eat? The Ultimate Program for Eating Well, Feeling Great, and Living Longer by Don Colbert, M.D. (2002)

When I was in high school WWJD (What Would Jesus Do) bracelets were all the rage. I never witnessed any Jesus-based decision making on account of those colorful bracelets but I am excited to report that this week’s faith-based diet program is Jesus-based decision making in action. What Would Jesus Eat? is a comprehensive diet program based on what Jesus ate that also explains why contemporary Americans would do well to follow his example. Don Colbert, a board certified physician, combined his medical knowledge with his faith in this well organized and persuasive book.

The diets I covered previously were all based mainly on the dietary prescriptions of the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament). Colbert’s diet is a slight twist on that formula. In What Would Jesus Eat? Colbert shared the same dietary prescriptions from Leviticus and Deuteronomy but he did so because Jesus would have adhered to those dietary prescriptions as a first century Judean. Colbert emphasized the benefits of eating as Jesus did: “The medical and scientific facts confirm it. If we eat as Jesus ate, we will be healthier. He is our role model for good habits in eating, exercising, and living a healthy, balanced life” (x). Colbert urged his readers to question what they eat and avoid foods that Jesus would not have eaten. Colbert made it clear that much of what Americans eat today, especially highly processed foods, would not have been part of Jesus’ diet. Colbert even suggested that “if dietary laws of the Bible were being issued by God today, there would be a ‘thou shalt not’ attached to processed foods high in sugar, hydrogenated fat, salt or additives” (7).

So what would Jesus eat? Each chapter of Colbert’s book detailed one aspect of Jesus’ diet and ended with a summary of how readers can adopt Jesus’ diet in their lives. Readers are encouraged to eat a lot of whole grains and whole grain breads, beans and vegetables. Colbert encouraged consumption of fresh fish (with fins and scales in accordance with Leviticus) and cautioned against overconsumption of meat. He suggested that readers eat only free-range, organic-fed and kosher meat, chicken and eggs and urged them to do so sparingly. Colbert noted that Jesus drank a lot of water and some red wine but Colbert recommended a red-wine substitute instead of the real thing. Colbert informed his readers that for dessert Jesus ate fruit, nuts and honey. Colbert, a realistic man of the twenty-first century, also allowed for more indulgent sweet treats but only on special occasions. Finally, Colbert reminded his readers that Jesus’ ministry involved a great deal of walking, perhaps ten to twelve miles a day. Colbert suggested that his readers also strive to get ample exercise on a daily basis. Colbert ended the book with a wealth of resources including a BMI (body mass index) chart, a Mediterranean diet food pyramid, a pantry set-up plan, a daily eating plan and a week’s worth of menus. Colbert also wrote a companion cookbook (The What Would Jesus Eat Cook Book) in order to ensure that his readers could truly eat as Jesus ate.

The Maker’s Diet: The 40-day health experience that will change your life forever by Jordan S. Rubin

I’m back on track this week with another faith-based diet, The Maker’s Diet, by Jordan S. Rubin, N.M.D., Ph.D. The Maker’s Diet is a diet book that contains a great deal of information about health and wellness and relatively little information about the diet itself. Eleven of the twelve chapters cover testimonials (including Rubin’s own), repudiation of other diet plans, an introduction to naturopathic medicine and proposed lifestyle changes. Finally, after almost 200 pages, the persistent reader is rewarded with the 40-day Maker’s Diet plan.

Jordan Rubin began with his story of overcoming Crohn’s Colitis, which almost killed him before he was introduced to the Maker’s Diet. Rubin mentioned repeatedly that he was introduced to the Maker’s Diet by a man in California but that man is never given a name or credit for the plan that Rubin adopted for this New York Times Bestseller and transformed into a lucrative supplement business. The supplements, a required aspect of the Maker’s Diet plan, are actually the source of some controversy. In 2004 Rubin’s company, Garden of Life, had to stop advertising some of the supplements as “medical foods” and avoid disease claims at the behest of the FDA. Supplement controversy aside, Rubin’s diet is one that he approached through his faith and he urged his readers to do the same. Rubin encouraged his readers to approach the diet with a positive attitude and an understanding that the diet is set up to maintain or recapture complete health – body, soul and spirit (156). Rubin included a morning prayer for healing and an evening prayer for restoration and noted that “it has now been scientifically proven that prayer works” (200).

Rubin is a messianic Jew (a Jewish person who believes that Jesus is the Messiah) and his diet plan reflects the Jewish understanding of the dietary laws of the Hebrew Bible. Only clean, or kosher, animals are permitted. Rubin restricted meat intake further to grass/organic fed and free range meat. An entire chapter is dedicated to hygiene in which Rubin asserted that “God’s hygiene system is remarkably up to date” (63). Rubin also set up a new “stop, drop and roll” for his readers – stop (Sabbath rest), drop (your fork): fasting, and roll (move, exercise, get up, and do something!) (167-172).

The Maker’s Diet is laid out in three phases. For each phase Rubin provided a list of permitted and prohibited foods, a daily regimen and sample menus. The detailed daily regimens included hygiene, supplement, prayer and dietary instructions. The book concluded with a section of recipes, a list of health organizations and a directory to assist readers in finding healthy meat and dairy near their homes. The final section of the book made it clear that Rubin was right to call the Maker’s Diet a “comprehensive lifestyle plan” (39). Unfortunately this comprehensive lifestyle plan requires much more than this book. The Maker’s Diet starter pack of supplements sells for $160 and goat’s milk and grass fed/organic fed and free range meat are somewhat difficult to come by. The Maker’s Diet requires complete dedication and a hefty investment but I suppose one should expect nothing less from a diet that promises to change your life forever.

The Supper of the Lamb: A Culinary Reflection by Robert Farrar Capon (2002) 

It’s that time in January when resolve starts to wane and diets fade away. I understand the impulse. I intended to post another commentary on a faith-based diet this week but was led astray by a beautiful book of faith and food that might be described as an anti-diet. The Supper of the Lamb is a book dedicated to a deep love of food as an aspect of God’s creation. Robert Farrar Capon, an Episcopal priest, encouraged his readers to look carefully at the things of the world and love them for what they are (19). Capon provided thoughtful reflections, persuasive arguments and enticing descriptions throughout the book to pass along his beloved recipe for “Lamb for Eight Persons Four Times” and persuade his readers that it is no mere recipe; it is a way of life (22).

Capon calls his cuisine “ferial” or ordinary but his description of this cuisine is extraordinary. Capon’s approach to lamb, and all food preparation, might be considered mindful cooking. With one chapter dedicated to appreciation for the onion and another on consumption of minerals, vegetables and animals in poetic form this book remained grounded in the things of life. At each step of his recipe, Capon described the proper tools, ingredients and attitude. Capon stressed throughout that ingredients deserve respect as fellow things or beings created by God. He described every encounter between cook and ingredients “a session, a meeting, a society of things” (11). So, at each step of the recipe, Capon explained and considered the necessary ingredients, recommended the proper tools and provided the appropriate method for a successful session.

Capon’s respect for the food of God’s creation engendered a hearty dismissal of dieting. He urged his readers to lessen their fear of “little invisible spooks called calories” (26) and encouraged them to consider taste before nutrition. He called for the addition of butter to almost everything and supplied decadent recipes for sauces, pastries and pastas. Despite his distaste for diets of any sort, Capon ended up recommending a procedure that serves calorie counters well. He prescribed a plateful of lettuce before a large meal with bread for the heartier appetites to fill stomach space before the indulgent food is served. Capon suggested fasting as the appropriate method for losing weight and the moderation of breakfasts and lunches in order to enjoy special suppers. He encouraged a breakfast of coffee, fruit juice and a slice of (homemade) bread (146) and a lunch of “a crust, a leaf, and a glass of wine” (147). Despite Capon’s utter disregard for diets, I imagine that if one followed his recipe and adopted his way of life, they would see an increase in spirit and soul and perhaps even a decrease on the scale.

The Genesis Diet: The Biblical Foundation for Optimum Nutrition by Gordon S. Tessler, Ph.D. (1996)

Another week, another book called The Genesis Diet. This Genesis Diet actually predates the Genesis Diet I discussed last week but the diet Gordon Tessler laid out was ahead of its time. In this diet from 1996 Tessler explained the dangers of trans-fats, processed food and what he called the “four white deaths” (white salt, white sugar, white flour and white fat) as he urged readers to adopt a simpler diet based on the book of Genesis. Tessler described the diet of modern Americans as a diet of man-made foods and the Genesis Diet as a diet of God-made foods.

Tessler’s book brimmed with bible verses that helped him convince readers that Genesis contains a divine diet plan that requires their attention. For instance, he discussed the deceptive power of modern processed foods by comparing this deception to that of Eve in the Garden of Eden. Tessler wrote, “Eve, like so many after her, didn’t realize how dangerous it can be to eat something that God commands us not to eat” (17). Tessler continued to illustrate the deceptive processed food that modern Americans consume and reminded readers that “food processors are not concerned with your life but with shelf life” (22). Tessler also dedicated a decent portion of the book to exploring New Testament passages that many people believe altered the original diet laid out in Genesis. According to Tessler, the unclean foods of Genesis remain unclean. He asserted that God’s word is consistent. He included lengthy discussions of Acts 10, 1 Timothy 4:4 and the writings of Paul which seem to point to an end to concerns of unclean foods and carefully suggested alternate readings that imply that the New Testament retained the unclean food designations of the Genesis diet.

The Genesis Diet, described by Tessler as “the optimum diet for optimum health,” is composed of 50% grains, seeds and nuts, 10% fruit, 6% dairy, 4% meat and 30% vegetables. Tessler restricted meat consumption to clean animals that have been slaughtered properly and had their blood removed, following the traditional laws of Kashrut. Tessler bolstered his advice for animal consumption with biblical evidence but it is interesting to note that the verses related to animal consumption appear in Leviticus and Deuteronomy, not Genesis. Tessler connected the rules for animal consumption to Genesis through Noah. Tessler explained that after the flood, “Noah sacrificed clean animals and birds” (46) suggesting that Noah was aware of the restrictions. In addition to the consumption of proper foods (in correct proportion) Tessler also promoted fasting “for spiritual and physical renewal” (123). Finally, Tessler listed a number of herbs from “God’s Pharmacy” and their common uses. He supported this diet with scientific studies of healthy cultures and testimonials from people who read this book and improved their health with the Genesis Diet. One testimonial from an Ohio woman described putting her whole family on the diet with success and she concluded her letter with the proclamation: “We are all experiencing greater health God’s way” (171). Tessler published two related books Breaking the Fat Barrier and Cooking for Life that support The Genesis Diet, but unfortunately I have not read them. A project for another day!

New Year, New Blog

Today is the first day of 2013. Like many of my fellow Americans, I woke up ready to get to work on a New Year’s resolution. While my own resolution was to start a blog (check!), many Americans are kicking off 2013 with a new diet and/or exercise program. There seems to be a diet out there for everyone but my interest is in diet and exercise programs that are based on religious principles. Over the next few weeks, I will be highlighting some of these diets and giving an overview of their religious foundations and diet and exercise prescriptions. And now for my disclaimer – I am not a medical professional and I am not recommending these diet plans. I have not followed any of these diet plans myself. I am simply reading these books as a student of American religion and recording some of my thoughts on the diets as they were presented. I had many diets to choose from but deciding where to start was fairly easy – week number one will start “in the beginning” with The Genesis Diet.

The Genesis Diet: A complete wellness program to help you GET WELL, BE WELL, and STAY Well by Joseph Vetere, DC (2012). 

The cover of The Genesis Diet proclaims “Lose 1 pound of body fat every 3 days!” Despite this enticing claim, Joseph Vetere made it clear early in the book that his plan is not intended as a quick and easy route to weight loss. Instead, Vetere provided his readers with “an overall wellness program, based on biblical principles.” Joseph Vetere wrote the book as both a health professional and a minister. He is a doctor of chiropractic and holds a diploma in ministry from Oral Roberts University. With The Genesis Diet, Vetere sought to do more than shrink waistlines, he endeavored to transform lives.

The diet is grounded in the idea that humans, and especially Christians, need to conform to God’s divine plan. Vetere invoked Genesis 1:25 to illustrate this point:

Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth” (Vetere 3).

Vetere described this passage as the motivation and foundation of his work and he employed the passage to remind his readers that their “goal should be to fulfill God’s design and plan for mankind to have dominion over all life.” Vetere reiterated throughout the book that humans were created in the image of God, and that, according to I Corinthians 6:19, their bodies are the “temple of the Holy Spirit” (Vetere 5). Such carefully created bodies should be treated to proper health and wellness and Vetere provided his readers with a plan to restore the proper condition of their bodies.

Vetere set out biblically based principles, or covenants, to prepare readers for the diet. Vetere used the tests of Abraham to model his 8 principles. These principles are stop making excuses, take initiative, be willing to make sacrifices, stop taking short cuts, be committed to following the Plan, release yourself from past failure, endure and sometimes long suffer and make yourself accountable. Vetere stressed the above principles as necessary to long-lasting change.

Most of The Genesis Diet is dedicated to mental and spiritual preparation for the diet plan but the sections on the actual diet are clear and thorough. A companion website, http://schoolofwellness.com/, provides printable resources and video tutorials to assist readers with the exercise plan. The diet requires a calculation of the proper daily caloric intake based on current weight, body fat percentage and basal metabolic rate, or the amount of calories burned in an average day (Vetere 95). The daily caloric intake goal is then broken down into percentages that ensure dieters are eating the right foods: 30% each of carbohydrates and proteins and 10% each of vegetables, fruits, dairy and butter/oil. Vetere requires that dieters keep a food diary log to ensure their caloric intake is within the limits generally and within each category. Finally, Vetere laid out workout program that helps dieters establish a 20 minute/day workout in weekly increments. Vetere concluded the book with a chapter entitled “Why You Will Succeed” that encourages readers to pray daily to ensure success. He provides guidelines for prayers that can help his followers as they struggle to improve their health.

Interestingly, The Genesis Diet contains very few actual food recommendations. Instead, readers are given a fairly flexible diet plan that they must fill in with their own food choices. No foods are overtly prohibited or recommended. Instead, Vetere provided ratios, a general plan for how to approach menu planning and calorie calculations for common foods. This approach seems amenable to the busy and varied lives of the contemporary Christian audience Vetere targeted with his diet plan. Vetere presented his well-rounded diet and exercise plan as more than a mere suggestion for his Christian readers. Vetere insisted throughout the book that for Christians, health is a gift that they are responsible for maintaining and it appears that he gave his readers the tools to do so.