Saddleback’s Small Group Health Solution


About a year ago, Rev. Rick Warren, the pastor of Saddleback Church in southern California, was conducting a baptism when he noticed something.

As with everything at this megachurch, with some 30,000 members, baptisms are large events — this time, 858 people were being baptized.  “Along about 500 I thought — this is my honest truth, it wasn’t a very spiritual thought — we’re all fat,” Warren told his congregation later.  “I know pastors aren’t supposed to be thinking that when they’re baptizing, but that was what I thought: we’re all fat.  But I’m fat, and I’m a terrible model of this.”
The following week at Sunday services he tossed off a challenge.  “O.K. guys, I’ve only gained like 3 pounds a year,” Warren said.  “But I’ve been your pastor for 30 years.  So I’ve got a lot of weight to lose.  Does anybody want to join me?”
The girth of Saddleback’s members is not remarkable; it is a reflection of an increasingly obese America.   But Saddleback had an asset — one that nearly every church shares.
Shortly after that baptism, Warren was in Lenox, Mass., for a personal medical visit with Dr. Mark Hyman, a prominent metabolism expert and author of several best-selling books on avoiding chronic disease through healthier living.  They went out for dinner afterwards at an organic restaurant.
Over beet borscht, Warren asked if Hyman would participate in a program to help Saddleback’s members be healthier, perhaps by appearing in health videos.  As he talked about Saddleback, he mentioned that the church had thousands of small groups of  6 to 10 people who meet every week to discuss the Bible and their own spiritual journeys.
“A light bulb went off,” said Hyman.  “That’s the best delivery mechanism for a healthy-living curriculum.”  Warren embraced the idea instantly. Later, Hyman outlined a program for Saddleback, which he called “lifestyle medicine delivered through the power of small groups.” “The most important ingredient in the cure is the healing power of the group,” he wrote.
The idea that we can adopt healthier habits better with social support is not a new one.   Perhaps its most influential adherent is Jean Nidetch, who called herself a “fat housewife from Queens.” Nidetch had failed at countless diets.   In 1961, she was following a diet from a nutritionist — but she kept a package of Mallomars in the laundry hamper and would eat them at night.  The skinny nutritionist had clearly never had a weight problem, so Nidetch didn’t feel comfortable revealing her cookie habit.  But she could talk about it with her heavy friends — in fact, they all had their own version of the story.   Nidetch suggested they diet together, meeting every week to hold each other accountable.   With the help of her friends, she lost 72 pounds.  Two years later, she founded Weight Watchers.
Source: The New York Times | TINA ROSENBERG

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