The Church That Could…And Lessons for Community Weight Loss

I was excited by a news item that I saw in New York Times recently. Apparently a pastor in North Mississippi, Rev. Michael O. Minor, of Oak Hill Baptist, has been influencing his community to eat more healthy for a number of years, and his crusade has been taken up by the National Baptist Convention.

The church clearly has a history of embarking on campaigns for the betterment of people, like the efforts of the Civil Rights Movement in the last century, so it makes sense for the church to want to work on the physical body, along with the freedom it offers to the more transitory nature of our being. I hope that other branches of religious institutions will make similar attempts, as well as secular organizations that serve as cultural/life hubs for people, if they haven’t considered doing so already.

Rev. Minor’s passion has been good for Mississippi, because, as the article points out, the state is on the wrong side of many statistics related to eating, weight, and health. Under his  guidance, the Baptist church system hopes to have a Health Ambassador in every member church in a year from now. One wise initiative that Bel Mount Missionary Church, also in Mississippi, came up with is “Taste Test Sunday,” to enable members to try out these slimmed-down meals. I think it’s important for any individual or group that wants to change eating behavior to get a good sense of the new eating options they have, and the taste test is a good way to do that.

Although I have covertly replaced fatty dishes and desserts with leaner ones in my own cooking (don’t tell anybody I told you!), I think the transparency here is important. Many people are resistant to changing their diets because they fear the new, healthy food will taste like cardboard. Educating people on the availability of tasty options, and also busting the myth that healthy food has to be expensive, with exotic ingredients that you can only find in places like Whole Foods, is important for a community effort, in my opinion.

Additionally, I was happy to read that another church, Seek Well Baptist, started a community garden on its grounds, and that Oak Hill added a walking track around the church, which is heavily used. I would suspect that in many communities, after a desire to be healthy has been sparked, resources are needed, like a better variety of healthy foods where supermarkets are scarce, or venues for exercise.

What other suggestions would I have for groups to eat more healthy?

  1. A weight loss support group. This could be a contest to lose weight (I’ve heard of churches having “Biggest Loser” events, patterned after the TV show), or a group that meets to discuss having success with popular weight loss regimens. This will provide a healthy dose of accountability, enable everyone to learn from each other on how to transcend challenges, and also open a forum for sharing ideas to keep eating and exercise fresh.
  2. A healthy potluck dinner event, with a cookbook developed from the recipes attendees have made. This would give people practice in cooking more healthy, and give them access to other recipes to expand their options. Also a simple cookbook could be given out or sold in the community, to spread the reach of help being provided–and to prove to skeptics that leaner food can taste good, and that everyday people can make it, not just the chefs on TV with unlimited access to expensive ingredients.
  3. Promotion of success stories. It’s always inspiring to hear the story of someone who has found a way to commit to weight loss and reinvent their thinking about food and movement. Additionally, the audience can pick up many best practices ideas to enhance their weight loss.
  4. Q&A sessions with medical professionals. It’s beneficial to discuss health goals with medical professionals who can set safe parameters to a weight loss program. Individuals should be talking with their doctors about their goals, but it never hurts to have access to other experts’ opinions and ideas.
  5. A fitness club. If a fun activity is chosen and played out regularly, this could be an easy way to encourage people who already know and care about each other to keep each other moving toward their common goal of better health.
  6. A workout DVD library. People could bring in their own movies to share, or others could donate videos to keep on the premises. Having a variety of videos to choose from enables people to have variety in their workouts at home.

This is what I would do if I ruled the world, as Nas and Kurtis Blow said. But I know there are other ideas out there. Have you been involved in a group that’s committed to weight loss? What initiatives worked for you and your friends and family? What advice would you give to people wanting to lose weight as a group?

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