April 30, 2012— -- It's Sunday night and the members of the Capitol Baptist Church congregation in Annandale, Va., gather together and step up for the weigh-in.
It's like a Weight Watchers meeting, but different. It's a weight loss celebration for God.
Pastor Steve Reynolds created a diet and fitness weight loss system built around faith in Jesus, or as he likes to say, "based on the Bible."
"I don't believe there's a better health book in the world than the Bible," he said.
His book, "Bod4God," promises four keys to losing weight -- Dedication, Inspire, Eat and Exercise and Team. In addition, Reynolds shows local churches how to host "Losing to Live" weight-loss competitions and team fitness regimens.
The faith-based weight loss program, where motivation comes from knowing God wants you to take care of the body he gave you, is catching on all over. There is now Karate for Christ, Body and Soul Fitness and Holy Yoga programs.
And while the non-believers may want to laugh at "Bod4God," as they did on a "Saturday Night Live" skit in February, Reynolds said his congregation has lost 13,000 pounds together through his program.
According to a recent study published in the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, American Christians are more overweight than any other religious group, and among Baptists, nearly one of every three congregants is obese. One of them was Reynolds himself, who said he weighed 100 pounds in the first grade. After graduating from college, he became a pastor.
"The good news is I started a new church and the church got bigger," he said. "The bad news is I got bigger. I got up to 340 pounds. And so there I was with all the health issues that goes with that -- high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, digging my grave with a knife and folk and an ice cream spoon."
Reynolds said being diagnosed with diabetes and high blood pressure was like his flash of lightning, a sign that he had to do something to improve his health. He said he began to study different words in the Bible, starting in the Book of Genesis and working his way through.
"I said, 'I'm going to look up the word "body"' and I found it's in there 179 times," Reynolds said. "I want to say, OK, you know, I believe God made me so he probably gave me some good guidance here on how to honor him."
The pastor said one of the Bible verses that struck him in his pursuit of healthier living came from the First Corinthians, Chapter 10, Verse 31.
"It says whether we eat or drink, do all to the glory of God," Reynolds said. "Just think about it. I mean how it boils down, glorifying God with what you eat and with what you drink."
Reynolds said he has now lost over 100 pounds. The fact that he can stand before his congregation and tell them he knows what they are going through, means a lot to his church members. One of whom is Marie Krohe, who said she tried Weight Watchers and Overeaters Anonymous, but the "Bod4God" program is the only thing that's worked for her.
Bod4God: Faith-Based Weight-Loss Plan
"I think the difference is that God is missing from those programs," she said. "Philippians 4:13 says, 'I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.' That was a big thing for me, when I read that verse, you know, I really took it to heart. And I tried to lose weight on my own. I've tried many times, and I've lost weight on my own. And I always gained it back, you know. I was never able – because I was doing it of my own will power. This time I feel like I have God on my side."
Gail Mates, one of the leaders of the "Bod4God" program, has lost 65 pounds. She said she used God as a sort of motivational coach.
"When I was starting this program I was weak and I didn't think I could make it. I would actually write in my journal for God to give me strength and to help me," she said. "I would write something in there to the effect of, 'God, please give me the strength to eat these foods so that I can lower my blood pressure so I can lower my diabetes.'"
While the "Bod4God" program is inspired by Holy Scripture, it is not much different from many other non-God-based weight loss systems. It boils down to proper nutrition and exercise, and the company of other people fighting the same battle. Reynolds also has a leader who teaches the program in Spanish.
By the way, you don't need to be a Christian to do "Bod4God." Reynolds said he had an atheist join the program, who finished the program as an atheist, but thinner.
So for all the people who are not on the weight loss spiritual journey, but have been looking for a sign that they need to start living healthier, Reynolds is offering them one.