.- Atkins. South Beach. Nutrisystem. Every new year brings a new diet. But St. Andrew parishioner Virginia Marquez of Eagle River, Alaska believes every one of them lacks the essential element for losing weight: God.
Thatâs because overeating has more to do with âthe hole in your heartâ than a bottomless stomach, Marquez told the Catholic Anchor in an interview.
Enter âLight Weighâ â a Catholic spiritual growth and weight loss program in which Marquez and a growing number of other repeat dieters in Alaska and across the U.S. and several other English-speaking nations are satiating spiritual hunger and keeping the pounds off in the process.
A Spiritual Diet
The ubiquitous problems of overeating and obesity are rarely connected to underlying spiritual issues â which makes Light Weigh unique. The program promises participants will learn âto attain peace with foodâ by following the example of Jesus and the saints.
Marquez, who runs a Light Weigh program at St. Andrew Church in Eagle River, calls it âdivinely inspired.â
It may be the only diet plan that comes with a âspiritual tool kitâ that consists of prayer books, holy water, rosaries and âsacrifice beadsâ â a strand of sliding beads by which participants track dieting sacrifices they make daily. Nineteenth-century Carmelite nun Saint Therese of Lisieux used them to make her âLittle Wayâ â performing small acts of love and sacrifice to achieve holiness.
âThatâs one of our goals,â said Marquez, âto adopt the âLittle Wayâ and to do little things, little lifestyle changes that bring about better health, and thatâs what God wants for us â to be in optimum health.â
According to the Bible and the saints, âgluttony is a problemâ for body and soul, Marquez explained. Twentieth-century priest Saint Josemaria Escriva once observed that âovereating is the forerunner to impurity.â
The answer is to âask Jesus to eat with you and to help you eat right,â said Marquez.
So, once a week for 12 weeks, adult and teen participants meet in small groups at a parish or at home for prayer, a reflection on Scripture and a video lesson on church teaching or the saints focused on a particular theme. Then, thereâs a short talk on an area of food. On their own, participants listen to audio lessons and testimonies on CDs, journal and do workbook exercises.
There is a $135 fee for materials. The group at St. Andrew formed last summer; others have sprung up at St. Patrick in Anchorage and other parishes of the Anchorage Archdiocese.
Each week, there is an Ignatian-styled review â based on the Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius of Loyola. Participants choose one fault to work on in the coming week. At the end of each day, individually, they review how they did and whether they struggled. They consider what they will do in âprayer and actionâ next time, and if they succeeded, how Jesus helped them.
The spiritual inventory helps participants identify âstomach hunger versus heart hungerâ and learn to respond appropriately, said Marquez.
âIf you feel this longing and you think, âOh, if I could just eat something and Iâd feel better,â thatâs a spiritual hole,â she explained. âOther people fill it with alcohol or smokingâ¦overeaters tend to fill it with food.â
But that âhole in your heartâ is âa call from God,â Marquez observed. âHe made us this way so we would want to call for him,â she explained. âSo what we need is prayerâ¦to be nourished by his Word.â In fact, one of Light Weighâs mantras is, âThe walk to the refrigerator is just as far as the walk to the Bible.â
Doughnuts in Moderation
Along with prayer, Light Weigh stresses moderation.
âYour body is a temple,â said Marquez. âGod gave us these bodies. We didnât make them. And our body gives us signals when we need things. You know when youâre thirsty, so you drink. And you wait until youâre hungry before you eat,â she said. But thatâs âa discipline that most of us have, many of us, I know I have, overridden through habits early in life: eating because of stress, eating because of social situations.â
As with other addictions, she said, âYou have to turn over your will to God and say, âGod, help me with this. I donât want to over-eat, I donât want to abuse my body in any way.â And ask him to guide you.â
Participants learn to eat proportionately-sized amounts of food and only until they are just satiated. And whenever the old overeating habits return, participants âturn to prayer to overcome the compulsion.â
âWeâre trying to get back to that natural way of responding to our bodiesâ needs,â explained Marquez.
No foods are off-limits. âItâs not what goes into you thatâs evil, itâs what comes out of you,â said Marquez, referencing Christâs spiritual maxim from the Gospel.
âYou can eat anything you want, as long as you just eat a finite amount of it,â she continued. In the videos, participants learn how to consume âvery delectable foods in very reasonable quantitiesâ â including doughnuts and pizza, which makes Marquez happy. Even with those carbohydrates and fats, since the first session in June, the 46-year-old has lost 20 pounds â and other participants have lost in the âdouble digits,â as well.
The Narrow Way
Although most are first drawn to Light Weigh to lose weight, they find the weight loss to be a âfringe benefit,â Marquez noted. As it turns out, these dieters are becoming spiritual heavy weights. The Light Weigh program, she said, means a âdeepening of our faith.â
So is the Light Weigh program the answer to the never-ending cycle of diet fads? Marquez thinks so, precisely because itâs not the âworldâs diet.â
Jesus Christ said that neither he nor his Kingdom is âof this world,â said Marquez, so âwe know through our faith, the way the world is going is not the way we are called to go. We are called to go the narrow way. And thatâs what this is. Itâs very simple. Itâs very truthful.â
Printed with permission from the Catholic Anchor, newspaper for the Archdiocese of Anchorage, Alaska.