Maybe you haven’t heard the story. After baptizing 827 adults one Spring day at Saddleback Church in Southern California, Pastor Rick Warren thought about the state of his congregation and America: overweight. And he knew he was overweight, too.
Deciding to take action, he invited Drs. Daniel Amen, Mark Hyman, and Mehmet Oz into the church to develop a unique program of lifestyle change based on the principles of functional medicine. The church had thousands of small Bible study groups and they decided to use those meetings to present cutting edge information on “faith, food, fitness, focus and friends.”
The curriculum was posted on a website (www.danielplan.com). On the first day it was made available to the public, over 12,000 members signed up to participate and ultimately over 16,000 joined. At the end of one year, the group lost over 250,000 pounds. (Using very rough estimates, that's an average 15-pound weight loss per person.)
I first heard about The Daniel Plan early on in the process, and knew I wanted to be part of this life-changing program and try to adapt it at my hospital or synagogue. And, incredibly, on the same day I heard that I had permission to use the website, I got a call from the rabbis at my synagogue asking me if I'd ever heard of the Daniel Plan, and if I could help lead such a program at the synagogue. (Talk about fate!)
This led to some interesting discussion about how to adapt the Christian scriptural references to Jewish health sources. (Fortunately Rabbi Maimonides and Prophet Daniel pretty much had functional medicine figured out long ago.) So far, we've run the program successfully two times, making ours the first synagogue to accomplish this.
Here are some of the things I learned from this experience:
1. There is a hunger for information.
A part of my career is scanning dozens of health reports daily, but most people are too busy or may not know where to look for information. The health section of bookstores can be confusing. The Daniel Plan offered a wealth of information from a large and successful health experiment and people were grateful to have the website as a reference.
2. There's a need to spread health information.
The MindBodyGreen community is well informed on many health topics, but the general public is not. Even among my medical colleagues, knowledge of GMO risks, food as medicine, detox programs, juicing, and supplements is often not widespread. People were surprised, shocked, and very interested in learning about these newer wellness concepts.
3. People are confused by conflicting health messages.
High fat or low fat, gluten free or not, vegan or Paleo, and many more topics. The Daniel Plan offered a consistent program based on removing things that hurt you and replacing them in abundance with healing substitutes. The credibility of the plan and its developers gave confidence to the participants.
4. There's strength in numbers.
One of the keys to the success of the Daniel Plan was the social connections made in the small Bible groups. We also copied that and enjoyed lively discussions about favorite spices, best milk substitutes, and the freshest kale.
5. It takes time to change habits.
We ran our version of the Daniel Plan over six weeks highlighted by a major health lecture in the middle. There was time to use up “old school” items in the kitchen and pantry and replace them with new choices. Many took the time to buy a NutriBullet and experiment with green smoothies. The program ended encouraging participants to visit the Daniel Plan website for updates and, of course, to read MindBodyGreen every day!
I just finished reading an advanced copy of the The Daniel Plan: 40 Days to a Healthier Life and I found all 10 chapters packed with useful information for transformation of mind, body and spirit. I am confident that it will be used in many faith-based communities to successfully transform the old habits of celebrating with ice cream, hot dogs, and donuts to celebrating with healthier bowls of organic fruit and vegetable snacks.
Taking a broader perspective, the health information can be adapted to schools, workplaces, and families. It's humbling to think that over 2,000 years ago, Prophet Daniel chose water and vegetables over the king’s rich food and we're still learning the importance of that sage advice!
The author is pictured above (right) with Dr. Amen.
Photo credit Swiss chard: Stocksy.com