An Old Testament Diet

The increasingly popular “Daniel Fast” provides yet another approach to weight loss:

In the Bible, the Jewish noble Daniel and his companions are captured by the Babylonians and inducted into the service of the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar. The Babylonians offer Daniel and his men rich food (“the King’s meat” and wine), but Daniel was wary of God’s prohibition of “unclean foods.” … Daniel said he and his friends would eat a diet of only vegetables (“pulse”). After 10 days, they grew healthier and stronger than the Babylonians, and his diet became a small demonstration of his opposition to the King’s power.

This passage is occasionally used to encourage Christians to resist the corrupting influences of the outside world. But several years ago, some Protestant churches began to take the “diet” aspect of Daniel’s story literally.

Motivated by both faith and fitness, today many protestant Christians around the country are, like Daniel, occasionally limiting themselves to fruits and vegetables for 21-day increments. Several such believers told The Atlantic that while their intention for the initial fast was simply to enter a period of Lent-like self-denial in deference to their Lord, they have since found that the fast broke a life-long pattern of unhealthy eating and seems to have set them on a course toward better nutrition even after the 21 days ended. Now, a longer-term version of the Daniel fast is being promoted by the California-based Saddleback Church, the seventh-largest church in the US. …

In 2010, Rick Warren, the best-selling author and leader of the 20,000-member Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California, began to notice that his own and his congregation’s waistlines were expanding. On Jan. 15, 2011, Warren began to push what he calls “the Daniel Plan,” a year-round program that encompasses exercise groups, small-group gatherings, and a diet composed of 70 percent fruits and vegetables and 30 percent lean protein and whole grains—less strict than most Daniel fasts but still far more virtuous than the typical American diet. By last year, an estimated 15,000 people were taking part in Warren’s Daniel Plan, both in person and online. In December, Warren will publish a book based on his version of the regime, The Daniel Plan: 40 Days to a Healthier Life, which he co-wrote with psychiatrist Daniel Amen and physician Mark Hyman.