Lose weight, get healthy and raise money to help feed the hungry.
With these goals in mind, the diocese of Ontario today launched a weight loss challenge that will benefit the food security campaign of Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund (PWRDF), the relief and development arm of the Anglican Church of Canada. The diocese, with its 45 parishes, has adopted the slogan, “Belly to belly, from our belly of excess to those who have no food on their bellies.”
The campaign is a brainchild of the Rev. Kate Ann Follwell, a newly ordained vocational deacon at Christ Church, Belleville, who is a home economist by profession. It kicked off with an initial weigh-in of participants Jan.6, the feast of the Epiphany – a “fortuitous time” as many embark on New Year’s resolutions during this period, said Follwell. It will end with a final weigh-in around the first week of April, before the start of Holy Week.
The seed for the campaign was planted at a diocesan function last spring when lay and clergy noticed the relative heft of people in the room. It was apparent that many were not adopting healthy lifestyles either at home or at church, said Follwell in an interview. “When we have our public suppers and our meals after church, people were not conscious of [what] we were eating.”
PWRDF’s vision statement promoting “a truly just, healthy and peaceful world,” as well as its new three-year global food security campaign, fredsays.ca, provided the perfect inspiration for the campaign, she said.
“We can support this ‘healthy’ vision by grasping our personal responsibility to health and well-being,” Follwell said in a message explaining the campaign. “It is our hope that participants will be motivated to lose weight and raise money to share our wealth by supporting our Primate’s Fund in the world. Other benefits will be to have some fun, learn and adopt healthy eating practices, and to lose weight.”
Follwell is hoping this message will resonate with many people-not just Anglicans-as more and more Canadians struggle with weight and health issues. According to the Canadian Heart & Stroke Foundation, about 60 per cent of Canadian adults are overweight or obese (one in four Canadian adults is clinically obese); about a third of children and youth ages five to 17 are overweight or obese, said a 2011 Statistics Canada and Health Canada report.
The campaign, Follwell emphasized, is not about going on a diet but adopting a lifestyle change. “This is our opportunity to transform old habits into healthy lifestyles and reclaim the body God has gifted each of us,” she said.
Church gatherings often serve calorie-laden, fatty “comfort foods,” not only because they’re easier to prepare but because they are celebratory type food, noted Follwell. “When we get together, we want to have a sweet and coffee.” But perhaps it’s time to offer other healthy choices such as fruit and veggie trays, she said. And on those days when one just has to have something sweet, “maybe I can eat half the brownie, not the whole brownie,” she added.
The Ven. Bill Clarke, archdeacon of Kingston, who volunteered to be a “poster boy” for the campaign, explained why he was happy to “put my weight behind” the project. “I’m a large man-six feet, 379 pounds-and I have a fairly good self-deprecating sense of humour. It doesn’t bother me,” he said in an interview.
Response from parishioners has been positive, said Clarke. “From what we’re hearing, people are excited and people are on board with it. They’re almost looking forward to the new year,” he said. Diocese of Ontario Bishop Michael Oulton “has stepped up to the plate, too,” added Follwell.
Clarke himself has been working at losing more weight, a process he started two years ago. “I was much heavier than 379 [pounds]. I’m a diabetic with sleep apnea, so my doctor’s been after me and I’ve worked with a dietitian,” he said. He plans to keep his workout schedule of an hour at the gym before going to work, eating healthier meals and dropping late-night snacking, “which is my downfall.”
Both Clarke and Follwell expressed the hope that the campaign will trigger some reflection on issues of food and justice. Follwell wants Anglicans to realize that “at this time when we seem to have so much…what we reduce may fill the belly of someone else.”
“As hard as things might be here in Canada,” Clarke said, “most of us [are] pretty well-off and it’s time to realize that and be a blessing to other people.” Hopefully, it will also inculcate “a life-long habit of being appreciative and being a blessing,” he added.
Follwell got the idea for the belly to belly slogan when she recalled her father-a geologist who spent a considerable time in Liberia-saying that the children there referred to their stomachs as bellies. In the West, dietitians and nutritionists refer to excessive abdominal fat as belly fat.
Adopting a healthier lifestyle is also about having a good sense of stewardship, said Clarke. “I’ve been given a relatively healthy body-that’s a blessing…I got a gift I should take care of,” he said, adding that, “If I look after myself and I’m healthier, then I’m able to do my ministry a whole lot better.”
Follwell echoed the same message. “I believe that God wants us to find what the truly just weight is for ourselves. God wants us to be fit and healthy and to have energy. If you’re carrying around extra weight, you don’t have that.”
She herself struggled with weight issues until she decided, 40 years ago, to join Weight Watchers and lost 60 pounds. Since then, she has been a lifetime member of Weight Watchers and an advocate of healthy lifestyles and balanced living. “I really feel strongly about Luke 2:52-Jesus increased in wisdom and stature in favour with God and man,” she said. “It’s a balance between the intellectual, physical, spiritual and social aspects of our lives.”
This and other scriptures will be part of a 40-day devotional that Follwell is compiling as part of the plethora of support being offered to participants, who have been asked to check with their physicians before starting a weight loss program. Participants will also have access to samples of 1,200 to 1,600 calorie meal plans, prepared by parishioner Gail Anderson, who is a registered dietitian. There will also be diet tips and other reading materials related to healthy living.
Sponsors can pledge any amount of money for every pound lost, either individually or collectively as a parish. “I have some people who have pledged a dollar or two for every pound that I will lose. I have others who say, ‘if you lose ten pounds, I’ll give you $50,’ ” said Clarke. “Whatever way I can get money for them, that’s fine.”