Gwen Shamblin is an American Christian non-fiction author and founder of The Weigh Down Workshop and Remnant Fellowship Church. The most distinctive aspect of her writing is its combination of weight loss programs with Christianity.
|Born||Memphis, Tennessee, U.S.|
|Occupation||Author and Registered Dietician|
|Children||Michael Shamblin, 1 other|
Shamblin earned an undergraduate degree in dietetics from University of Tennessee, in Knoxville and then her master's degree in food and nutrition from the Memphis State University. She is a registered dietitian, consultant, and was a faculty member at the Memphis State University for five years. She also worked in the state's health department for an additional five years.
Shamblin was raised in an interdenominational Christian family. She is married to David Shamblin and they have two children. As of March 1996, Shamblin lives with her family in a historic mansion in Brentwood, Tennessee, known as Ashlawn, that was built in 1838.
Weigh Down WorkshopEdit
Shamblin began her consulting practice in the area of weight control in 1980. Shamblin had struggled with her weight while attending school. She became "convinced that genetics, metabolism and behavior modification alone couldn't explain why some people were thin and others battled the bulge." In 1986, Shamblin founded the Weigh Down Workshop, a weight loss program has “no forbidden foods, exercise regimen or weigh-ins,” and avoids “calorie counting.” As The Tennessean points out, the program lacks “some basic elements,” like exercise and guidance on food selection, as recommended by the American Dietetic Association. According to The Philadelphia Inquirer, “the Weigh Down Workshop attempts to help participants develop the discipline to eat only when they are hungry and to stop eating when they are full.”
Shamblin developed the program while working on her master's degree at Memphis State University. As part of a counseling center, she held the first class in a mall in Memphis, Tennessee; the program was initially only offered as small classes in similar retail and other non-religious settings. In 1991 or 1992, she began hosting the program at Bellevue Baptist Church located in the Memphis area. The program consists of twelve-week seminars guided by video and audio tapes featuring Shamblin. The meetings consist of a group viewing of one of her videos, along with prayer and discussion. By 1994, the program quickly spread as far away as Europe and was offered in about 600 churches in at least 35 US States.
According to the Associated Press, by January 1995, the program could be found in over 1,000 churches in forty-nine US States, as well as at locations in Britain and Canada; but by July 1996, the workshop was at about 5,000 churches, with close to ten percent located in Shamblin’s home-state of Tennessee. As many as eight churches in Britain were hosting workshops by December 1996. Some participants in the US would also host meetings in their private homes.
In 1996, Weigh Down, which consisted of a forty-person staff, began building a headquarters in Franklin, Tennessee. The same year, Gwen Shamblin and Weigh Down began hosting an annual summer convention, known as Desert Oasis, in the Nashville area.
By August 1998, Weigh Down was holding more than 21,000 classes with over 250,000 reported participants worldwide. Weigh Down Workshop classes would eventually spread to all fifty US states and every continent, becoming "one of the most popular weight-loss programs in the world" by mid-2000. Shamblin has also been traveling to other cities as part of the Rebuilding the Wall tour.
Other dietitians have questioned the soundness of Shamblin's diet advice, which focuses on faith instead of healthy eating habits or exercise. In the book Born Again Bodies: Flesh and Spirit in American Christianity, author Marie Griffith, a Princeton University associate professor of religion, examines the trend of religion-based dieting. Although critical of Shamblin for using the Christianity label while building her business, Griffith credits Shamblin for the new wave of interest in creating "a more holy body", and substantial sections of the work examine Shamblin's movement. Griffith notes, "In Shamblin's world, people who don't lose weight often feel like failures. If they don't lose weight, it's a failure of discipline; it's a failure of obedience." At the same time, Griffith's work places Shamblin's movement squarely within a historical tradition of perfecting one's body in order to be more Christ-like, or fasting and dieting in order to feel closer to God.
In 2001, NewsChannel 5, a local Nashville news station, aired a story entitled "Is it a ministry or just big business?", looking into how Weigh Down Workshop's money was spent. Towards the end of the interview, Shamblin states that "half of [the money] goes to the government, the other half goes to keep it going so someone else can be helped." According to the news report, "She says she would sell her belongings to keep the ministry going."
Shamblin is the author of The Weigh Down Diet. First published in March 1997, this diet “advises using spirituality to avoid overeating and has sold more than 1.2 million copies.” The publisher Doubleday reported selling four hundred thousand copies in less than a year. In this book, Shamblin expounds on her theory that there are two very different needs in each person: a need for food and an emotional need. According to Shamblin, people should only eat when they feel real, physical hunger and stop when full; prayer and Bible reading will fill emotional needs instead of food. Overeating is equated with greed. A core principle of The Weigh Down Diet, when people feel an urge to snack but are not experiencing physiological hunger, Shamblin encourages participants to read the Bible instead.
Controversy arose when Shamblin began to teach that the doctrine of the Trinity was not Biblical. She stated that she believes Jesus Christ is not God but rather God's son. This led Thomas Nelson Publishers to cancel the publication of Exodus, her next work. In a letter to her followers sent to clarify her position on the Trinity, Shamblin wrote: "The reason all of this is important is that if you do not understand that God is the clear authority and that Jesus was under God's authority, then you will not have a clear picture of what it means to be Christ like. Jesus suffered, obeyed, submitted, denied his will, and made it his food to do the will of the Father." Later Shamblin writes, "I believe that Jesus and God are two separate beings." She also says that she does not believe that Jesus and God are equal in power and glory.
Television, magazine and news media appearancesEdit
The popularity of Shamblin's teachings has resulted in its appearances on BBC, 20/20, A Current Affair, and The View, Dateline (Australian) as well as in such magazines as Family Circle, Good Housekeeping, Woman's Day, and many newspaper articles. Shamblin has been featured on The Today Show, CNN's Larry King Live, DaySide, and The Early Show. Participants from the Weigh Down Workshop have been featured on the cover of Good Housekeeping, in the Ladies' Home Journal, in People Magazine, First magazine, Quick and Simple, and in numerous newspaper articles. In 2007, The Tyra Banks Show devoted an hour-long program to Shamblin, the Weigh Down Diet, the Fellowship and participants from Weigh Down programs.
In 2009, Shamblin and Weigh Down were featured on such television programs as WeTV's Secret Lives of Women, CBS’s The Insider. In late 2011, Shamblin began producing a live Internet show, titled You Can Overcome.
Remnant Fellowship ChurchEdit
Shamblin is a leader in and a founder of the Remnant Fellowship Church, which differs from a number of Protestant denominations in areas such as the rejection of the doctrine of the Trinity and its observance of the Biblical Sabbath. The church takes its name from the Book of Ezra 9:8-9, which mentions a "faithful remnant" of followers. According to the church's website, it currently has over 100 locations worldwide. The church was started in 1999 in Brentwood, Tennessee.
In 2000, Shamblin began to advocate specific ideas about Christian theology and began to form her own church. During this time, four former employees of the Weigh Down Workshop sued Shamblin on the grounds of religious discrimination. These employee lawsuits were settled out of court, and as part of the settlement the exact amount of proceeds generated by the for-profit Weigh Down workshop were sealed.
In a 2001 interview with The New Yorker, Shamblin stated that she felt called by God to start Remnant Fellowship after noticing that some users of the Weigh Down program were beginning to gain back their weight. This led her to theorize that the mainstream Protestant doctrine of Eternal Security leads some people to believe they have a license to sin.
- Rise Above: God Can Set You Free from Your Weight Problems Forever. Thomas Nelson. 2000. ISBN 9780785268765.
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