RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Rachel Martin. Evangelical Christian pastor Rick Warren wrote his 2002 best-seller, "A Purpose-Driven Life," to help people live a spiritually healthy life. The book sold more than 30 million copies and stayed for weeks on the top the New York Times best-sellers list. More than a decade later, Warren has written another self-help book. This time, it's about how to lead a healthy life, period. It's a diet book and it's called "The Daniel Plan: 40 Days to a Healthier Life." He solicited the help of Drs. Daniel Amen, Mark Hyman and Mehmet Oz to help him write the book. Pastor Warren and Dr. Daniel Amen join us from our studios in New York. Thanks to both of you for being with us.
PASTOR RICK WARREN: Thank you, Rachel. And it's good to be on NPR.
DR. DANIEL AMEN: Thank you, Rachel.
MARTIN: Pastor Warren, you begin the book by describing a defining moment you experienced while you were doing a big baptism - 827 people you were baptizing in one day. Can you walk us back to that moment and the epiphany it sparked for you?
WARREN: Well, it's true. I was in the middle of baptizing a large number of people - and in our church we actually put people underwater. So, I was literally lifting these people into the water and out of the water. And I felt the weight of America's obesity problem personally, in a very personal way. And about number 500, I had a very unspiritual thought for a pastor. I just thought good night, we're all overweight. And then I thought but I'm overweight. I'm fat. So, the following Sunday, I got up and said I need to lose 90 pounds. And does anyone else want to join me?
MARTIN: Can you talk a little bit about what your own relationship with food and exercise had been growing up in your family as a young adult?
WARREN: I ate very healthy growing up. We had lots of vegetables, lots of fresh foods. But then when I moved into adulthood, pastors are, in many ways, like doctors where we're on-call 24 hours a day. And we'd often have 14-, 16-hour days. And I found myself over the years spending more and more time eating fast food on the run, skipping breakfast, coming to the end of the day and rewarding myself with a big food meal right before I'd go to bed, which is exact sumo diet. If you want to put on pounds, that's exactly what sumo wrestlers do. But when Dr. Amen, who's here with me in the studio today, mentioned the fact that the larger your body gets, studies have shown your brain actually begins to shrink, that got my attention.
MARTIN: Dr. Amen, that's a provocative statement.
AMEN: Hundred and forty studies now saying that as your weight goes up, the actual physical size and function of your brain goes down.
WARREN: And, you know, I would never purposefully do anything to damage my brain because I have brain envy. I want my brain to be great. And so, I lost 25 pounds. My wife was completely supportive. And as we do it, our child does it, then my brother does it. And now my church does it.
MARTIN: So, is that the distinguishing characteristic of the Daniel Plan, this idea that you need a network, you need a community, and, in this case, a congregation to support you in this?
AMEN: Most diet plans or get healthy plans deal with food and fitness. Burn more calories than you take in. But actually human beings are far more complex than that. And so we added three more factors: the faith factor, the focus factor and the friends factor. And what Rick talks about is that churches are amazing distribution mechanisms. That's where people gather. And the church, in many ways, was the epicenter of the obesity epidemic. Because if you look at the Bible Belt - Oklahoma, Georgia, Tennessee - that's where it started in the early '80s and has just exploded from there.
WARREN: The Bible Belt has expanded.
AMEN: The Bible Belt has grown larger. And that is not a...
MARTIN: More notches in the Bible Belt.
MARTIN: It is hard, I imagine, to focus on health and diet in the midst of tragedy. And I hope you don't mind me asking, Pastor Warren, but your family did suffer a horrible loss this past April when your son took his own life after a long struggle with mental illness. I wonder, you were presumably in the process of writing this book, right?
WARREN: Well, yes. Actually, Rachel, you know, when I made an initial commitment that I said I feel I need to lose 90 pounds and I was on that path and had gotten down 65 pounds when 2013 was the most difficult year of my life. First, I ended up being hospitalized for a back problem, then I couldn't exercise for four months, then my son who, as you mentioned, had struggled for 27 years with mental illness since birth, took his life. And for six months, I couldn't sleep after that. And you know what that does to your diet. You know, you're hungry all of the time. And I, in that grief - and then on top of that, people were bringing me food every day during that grieving period. And I actually put about 35 pounds back on during the grieving period. As I began to come out of that, I simply went back on the Daniel Plan doing exactly what I knew to do, lost 30 of it immediately and I'm now back on the path down. And the reason I shared that is I actually want people to understand that relapse is part of the recovery. So, I'm actually trying to make my own example for others who felt discouraged and thought I just give up. I'm not even going to try anymore.
MARTIN: Pastor Rick Warren and one of his collaborators, Dr. Daniel Amen. The book is called "The Daniel Plan: 40 Days to a Healthier Life." They joined us from our studios in New York. Pastor Warren, Dr. Amen, thank you so much for talking with us.
AMEN: Thank you, Rachel.
WARREN: Thank you.
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