In the U.S., the turn of the calendar to a new year signals a renewed focus on the body: Lose 20 pounds (or more)! Get in shape!
Commercials this time of year advertise weight-loss products and gym memberships.
Norris J. Chumley, Ph.D., once tried all of this and more. Diets and diet pills. Denying his body food only to binge later. At birth he weighed 13 pounds and struggled all his life with obesity. When he was was 16, he weighed 400 pounds.
Then, in his 30s, an epiphany came to Chumley in the way that alcoholics and drug addicts admit their problem: “My problems were beyond me.”
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“I finally looked to God for help,” Chumley said in a recent interview from New York, his home. “I was 33 years old and smoking a pack of cigarettes a day and was out of any hope. I got down on my hands and knees and said, ‘God help me.’ ”
Now 17 years later, Chumley has a book — and fewer calories — under his belt: “The Joy of Weight Loss.” On Monday, Beliefnet.com, a religious Web site, rolled out Chumley’s new program.
He was not alone in his struggle. Wide sections of the Southeast, Appalachia and some tribal lands in the West and Northern Plains have the nation’s highest rates of obesity and diabetes. In many counties in those regions, rates of diagnosed diabetes exceed 10 percent and obesity prevalence is more than 30 percent, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
‘Miracles do happen’
Right after Chumley prayed for help, a temptation went away: He made the choice to stay away from a go-to treat: brownies at the corner bakery. Then, after being out of work for a time as a producer, the phone rang and a major network offered him $500,000 to develop and produce a movie for TV. “Miracles do happen,” he said.
He joined a support group and took a course in food habit behavior modification. He followed the USDA food pyramid, which puts whole grains and vegetables as the bulk of recommended daily calories. He logged the foods he ate. He began exercising. And, he began identifying and better processing his emotions so he didn’t run as often to the corner bakery.
He realized how he escaped to food — much like an addict abuses substances — to deal with strong emotions.
“I was always trying to solve a deep emptiness. I had to start working on my relationships, to become a better husband and a better father.” He is married to the artist Catherine Stine and they have two sons. Chumley said he always had a faith system, “but I never put it into action before then.”
Religious figures and other inspirational writers pepper quotes throughout his book.
Four main tenets
In his materials and teaching series, Chumley imparts four main tenets:
— Follow a super-healthy, delicious, food plan. Move and play daily.
— Lovingly limit expensive junk food, soda and processed foods.
— Fill yourself with love, meaning and purpose through prayer, spiritual surrender, and connection with others.
— Help yourself by helping others.
Chumley has post-graduate degrees from Union Theological Seminary in New York. He has two master’s degrees and a Ph.D. in theology and the arts. Chumley uses part of his training as a life coach, to help others overcome obesity. He still produces movies as well.
He has presented workshops on spirituality and health in clinics, churches and other settings. He has written and created many books, DVDs, and documentaries for PBS, A&E, and HBO/Cinemax. Chumley is executive producer and director of media for Columbia University’s Institute for Religion, Culture, and Public Life, and is a contributing editor for BeliefNet.com.
While many do look at a new year as the motivation to change themselves through weight loss, Chumley prefers the longer view of health maintenance.
“The new year is just another day, and a turning of the calendar,” he said. “It’s good in that we see what needs to be done and we make changes.”
He doesn’t like the word diet. “I’m completely against them — whether for two or three weeks or just a few days.” After all, he tried everything himself, and now treats his struggle with a spiritual tack. “We’re a very self-centered society, and we think we can totally take care of ourselves. … It’s not so simple.”
Allison Kennedy can be reached at 706-576-6237