Early Christians, in order to avoid persecution when they prayed in public, as well as to quietly identify themselves to other believers, would cross their fingers. Can you imagine if that was the only way you and I could share our faith? It’s a subtle gesture, but it was a powerful one in those early days. In fact, by making that quiet sign, our predecessors risked their very lives.
What in your life says believer? If you couldn’t say a word, what in your life would be that silent symbol, alerting another Jesus-follower that you are one of them?
It’s a question I’ve been asking myself frequently over the course of the last few years, as I’ve been doing a lot of speaking to churches and to communities, as well as interviews on the radio, spreading the gospel of health and wellness. In the course of my outreach, probably the most common question I get from people across the country is: Why are Christians known to be so unhealthy?
And honestly, that question always makes me pause and wonder. Is that our silent symbol? Is that how we’re identified by the rest of the world? Not by our love for one another, or even by our love of God, but instead by the way we risk our lives through neglect? My fingers are crossed that it’s not.
• • •
Recently my wife and I visited a new church. We sang praises. We listened to a sermon about the importance of praise. Then, through tithes and offerings, we offered even more praise. All good. All expected. All right.
But then the pastor returned to the podium, patted his stomach, and jokingly bragged about the oversized meal and ball game he was about to enjoy. He even prayed that it wouldn’t be too healthy. With my head bowed and eyes closed, I found myself squeezing my wife’s hand.
You see, my life’s work revolves around that fact that stewardship of our bodies—turning our heart toward our health—can be an act of worship. I don’t believe that faith and fitness are incompatible. In fact, I believe that eating well and exercising regularly are actually directives from God Himself. It’s an idea I’ve built the foundation of PrayFit.com upon, and I’ve spent the last seven years sharing our message with millions of people all around the world.
The truth is, eating well is not just a good idea because of the health benefits it brings, though those benefits are plentiful. I’ve seen firsthand how changing what you eat can change your life, whether you’re a Hollywood actor (I’ve had the honor of serving as the exercise physiologist to Tyler Perry, LL Cool J, and Mario Lopez) or one of the countless church-going believers who have expressed to me the joy of finally establishing healthier eating habits. Yes, eating a balanced, delicious variety of foods will make you feel great (and will probably help you lose weight, if that’s what you’re after).
The real message, though, is that eating well is a good idea because honoring God with our bodies was His idea in the first place. At the end of the day, we’re loved not because we’ve been successful at honoring Him with our bodies, nor because we plead forgiveness if we have failed at it—He loves us regardless—but shouldn’t we be doing one or the other? The crux of my message is this: your health is a means of praise. It’s a simple truth, but it bears repeating. Life is not about the body, but our health is a means of praise.
MORE THAN A MOTTO
Our health is a means of praise.
It’s easy to say. It rolls off the tongue. But my motto is more than a line in a speech. It’s more than a tweet or a Facebook status update. Of course, our body is only one part of our overall spiritual health. But as some of you have seen (and as I have certainly experienced firsthand), without our health, we just aren’t going to be as effective in all the aspects of our lives that God needs us to be active in—our churches, our families, our jobs, our communities. Good health extends our ability to make an impact for the cause of Christ. Plainly said, God doesn’t need our health to get His message around the world; we do.
Let me ask you something. What if nobody saw what you looked like? Would you work as hard as you do to keep your body in shape? Would you judge yourself as harshly when you looked in the mirror? Would you still watch what you ate, and would you make an effort to exercise? For some people, the answer is an easy yes. They have learned to love exercise for Heaven’s sake, and they dig into a plate of healthy foods with delight and anticipation.
And then there are those who find making healthy choices a daily struggle. For many, eating well can be a challenge, because they equate indulgence, fulfillment, and satisfaction only with a plate of greasy, gooey decadence. But I’m going to show you a different way to approach eating and food. With the PrayFit Diet, you’ll learn a flexible, creative way to put together delicious, filling meals that will nourish not only your body but also your spirit. And what’s more, you’ll find the resolve—and, even more than that, the will and the desire—to eat foods that will help you lose weight and gain health, because you’ll finally see the connection between faith and food. Just remember that the by-products of your effort don’t determine the worth of that effort. What determines the worth of our objective to eat better for ourselves, our spouses, kids, and friends is the One for whom we eat.
Friends, Jesus gives our lives meaning. He’s the point of the story, the point of this book, and the point of our health we don’t want to miss. He’s why. For that reason alone, we place our trust in Him, and we pledge to Him our time, our money, our precious loved ones. And, yes, we should also pledge to Him our health, our commitment to living a healthy life—for His glory, not ours. The Bible reminds us that God sees only the heart. It also demands that we honor the body. That’s not a contradiction. It’s a priority list.
Taking care of the body through balanced eating is only one way to thank the Lord for seeing only our hearts. Every believer has been called to fulfill his or her purpose, but not one purpose calls for a neglect of health; not one. But if possible, forget the idea that when we’re healthy, we’re better at work. Try to ignore the fact that when we take care of ourselves, we’re better for our families. Block all that out for a second. Focus on this short and simple command: Honor God with your body. Vain, you say? Petty? Too temporary? It would be if it were my idea. But it isn’t. It’s His. Once we realize that honoring the body is God’s will, the result should be an unwavering, lifelong commitment to achieving that goal. But how to do that has proven to be problematic for so many of us.
HEALTH CAN BE A FAITH BATTLE
Now, when I say problematic, I’m speaking from experience, because over the last few years my health has been a faith battle. In fact, a couple of years ago, I wrote this in my journal:
I never predicted such weeks like this. If I ever get up . . . if I ever hope and rise and stand . . . if I ever smile, truly smile and speak and write and encourage, make no mistake, it won’t be because I kept fighting. It won’t be because of my inner man, my deep faith or some gut-summoned passion of belief. No, I have none of that. If I ever get better, it will only be by the mercy and unbelievable, inconceivable grace of my dear God.
Indeed. See, while traveling, writing, and speaking, I was hit with two debilitating infirmities: one of the spine and the other of the colon. I came home to begin medical treatment, and over the next three years I lost fifty pounds of healthy tissue—not the good kind of weight loss. To help put it in perspective, I weighed more at age fourteen than I did at forty.
For years I tried to scale the walls of my pit, hand over hand. I was the perfect patient with an impeccable health ethic. But like many of you, I let go of the rope to find myself on my back, looking up at the impossible, knowing that God’s grace is the only answer. I tell you, of all the things our health exposes, our frailty is one of them; a show of hands of those who can agree.
How many of you reading this today are dealing with unforeseen health issues that you’re struggling to overcome? And how many of you are dealing with preventable issues? Whoever you are and whatever your needs, are you ready to conquer them? Well, trust me when I tell you that I know you can. How do I know? Because no matter what you’re facing, He stops in His tracks for us when we call.
A few hours before my third surgery in three years, my wife, Loretta, and I were reading together about the blind man sitting on the side of the road in Jericho. His name was Bartimaeus. When Bartimaeus heard it was Jesus who was walking by, he began to shout out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Over and over he yelled. Despite being rebuked by others, he continued to shout, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” And it’s the reaction of Jesus that touched my heart that morning of the surgery. The Bible says that when Jesus heard him shouting, He stopped walking. Some Bible versions say that He “stood still,” and other translations say He “stopped in His tracks.”
Well, friends, although I’m not blind, I was begging. I didn’t want the Lord to take another sweet step. Seconds before surgery, a nurse tried small talk, but I’m afraid she sounded more like the teacher in the Charlie Brown cartoons. They transferred me to the operating table, which, for all I knew, sat on the side of that old, dusty road in Jericho. When the doctor said he would see me in recovery, before the anesthesia did its work, I slowly turned my head to the side, and as tears streamed from my shut eyes, I stole a line from Bartimaeus and fell asleep.
But the fact that you’re reading this book means that Jesus stopped in His tracks for me. He stood still to hear a prayer. You know, when Bartimaeus received his sight, the very first thing he did was follow Jesus along the road. I suppose he figured the best test of his new peepers was to focus on the One who had finally made them work. I planned on doing the very same thing. And helping you gain sight of your faith as it relates to food is my highest priority.
But first let me tell you that healthy eating is not about a set of rules or a magic list of ingredients. It’s not a matter of timing, food combinations, or calories counted. The reason I know this is because this generation is the most educated, the most aware, and the most capable of living a healthy lifestyle than any that has ever walked the earth, and yet we’re the least successful at it. In fact, the next time you’re at your local bookstore, mosey on over to the health section. You can’t miss it. Ironically, the largest section in the store is reserved for the overflow of books written to help the world get thin again.
Without pulling a book off the shelves just yet, saunter through the thousands of titles. Explore the countless fads and innumerable strategies intended to help you and your family shrink: how-to promises from A to Z. One thing is for sure: none of them will work until you and I answer the bigger question of why.
See, why is both the question and the answer to the world’s biggest epidemic. And it’s a question that you won’t find asked or answered among any of those books, until now.
THE QUESTION IS THE ANSWER
Determining your motivation for healthier living should go beyond the measuring tape. While starting points and progress checks are excellent tools for initial weight loss, things to bookmark as you diligently pursue the how-to of fitness, they do little to reveal why you’re trying to get in better shape to begin with.
Your personal why may be sitting across from you at the kitchen table. Those giggling kids need a healthy role model around. Or maybe you’re sitting with your chin resting in your hand, looking at one of your parents—your mom moved in with you after your dad passed away, and not only does she have specific food-related needs, but you need the strength and stamina to care for a family and to care for the parent who raised you.
Your why may greet you in the mirror each morning. The years of neglect haven’t been good to your lungs, your blood pressure, or your reflection. Knowing God looks at the heart is simultaneously comforting and convicting, since willful neglect can be a soul’s inward reality with an outward brutality.
Your why may be the mere fact that you are fearfully and wonderfully made. You know that God spoke, and there was light. He breathed the stars into space and put the moon in place. But you? You, He knitted. Imagine that the God who filled the oceans with water made your eyes to blink. After spraying the cosmos with trillions of galaxies, He gave you goose bumps. (And then you did the same to Him.)
See, before your very first day of school, or prior to getting your driver’s license, and even before you began the family with which you spend your days . . . came your body. Not only did God inspire your soul’s dream but He gave you the body necessary to pursue the job. Since God will always equip us with what we need to accomplish His will, we know our bodies were His choice. Can you imagine the moment? It was as if God said: “Sweet soul, here is your body. I’ve carefully woven it together. It has what it takes for you to pursue Me and tell others about Me. Precious body, this is your soul. Of all the matter in the universe, this is what matters most. Carry it where it needs to go. Protect it. Honor it. Now, I want you two to be good to each other. Be friends, not enemies.”
Humor me for a second and take a quick glance at your arm or hands. Think for a second that God Himself has touched that skin. He was first. In fact, talk to your body. It’s okay, go ahead. Maybe you need to thank it. Perhaps you need to reassure it. Or maybe you need to apologize for not paying more attention to the foods you’ve been indulging in. But much as you would with any friend going through a tough time, just tell it you’re so very sorry. After all, it was God who knitted it and then breathed life into it. Miraculously, He gave your heart knowledge that there is something more to this life than life. Your soul and your body are a match made in Heaven.
Because of that match, we are capable defenders. It’s funny—we put locks on our doors at home and security systems in our cars, we spam-proof our e-mails and put passwords on our phones, we stand at the gates of the most important elements in life. But when it comes to food choices, we’re much less protective. Although we’re armed with knowledge, that guard is fast asleep outside our door. We’ve offered diabetes, heart disease, and obesity the keys to their favorite rooms as they check in.
But folks, we are capable defenders. Like it says in 1 Corinthians 9:17, we have been entrusted with stewardship. When God said to honor Him with our bodies, we became guardians of health. Our eternity is His responsibility; we can’t earn it. Fortunately for us, He put us in charge of something that requires our effort. And when it comes to our health, it begins at the table.
THAT’S THE ONE
Now, at this point, I’m going to assume that if you’re reading this page, you’re still with me. You’re not quite ready to shove this title back onto the shelf. I’m glad. I’m going to assume that you have a good idea of your own personal why factor and you’re ready for battle. You just need to know where the fight is.
Reminds me of David. See, before young David hurled the stone at the giant, I picture him down at the stream, picking the stones up one at a time and weighing them in his hand. See, I have a feeling he measured a few before finding just the right one for his particular overgrown nuisance.
In 1 Samuel 17:40 the Bible says, “Then he took his staff in his hand, and chose five smooth stones from the stream.” Did you notice the word used there? He chose five stones. He made decisions based on his needs and abilities. That one’s too light—toss it. That one’s too small—toss. Ah, that’s the one! After all, David knew what he was up against and planned accordingly. Not only that, he chose five stones, not because he thought he would miss, but because David knew Goliath had brothers.
What about you? In the area of healthy eating, you or your loved ones might be facing some big issues: obesity and his brothers heart disease and diabetes. If so, it’s time to take a stroll down to the stream with David. Kneel down with him and gather some ammo. If the pebbles you’ve been flinging at your giant-sized goals aren’t making a dent, then it’s time to reload. You know what you’re up against. The key is to do like David did and find the right stone. Remember, his fight was worth it, and so is yours.
That’s the purpose of this book. You’ve come to the stream, and the PrayFit Diet is exactly what you need to slay your giant. You’ve broken through the excuses and the muck of empty how-to information to say, “Enough is enough!” Because you’ve changed from the inside out, you’re ready for your body weight, blood pressure, or dress size to be a by-product of obedience. You know your why; we are blessed to show you how.
PRAYFIT EATING 101
The PrayFit Diet is arguably the most balanced food plan ever assembled, harnessing the best elements of the food we were always meant to eat. Unlike other diets, which tell you to cut out a whole category of food so you will quickly shed pounds—only to gain it back (and then some) once you resume normal eating—PrayFit is a sustainable way of eating because it’s a balanced way of eating. On PrayFit, you’ll eat protein, fat, and carbs, all in equal caloric proportions. Perfect harmony. The better able you are to put these macronutrients to use each day, the quicker you’ll lose weight, gain confidence, and begin a lifestyle of long-lasting, healthy change.
Nowhere in these pages will you find calls for radical deprivation, the elimination of entire food groups, or confounding and discouraging food measurements. On the contrary, you find balance, abundance, simplicity, and sustainability. I’ll get into more of the details of the PrayFit Diet as we get deeper into the book, but here’s what you need to know now.
BALANCE. Calories matter, but it is the distribution of calories through food types that will play a crucial role in energy, metabolism, and body composition. The PrayFit Diet provides equal amounts of calories from healthy sources of protein, carbs, and fat—33 percent of your day’s take from each—allowing you to capitalize on the body and brain benefits of each.
ABUNDANCE. As a nation, perhaps we can stand to eat a little less, but that is not the best long-term solution for a radical change in our health. The PrayFit Diet teaches the value of each of the macronutrients, instead of viewing them as competing food sources. Protein, carbs, and fat are all important to health, performance, and weight loss. We show you how to enjoy them all in abundance while continuing to see change in your body.
SIMPLICITY. If you’ve ever tried a dietary plan that calls for counting calories or measuring things down to the half ounce, you’ve no doubt dealt with the frustration that it can produce. By insisting on balance and illustrating practical ways of planning meals, we forgo these expected, complicated dietary hurdles and leave you with an eye—and heart—for easy, healthy eating.
SUSTAINABILITY. Our goal isn’t just to help you lose weight this month. It’s to help you reach your goal weight, no matter how long it takes, and then to help you maintain it for as long as your lungs have breath. The absence of extreme deprivation combined with the inclusion of health-boosting dietary balance makes the PrayFit Diet a resource that you can come back to again and again for years to come. No monthlong “cycle off,” no “coming back to it when you’re ready”—this plan is designed to help you to rethink the way you view nutrition and to flourish physically, forever.
You know the feeling. I do, too. Bottom of the ninth, two outs, and your favorite batter hits one deep. You stand, your eyes widen, your mouth opens! It’s going, going . . . caught. That’s the ball game—your team loses. But for a few short seconds the thrill of what might be did a tap dance on your heart. And it felt great while it lasted. Really, really great.
You’ve probably experienced this momentary elation on other diets, too—an early excitement as you started to see the pounds fall away, only to have it followed by a crushing disappointment when you realized that the plan wasn’t sustainable in the long term and you were right back where you’d started. This book gives you a thirty-three-day plan to get started on the PrayFit Diet. But this is not a short-term fix. It’s a long-term, healthy way of eating, one that you can sustain for months and years to come.
You and I were designed to live abundant, active, healthy lives. If there’s one thing we know, He designed and can repair what we mess up. From our hearts to our health problems, He cares. He really cares. And because He does, we have permission to pursue slimmer waistlines and lower blood pressure. In 3 John, the apostle writes to his readers, “I hope you are as healthy in body, as you are strong in spirit.” See, John knew how important our bodies were to accomplishing and conquering this life. He understood that this body is God’s house. He understood that our souls have work to do within our homes, communities, churches, and schools, and nothing—nothing, especially our bodies—should be holding us back.
What follows in these pages is a road map to a better, healthier body—a plan that is markedly divergent from the deluge of how-to diets that litter shelves, blogs, and infomercials from here to eternity. And eternity is the reason. The PrayFit Diet isn’t just about the mechanics of healthier eating but about the motivations for faithful living. That our bodies happen to be intimately tied to our purpose on this earth is something that we may not always pause to take stock of. We’ll help you to make the connection, putting you on a path to effective, faith-driven stewardship of your body. Those of you who commit fully to the program can lose twenty pounds in the next thirty-three days if that’s your goal, but the lifestyle you’ll create far outweighs the weight you’ll lose—and what your body can and will achieve for God’s purpose in your life is why.
In Part I of the book, I’ll give you an overview of the PrayFit Diet and explain the foundation (both the health foundation and the biblical foundation) of this powerful new way of eating. In Part II, I’ll take you through the three macronutrients that will make up your PrayFit Plate: protein, fat, and carbohydrates. And in Part III, we’ll put it all into practice, with a five-week guide to shopping, cooking, and eating the PrayFit way.
Read on, and learn how to make the PrayFit Diet work for you to feed your body, nourish your spirit, and support the kind of life you were always meant to live.
Our diligence toward a healthier lifestyle is not about the mirror. It’s about the One we’re trying to mirror.
The Revolutionary, Faith-Based Plan to Balance Your Plate and Shed Weight
The PrayFit Diet
The Revolutionary, Faith-Based Plan to Balance Your Plate and Shed Weight
Jimmy Peña, one of the nation’s most sought-after fitness experts, has been trusted by the most prominent names in the entertainment industry, including Tyler Perry, Mario Lopez, and LL Cool J, to help them look and feel their best. His highest calling, however, is transforming the bodies and souls of people all over the country through his powerful combination of faith and fitness called PrayFit.
In The PrayFit Diet, Peña offers an easy, effective program—including shopping lists, daily menus, and simple, delicious recipes—to help you lose up to 20 pounds in 33 days. A healthy body, he explains, is not about restriction of either calories or food groups. Instead, it’s all about eating in equilibrium—a perfect 33% macronutrient balance of carbs, protein, and fat every day, which will allow you to make dramatic changes to your health and your waistline. The balanced approach of The PrayFit Diet is not only inspired by biblical principles, but it’s also supported by today’s cutting-edge science, and Peña gives you a plan to shed weight fast and the motivation to keep it off for a lifetime.
In The PrayFit Diet, Peña shows us how faith is the most powerful tool we have to conquer all of life’s obstacles, and that includes our health. More importantly, God wants you to be at your best, physically and spiritually. By combining perfectly proportioned meals with biblically based motivation, The PrayFit Diet will give you all the tools you need to live a life that will both inspire you and honor the Lord.