The Daniel Plan: a review of Saddleback church's effort to curb obesity

Adventists have long used the Book of Daniel to encourage a vegetarian diet and to abstain from alcohol usage; so I read with pleasure, in TIME magazine, that Rick Warren and his congregation at Saddleback church had embraced the Daniel Plan to curb obesity.[1]  Warren had ballooned to 295 pounds and saw similar struggles among his parishioners; particularly, after baptizing 800 of them by immersion. 

Saddleback launched the Daniel Plan, a plan focused on Daniel 1, where after Daniel and his three friends were exiled to Babylon, they petitioned Nebuchadnezzar’s overseer not to eat of the meat and wine served at the King’s table.  Hesitantly granted, a ten day test was performed where Daniel and his friends ate and drank only vegetables and water. At the end of the test they were deemed, by Nebuchadnezzar, better in appearance and ten times wiser than the other youths and advisors.

There are many interpretations for these verses. Would ten days be enough time for such a test?  Did God perform a miracle in the physical and mental lives of Daniel and his friends? Is a vegetable diet for everyone; as the Hebrews were generally not vegetarians in the Old Testament, or teetotalers. Neither was Christ, whose first miracle turned six water pots into wine and who would later feed the 5000 with five loaves and several fishes.

Saddleback adopted the big picture of Daniel 1 that health, faith and worshipping God in community can create an excellent recipe for a balanced life. The goal for Saddleback was not to become “thin” but to recognize that our bodies are the temples of the Holy Spirit and that our bodily temples should not be defiled. The Daniel Plan T-shirt says it succinctly. “God created it (our bodies)/The Holy Spirit lives in it/Shouldn’t you take care of it?” 

The Daniel Plan’s six components include: (1) connecting for success, by first seeing your doctor to assess one’s overall health; junking the junk food, and joining a small group for “feedback loops, accountability and support.”  (2) Rely on God’s power, as Daniel did.  (3) Eat delicious whole foods. They suggest a diet of 70% whole foods—raw or lightly cooked vegetables, fruit nuts and seeds; and 30% lean protein, whole grains and starchy vegetables.  (4) Move your way to health; use exercise for health, happiness, and building relationships.  (5) Think sharper and smarter with eight hour of sleep each night, avoid alcohol, smoking and concussion-causing sports.  Put positive thoughts in your mind by reading Scripture.  (6) Heal for life.  “The Daniel Plan is a lifestyle, not a diet.”  The goal is to live a life of abundance, not a life of deprivation.  Like Daniel, refuse to compromise with unhealthy lifestyles—physical, social or spiritual. 

Internationally known, Dr. Mehmet Oz, a Muslim cardiologist; Dr. Daniel Amen, a Christian neurologist, and Dr. Mark Hyman, a Jewish nutritionist, have lent their support.  Warren thought 200 would sign up, 15,000 have, with a collective weight loss of 265,000 pounds.

 As a Seventh-day Adventist, Daniel’s request for “vegetables” goes deeper than Jewish ritual food laws; such a request would have drawn the Hebrew mind back to the Garden of Eden, where Adam and Eve were originally vegetarians in God’s newly created sanctuary—Eden—blessed by God’s Sabbath rest.[2]  Daniel’s “vegetarianism” would also have removed, from Daniel’s diet, the meat, blood and wine offered to the Babylonian god Marduk.  This would have been a subtle yet poignant political statement to the Hebrew community that Daniel was not ultimately under Babylon’s rule.

Adventists have long advocated the six part Daniel Plan; being internationally known for living longer and healthier lives than the general population.  I am glad to see it being adopted by Warren and Saddleback with such a balanced approach.  Looking around at our church members, we could also take a refresher course in the Daniel Plan to encourage a plant based reduced calorie diet, plenty of water, more exercise, small group encouragement and a daily walk with God – both literally and spiritually.  This could also be seen as a political statement to our neighbors both locally and internationally about the gracious, patient and loving rule of God and His Kingdom in our whole lives—which is the overall theme of the Book of Daniel.

—Ron Reece is a fourth generation Adventist and a practicing physician living in Northern California.


[1]Does God Want You To Be Thin, Time, June 11, 2012.

[2]Genesis 1:29; 2:2,3

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