Trim Healthy Mama and the Bible

Dear Reader,

Until recently I had been keeping to a (very) modified paleo diet, essentially a  low grain diet. And it had initially been doing what I wanted it to, which is not so much weight loss as relieving other symptoms. But I was never convinced by the premise of the paleo life-style which is basically that we should do things as our cavemen ancestors did. While I am rather agnostic on the topic of evolution, I imagine the reasoning behind this diet doesn’t sit well with a lot of Christians.

So I was intrigued to run across the book Trim Healthy Mama which is by two sisters and Christians and claims to have much more of a biblical basis. There is a lot I could say about the diet overall, but I want to stick in this post to its biblical basis and how the book uses Scripture.

I did not get the impression that the book’s authors, Serene Allison and Pearl Barrett, are saying this is the only, biblical way to eat though they do clearly reject some other approaches as not adhering to biblical principles. The basic argument of this book is that to be as healthy as possible (and, yes, to lose weight if necessary) one should not eat fat and carbs together. Their position rests on scientific studies which show how the body uses different sources of fuel. But it also rests on at least one theological plank: the belief that no foods given us by God should be entirely excluded from our diet. Thus, they reject paleo with its lack of all grains, legumes, etc. They also reject vegetarianism and diets like Atkins which eliminate all carbs. Their approach is about when and how to eat the different groups but they are very clear that no one group should be entirely excluded from the diet.

I like this presupposition. I do think it is biblical. The verse that comes to mind for me is “Let no man call unclean what God has declared clean” (I am paraphrasing off the top of my head here as I can’t immediately find the reference). I will admit that while eliminating gluten, it has always seemed very odd to me that we should get rid of a food (bread) which has been such a staple in the Bible and even bears a large theological significance (Jesus being the bread of life; the bread representing His body in communion). Of course, that doesn’t change the fact that my one daughter gets bad eczema from gluten (among other things) or that it seems to make me mildly sick. But it is still nice to feel that such essential foods are in some measure redeemed.

In terms of the diet’s theological basis, this one principle seems to be the main guiding idea. But the authors also refer to other biblical passages at times to bolster their position. And it is when they get to these that I tend to get frustrated. They spend quite a while discussing the meal Abraham fed to his angelic visitors in Genesis 18. They make much of the fact that he seems to have fed them only one small cake of bread each but much meat. And it does seem like that is what they were given, but one must ask is this a prescriptive or a descriptive passage? Sometimes God is telling us what to do, either directly (“Thou shalt . . .”) or indirectly; these are prescriptive passages.But sometimes the Bible is just telling what people did. There are certainly many things biblical characters, even basically good ones, do that we are not supposed to emulate. So one must ask, are we supposed to copy Abraham in how he fed his visitors? I don’t think so. Basically, Serene and Pearl seem to have substituted for the paleo question “How would the cavemen have done it?” their own new question “How would the patriarchs have done it?” Though to be fair, while they do seem to focus on Abraham a lot, I don’t think they limit their reasoning to him or even to the Old Testament. It is more like “How would Bible people have done it?”

And I am just not convinced that this is a legitimate question. I do believe the Bible is the only infallible rule for faith and life. But it is not our only guide nor does it tell us everything about everything. Just as I don’t believe the Bible tells us all the answers about how to educate our kids, I also don’t believe it tells us how and what to eat. I like the book’s use of the general principle of not eliminating food groups unnecessarily, and also enjoying the foods God has given us, but I think the authors push their argument too far when they look for specifics.

And they do not do so consistently. The use the example of Abraham when it suits their purpose (“Look, we aren’t supposed to eat too much bread at once and need lots of protein!”), but they reject other passages which do not suit their needs. For example, honey is mentioned frequently in the Bible and is clearly viewed as wonderful delicacy, but the Trim Healthy Mama diet rejects the use of honey and uses only sweeteners like Stevia and Xylitol. Their argument in this case is that because our lifestyles have changed and we are so much more sedentary we no longer need or should use such calorie-packed foods. But could we not make similar arguments about Abraham’s meal? Why not say his visitors were going no a journey and therefore needed more protein but we who have cars to take us everywhere no longer do? Their application of biblical passages is inconsistent and seems to be used only to serve their purposes and back up decisions they have already made (“protein good, bread limited, honey never”).

Furthermore, while one sister, Serene, is more of a food purist, the book itself advocates a lot of foods which simply did not exist in Bible times, like low carb pita bread and the sweeteners mentioned above. Nor do they take into account that the Bible itself spans thousands of years and includes many different kinds of people. Abraham was pretty wealthy; presumably most Israelites ate far less meat.

Before closing, I just want to add that there is one chapter in this book on . . . . ahem . . . marital relations . . . which uses another very sketchy bit of exegesis which I don’t buy at all. If you are a mature married person, you can read it for yourself and see what I mean.

So my conclusion on Trim Healthy Mama is that I do agree in principle with their basic theological premises, but I do not like how they use the Bible beyond that. Nor do I think it is necessary to their argument. I would say this diet is based far more upon scientific studies and what they have found works in their own lives, and that is fine. I think they would be better off if they stuck to that and did not try to incorporate more Bible in their dietary advice.

Another time, perhaps, I will discuss the diet itself.

Nebby

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16 responses to this post.

  1. Hi Nebby, I’ve been following for ages but never commented until now. I love reading your thoughts. My comment here though, is how on earth did they get it was a little amount of bread? Gen 18:6 says Sarah used 3 se’ahs = 1 ephah = roughly 4.8 gallons of flour. A roughly 5gal bucket of dough would make a LOT of bread for Abraham and 2 visitors! Just my thought 🙂 (I used http://www.convert-me.com/en/convert/volume/bibseah.html this time, but I’ve heard this passage preached repeatedly and it’s always been interpreted as a fair lot of bread)

    Reply

    • So I had to go back and look up both what THM said and what the Bible says. The end result is that you are absolutely right. I think THM is using the King James. It and other versions have Abraham saying to the men that he will get them a “Morsel” of bread and then telling Sarah to get three “measures of wheat.” So I can see where they got their interpretation. In the Hebrew, the first word is “morsel” which seems to be a small amount but you are indeed right that the second is not “measure” but “seah” which is a lot of flour. My onw thought is that the point of telling us all this is to show how generous and hospitable Abraham is; he does roast a whole animal for them too. I can’t imagine he woudl skimp on the bread. Some ancient Jewish interpreters said the Sodomites’ sin was being inhospitable and this passage shows a clear contrast with Abraham who goes above and beyond the call of duty. Btw, THM also uses this passage to argue that butter is good since this is what the KJV says Abraham fed them with milk. More likely it is curdled milk, something like yogurt.

      It also occured to me that when Jesus feeds crowds of peopl, he gives them bread and fish and they all get to eat their fill with baskets left over. It doesn’t sound like he skimps on the bread either. I am not sure this is prescriptive for us either but I would look to it before Abraham.

      Reply

  2. Posted by Patti on September 17, 2013 at 12:21 am

    Dear Nebby: I always enjoy your thoughtful and thought provoking posts…. I’ve read a bit of the book you’re reviewing as it has been going around among the ladies in our church. I haven’t gotten on the band wagon, though I have about 50 pounds I’d like to lose, mostly because of my husband’s and my experiences earlier in our marriage with pursuing special diets hoping it would solve all our problems. I cringe now thinking of how we hurt friends with our pride and refusing to eat what was put before us. Eventually we saw I Timothy 4:1-6 (1 Now the Holy Spirit tells us clearly that in the last times some will turn away from the true faith; they will follow deceptive spirits and teachings that come from demons. 2These people are hypocrites and liars, and their consciences are dead.3They will say it is wrong to be married and wrong to eat certain foods. But God created those foods to be eaten with thanks by faithful people who know the truth. 4Since everything God created is good, we should not reject any of it but receive it with thanks. 5For we know it is made acceptable by the word of God and prayer.) Since then I’ve pretty much avoided special diets and realize that I just need to be self controlled with the good food that is before me. Allergies are another issue altogether and it is good stewardship to avoid foods that make us feel sick. I agree with you that they are Biblical when they say that all foods should be received with gratitude and I also agree that there is no point in using the Bible to prove our point if that isn’t the point being made in the Bible! I did think it surprising and incongruent, out of character even, since you seem very logical and informed in your communications that you would consider yourself an agnostic on evolution while you also say that the Bible is the only infallible rule for faith and life. If you ask a child to read you the first chapter of Genesis and then ask what God is communicating to us about creation, it seems very simple and clear, it is just when we try to adjust this to fit with the presently fairly accepted theory of evolution that we get into trouble and seek to read it some different way. I believe that taking the Bible at face value (not always literal as it is a literary work, but taking it simply as it is written and believing it above other ideas is the most reasonable approach. The Bible doesn’t address every issue (like what to eat) but where it tells us a true narrative and historical account, I believe we need to accept it and use that as our basis for truth. Actually, science just as accurately can concur with and even prove creation as it does evolution, we are interpretting historical data and need to use an accurate grid – which I believe the creation account gives us. There are lots of wonderful scientists both present and past who have had no problem believing the Bible’s literal account of creation while they also understand science – it is the evolutionists who have falsely convinced us that science and creation are in opposition. Actually, creation better fits with science than evolution does. I recommend the following link to Institute for Creation Research for more information by scientists on how science actually affirms creation – http://www.icr.org/science/ . Knowing how you are open-minded and studious about what you believe and how you come to conclusions, I am confident that if you pursue this you will come to a better integration of your Biblical beliefs. I look forward to your future posts – thanks for sharing your thoughts…. Patti

    Reply

    • Patti,
      So to deal with the easy part first, thank you for the quote from Timothy. I think it is right to the point. I do think the THM ladies would say that they are not eliminating anything (though they are; that’s another post) and that it is just about how one combines foods.

      I looked back because I thought I had done a post thta got into my thoughts on creation and evolution, at least in passing, but I can’t find anything significant. “Agnostic” might be a strong word. I do have some opinions and beliefs on the topic but there are also still portions thta are up in the air for me. I think it is all a lot more than I want to put in a reply to a comment, however, so perhaps it needs its own post. I needed new ideas for posts anyway 😉 So for now I think I am just going to promise you that I will revisit the issue.
      Nebby

      Reply

  3. Posted by Karen on September 17, 2013 at 12:27 am

    Great Post! Thanks for posting this discussion of the diet….I’ve been following the thread over at SCM. I know nothing about the diet – but before I plunk down $37 for the book, I want to know all I can about it! *L*

    Reply

  4. Posted by lisa knight on September 17, 2013 at 11:29 am

    carrie,

    i found this blog post and thought you might be interested in it. i know nothing about the book, but i remember hearing you say you have read it.

    lisa

    ________________________________

    Reply

  5. Interesting. I haven’t heard much about this “diet” even though I associate with a lot of healthy and/or natural-minded people and I hear a lot about Paleo and other ways of eating. Thanks for pointing out your perspective on how this book utilizes the Bible.

    The diet ideals for our family I have taken from Weston A. Price’s recommendations and research. After dealing with some severe dental issues it seemed like the way to go for our family, and it seems to support many aspects of health, not just dental health. It is based on observations of many traditional cultures (not really “cavemen”).

    I would like to note that the bread Abraham and the patriarchs ate was probably quite a different grain than what we eat today and would have been naturally leavened with a sourdough culture. I think that makes it a lot more digestible and nutritious.

    I like that nothing is off-limits to us: we try to make a good amount of our meat and dairy grass-fed, and our grains sourdough or sprouted. I have a beehive and we really like honey at our house. Mmmmm.

    Reply

  6. […] « Trim Healthy Mama and the Bible […]

    Reply

  7. […] books I am or have been reading. I did a couple of posts earlier on THM, Trim Healthy Mama (see here and here). My general take on it is that I bet it helps in a lot of cases but there are aspects of […]

    Reply

  8. […] Despite my reservations about its theological basis, I have been trying the Trim Healthy Mama way of eating (see also this summary of what THM is). So far, I would say it is helping me. I do not have  a lot of weight to lose so it has not been coming off fast but other health issues have been a bit better and that makes me happy. […]

    Reply

  9. Posted by Caitlin on December 20, 2015 at 1:03 pm

    On a you tube video of the two sisters, they say why they don’t recommend bread. It is because of today’s bread is so different from back then. There was less gluten in the bread back then and today’s wheat is made in a labratory mostly. I am paraphrasing, not directly quoting. They say to ezekial bread and something else, can’t remember. Anyway, I think most people now a days, if they cut back on bread, start to feel better. It’s just not the same stuff.

    Anyway, I agree with you though that their diet is more science and could have left the bible out for most of it. 🙂

    Reply

    • Posted by Janet on September 3, 2016 at 12:14 pm

      They do leave out one main protien from the Trim Healthy Mama program, pork, citing Leviticus. Which I find to be an error on their part. The last verse of Leviticus proves it.

      As noted by a previous comment 1 Timothy gives us all foods to enjoy when blessed.

      Reply

  10. I found the diet and ordered the book out of curiosity. I’m thankful to also have found your assessment of its theology. I tend to be very suspicious of people who misappropriate scripture, regardless of intentions, but to hear that while their theology is sketchy, the diet is not gives me more peace of mind. Thank you for your assessment!

    Reply

  11. […] again on the Trim Healthy Mama diet (THM). My main problem with this eating plan (see my review here) is not that it is illogical or doesn’t work, but that it claims to be based on the Bible […]

    Reply

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