Focusing on a higher power is helping more and more people shed pounds and find a deeper faith.
Meri Ann O'Hara yo-yo dieted for years, but seeing a photo of herself about 18 months ago forced her to face reality.
"It was a major eye-opener when I saw that picture," says the 54-year-old special education teacher from Goshen, N.Y.
"I got on a scale and realized I was over 200 pounds. I'm only 5 foot two."
O'Hara's living hell became heaven on earth when she enrolled in The Light Weigh, a faith-based diet program She lost 72 pounds.
The Light Weigh is a Catholic-based weight-loss regimen that teaches people to turn to God, instead of food, for their emotional needs. The program features Bible study, prayer, and a 12-week video series that is shown to small groups in churches or neighborhood homes.
It's the creation of Suzanne Fowler, who lost more than 100 pounds on her own diet.
"One of the foundational premises of The Light Weigh," Fowler says, "is that you are precious to God and it has nothing to do with what you weigh. He is not going to love you any more if you lose weight or don't."
The Light Weigh is one of many faith-based diet plans and books that have come out in the last few years, a niche market in the $64 million weight loss industry.
The Hallelujah Diet, by the Rev. George and Rhonda Malkmus, takes its cues from the book of Genesis, focusing on raw fruits and vegetables.
The Maker's Diet, by Dr. Jordan S. Rubin, follows the format of the Mosaic dietary laws from the book of Leviticus. Rubin claims the diet, brimming with raw foods rich in enzymes, cured his Crohn's disease—- a debilitating disease of the gastrointestinal tract — within a few a months.
Pastor Steve Reynolds created the Bod 4 God program, which tailors a nutrition plan to the individual. It's based on one overriding principle: that our bodies were made for God, as stated in the New Testament’s book of Colossians 1:16: "All things were created through Him and for Him."
"In the end," says Reynolds, "this is what works."
What works best may be an individual decision. According to ConsumerSearch.com, the best weight loss program is still the granddaddy of them all ... Weight Watchers. And comparative studies between faith-based and non-faith-based diets are few, if any.
So most of the faith in faith-based diets is anecdotal. But nutritionist Lisa Jubilee has no problem with them, saying, "They do have some positive benefits."
"A lot of people have challenges with emotional eating ... eating replaces some void in their life," says Jubilee, a licensed dietician with Living Proof Nutrition/Fitness in New York City.
"Religion has benefits because it can fill the void," she says. "And the positive benefit comes mainly because it's a lifestyle change." And that, she says, is the key to losing weight and keeping it off.
But in the end, all diet therapies must be about faith, says Dr. Len Horovitz.
"In general, for any therapy to work, you have to believe that what is prescribed for you is going to work," says Horovitz, an internist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York. "You have to have faith in the process."
The problem, he says, is that "Everyone wants a diet where they're never hungry and can eat anything they want. That would be heaven on earth! But on this earthly plain, that just won't happen."
Fowler says The Light Weigh diet works because it doesn't just fill the void of an emotional need.
"People have been going to food for emotional reasons, for trouble in their lives, old wounds from the past. And so when we learn to go to God for what we've been going to food for, a transformation begins to take place in our hearts."
O'Hara says that’s what happened to her — a conversion of the soul. Believing was seeing, she says.
"It's actually faith, hope. Love ... and that's what this program showed me. And the by-product was the losing of the weight."