Monday, February 01, 2010

Everything I Needed to Know About Church I Learned at Weight Watchers

Okay, not everything, not by a long shot. But a lot.

1) Going every week matters. They can actually prove it with numbers -- those who attend lose three times as much weight as those who don't.

I can't imagine a way in which we could measure the effect that attending church has on congregants, but I think chances are good that there would be a positive correlation. For WW, it's two-pronged -- community and accountability. You go, you trade tips, you get motivated -- and you step on the scale. Every week, it's accountability time.

I have a mental cartoon of someone standing on a scale at a UU church. "That's wonderful, your soul has expanded 3 cubits this week and you've lost 3 ounces of selfishness!" Which leads me to ...

2) But the real work is done during the week. The half hour in the meeting doesn't yield any great results -- we're not on treadmills while we listen to the leader. The real work is done when we leave the meeting and apply what we've learned in our normal lives. It's when we choose to make a pan of stir-fried vegetables over microwaving a tray of mac and cheese.

And after church, it's when we decide to assume good intentions on the part of our co-worker, spouse, the person who just cut you off in traffic. Or when we're mindful about how we spend our time and money. Or any of the other choices that add up to living a deliberate, spirit-full life.

3) Having someone who can speak from experience matters. The only way you can work at WW is to be a "loser" yourself -- someone who lost weight on the plan.

Whether it's from the pulpit or in our small groups, speaking from experience, and not just something we read or heard, matters. This gets to the core of what we know. Or I guess I could say, "What we really know." There is a joke amongst parents -- "I was a better parent before I had children." It speaks to how confident (in some cases, arrogant) we were before having kids. "I don't have children, but if I did, I'd ...." And then we have kids. And we learn it isn't that simple. Speaking from experience matters.

Come to think of it, that's why I started going to WW. The BFF-DRE's Mom went and shrunk. And kept it off. Her experience spoke to me.

4) Those who aren't in it, will think it's a cult. Tee-hee.

"Why did I cringe away from WW?" I asked myself last year, as I kept watching the pounds slowly slip away, week after week. I think I had that "cult" idea in my head. And then I joined. And found that it wasn't anything as exciting as a cult, it was just, frankly, a hum-drum, common sense program. A commercial enterprise. You pay, you get their tools and access to meetings.

But when you're outside a group, it's always easier to feel that those inside the group are foreign. Before I had babies, I was that way about La Leche League. Militant Booby Pushing Cultists! I thought. And then I had babies. And went to some meetings. And it was just boring old mommies, trying to figure out how to nurse discreetly or up supply. Negotiating the terrain.

I see this in churches that don't have covenant groups, when you try to get them started. There is this fear that the small groups will become little cliques, that those on the inside somehow have more power than those on the outside. "I don't have time to be in a group, so I don't want there to be any," is an unfortunate message that has come through loud and clear. And then the person makes time to go to a covenant group, and learns that among all the benefits of the group, exclusivity isn't even on the radar.

5) If you work the program, it works. If you don't, it don't.

So you have the person who comes to church, excuse me, WW meetings, and they do attend regularly. They don't change their diet. They don't exercise. They don't count points. And they say, "This isn't doing anything for me! It doesn't work!"

Last year, for about 5 months, I worked the program conscientiously. I counted my points. I exercised, a bit anyway. And I lost 25 pounds.

Then the kids were out of school, and my schedule changed, and I had learned how to do it enough that even without working the program, I didn't gain weight. But I stopped losing. I stopped the program. It was a pretty simple corollary.

"I'm not being spiritually nourished," says the person who comes to church, but doesn't do further reading, participate in adult RE or small groups, or volunteer for any programs. This is the other side of #1, above. Ya gotta work the program. Christians say something about how going to church every Sunday doesn't make one a Christian anymore than sitting in a garage makes one a car. True dat. If you're not willing to make any changes in your life, then going to even the best sermons in the world every Sunday isn't going to do it for you.

6) It isn't for everybody.

When we are converted, whether to WW or UUism or a particular kind of vacuum cleaner, it's easy to convince ourselves that what works for us will work for everyone. It won't. There's some for whom WW just doesn't do it. And the same is true for church. There are some for whom Unitarian Universalism just isn't going to fit, but going every week to a Catholic church and reciting the creeds and getting the juice and wafer will.

I went to Mass this past Saturday for a school assignment. Between eyeing the dead Jesus hanging in the back wall, the very businesslike Eucharist, and the message, (not to mention the kneeling), it just didn't work for me. But it obviously works for some. I don't begrudge them.

We're all just trying to negotiate the terrain.

As for me, WW worked for me, so I'm back on it, counting my points and all. And yes, occasionally I can get a bit enthused, like when I found the 1 point tubs of Litehouse caramel dip. And I go to church, and have been known to get a bit enthused there, and take it home, and then do something crazy like enroll in seminary.

"Work it, baby, work it! Own it ...."


ms. kitty said...

LE, this is so wonderful that I'm going to put it up on my FB page. You are one wise woman!

Anonymous said...

What a wonderful post! May I quote from it for a church newsletter column? Diane Miller, Carlisle MA

Transient and Permanent said...

Yes, this is very good stuff.

Lizard Eater said...

Thanks, Ms. Kitty! And Rev. Miller, I'm honored -- please quote away.

plaidshoes said...

This is great. I especially love #4!

Julianne Lepp said...

I'd love to see you do a sermon on this!

Anonymous said...


uumomma said...

I think you may have converted me to WW! Good stuff.

goodwolve said...

You are, probably, right. How can I sit and complain, and we ALL know I do, about church not working for me if I won't go... edging closer to going back. Thank you LE.

IndiaSara said...

#1 confuses correlation with causation.

UU-Jester said...

I'm using part of it as a reading this week in Oneonta, NY. The sermon topic is spiritual practices Thank you for sharing it.