What’s Up With Weigh Down? A Brush With A Dangerous Cult

By Denise Bowen

If you are like me, January brought the realization that my body needed a trip through a good weight loss program.  After reviewing the vast array of options out there, I settled for what I thought was a Biblically based plan.  What I didn’t realize was that by signing up, I had innocently placed myself within the influence of a cult.

Last fall a friend of mine told me she was losing weight by reapplying principles she learned years earlier from a program called Weigh Down.  I remembered hearing about the program in the mid-90s at the Baptist church in my hometown.  I wanted to know more.

“The basic premise,” she explained, “is that you eat pretty much what you want to.  There are no restricted foods.  But, you eat only when you are truly hungry and stop when you are satisfied, not stuffed.” 

She said she had lost 22 pounds and was enjoying the deep Bible study the program offered.  It sounded like the perfect plan for me, and a way to give my relationship with God a needed jumpstart.

Just before the New Year, I located the Weigh Down web site and found a group starting on January 12 at a couple’s home in my city.  I wondered at the time why there were no classes starting in area churches, but I didn’t give it much thought.  I couldn’t wait to begin.  In fact, I began following what I knew of the eating principles a week early.

When January 12 rolled around my husband Brad and I attended the orientation session of “The Last Exodus”, the newest Weigh Down study.  It consisted of watching a DVD featuring Gwen Shamblin, founder of Weigh Down.  She said food had become an idol in this country, and presented some pretty staggering statistics on how people are becoming increasingly obese.  She said, “We in the U.S. are driven by our appetites and that is nothing more than greed.” In addition, the DVD presented numerous testimonies of young people sharing how much weight they had lost as well as other sins they had “laid down”.

I never really thought about my overeating as greed before this.  I was very convicted and certain I wanted to go through this study.  The first class was to begin two weeks later on January 26.

On the way out to the car, however, Brad said something that took me aback.  “You know, all the testimonies were great, but it seemed a little ‘cultish’.” 

“What would make you say something like that?” I asked.

“It was all the ‘group speak.’  They all said they had ‘laid down’ this and ‘laid down’ that, and they had learned to ‘submit to their authorities.’  It was a little weird.

At the time, I totally disregarded his observation.

On January 26, Brad and I were the first to arrive and our coordinator gave us our workbooks and CDs.  After the others arrived we settled down to listen to the first DVD from “The Last Exodus”. In it Shamblin taught how to tell when your body is truly hungry, to wait for your stomach to growl in a certain spot before you eat, and to stop eating when you get to the satisfied state.  She taught how God had set up cues in our bodies to let us know when to eat and when we’d had enough.  She said all of the animals obey His laws and we should too.  We must lay down the idol of food and run to God.  The best part that night was when she taught us how to eat a hamburger and French fries and still lose weight!

By this point, I was very excited about the program.  I was losing weight every week and for the first time in my life I was eating according to what my body asked for rather than by what my appetite and my eyes wanted.  It felt great.  I even told a dear friend of mine, “This is so easy that I’m waiting for the other shoe to drop.”

I didn’t have to wait long.

On Friday of that week, I was listening to the first of “The Last Exodus” CDs on my way to work.  I wanted to embed these “truths” in my head.  But during my drive Shamblin said something that didn’t quite ring right.  It hinted a belief that total obedience was necessary for salvation.  I shrugged it off.  I was sure she didn’t really mean that, or that I had perhaps heard her incorrectly.

During my lunch break that day I signed onto the Weigh Down web site for the first time with my newly acquired member sign-in and began reading a posting from a coordinator of one of the “Weigh Down Advanced” classes.  She praised the “Weigh Down Advanced” program and beamed about the successes of the people in her class.  Then, she made a statement that bothered me:

“I know I speak for my class when I say we are forever indebted to Gwen, Weigh Down, and the obedient remnants for showing true love to us by standing firm in the truth of laying down rebellion and total obedience to God. That is true love - to point out rebellion in us and to show us the way out of it - for our salvation!!! (emphasis mine)

Was she saying that total obedience equaled salvation?  I thought I should report this to the folks at Web Down.  Surely they didn’t know how this statement was coming across on their web site.  But, I got busy at work that afternoon and didn’t contact them.

The next morning, Saturday, I woke up before my husband and decided to do my first week’s Last Exodus lesson so I would have it ready for Monday night.

The lesson was really great, until I came across this sidebar:

Rebuilding the Wall:

Read Ezra and Nehemiah.  After sinning, which caused the destruction of Jerusalem, the exiles went back to build the city of God again.  That is our goal – to build up the church with true, pure saints. (1) (emphasis mine)

There it was again.  What did she mean by “true saints”?  I hated to admit it, but red flags were beginning to fly.

When Brad awoke I told him about the things I’d found and wanted to show him the quote from the WD Advanced coordinator on the web site.  I sat down at his computer and went to Google.  In the search I typed “Shamblin ‘Weigh Down’”.  I expected the Weigh Down web site to come up first as it usually did, but that’s not what I found.

The search results displayed web site after web site with the word “cult” emblazoned beside the name Weigh Down or Gwen Shamblin.  My mouth dropped open in shock.  As Sue Bohlin from Probe Ministries and a former Weigh Down participant put it, “I couldn’t stop reading.  Sadly, it was like watching a (theological) train wreck happen.” 

My exhaustive reading that day confirmed a multitude of problems with Shamblin’s teaching and the Weigh Down workshop.  First, she truly does believe that total obedience is necessary for salvation (2). Second, Gwen teaches that the concept of the Trinity is a “pagan belief.” (3)  Third and more dangerous, Shamblin had formed her own church called Remnant Fellowship, which has been defined as a cult by numerous credible Christian groups (4). Remnant primarily obtains its members from the rolls of Weigh Down workshop participants (5).

Brad and I read numerous accounts of people who had gotten involved with Remnant Fellowship only to experience confusion and outright spiritual abuse.  Clearly, the solid, Bible-based weight loss program so popular in churches during the 90s had become something quite different in the third millennium.

Brad and I looked at each other and agreed.  We could not go back to another Weigh Down session.

There is no question that Weigh Down is a very dangerous program.  It entices many sincere Christian people who heard about it in the 90s, in some cases at their own church, or who simply want to learn more about a different way of eating.  What they do not know is that it has become a training ground for a cult.  When you are looking for a weight loss program, you are not expecting to need your spiritual guard up.

Heather Patterson states in her testimony about Remnant Fellowship, “No one ever sets out to join a cult. Anyone is susceptible to mind control if it is applied in a sugar-coated way, as it was and continues to be in Remnant Fellowship. Even strong Christians who are in the Word can be enticed if they are approached in just the right way.”

Obviously the best thing to do is get out from under the influence of Weigh Down, but what are Christians to do who want to learn more about this way of eating?  For me, having to quit Weigh Down was difficult because I found something that was working.  I wanted to continue losing weight.

The good news is there is an alternative called Thin Within.  This program teaches the same way of eating, using a tool called the hunger scale.  In addition, it is Biblically-based and grace oriented.  Thin Within started in 1975 and was the original hunger-fullness, non-diet approach to weight loss.  You can find out about the program and read their statement of beliefs by going to www.thinwithin.org.  In addition you can find the books Thin Within and Thin Again by Judy Halliday, R.N. and Arthur Halliday, M.D. at your local Christian bookstore.


(1) The Last Exodus Student Guide, p. 13

(2) In Christianity Today, Dec. 9, 2002 issue (Posted Nov. 26, 2002) Don Veinot Jr., president of Midwest Christian Outreach described Shamblin's teachings as "the Jesus-plus plan," meaning she teaches that Christ died for a person's sins, but "total obedience" after conversion is needed to keep one free of sin and confident of salvation.

(3) From “Gwen Shamblin: Weighed and Found Wanting” by Don and Joy Veinot (Volume 23 / Number 3 issue of the Christian Research Journal).  she (Shamblin) insisted that the doctrine of the Trinity is a pagan doctrine, brought into the church in the fourth century. This, of course, is yet another familiar but fallacious argument employed by Jehovah’s Witnesses (JWs) and other pseudo-Christian groups to deny the Trinity.”

(4) From “The Weigh Down Heresy” by John Kennedy (November / December 2000 issue of SBC Life) “Shamblin tells followers that Christians grieve Jesus if they adhere to doctrines not found in Scripture. ‘If God wanted us to refer to Himself, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit as the 'trinity,' He would not have left this word completely out of the Bible."’

(5) Sue Bohlin / Probe Ministries:

“With some heartbreak I have to agree that Remnant Fellowship is, indeed, a cult.”cGregory Koukl, President of Stand to Reason (www.str.org), in his article “Birth of a Cult” he states, “Weigh Down is not being unfairly branded as a cult.  It’s earning that label by fulfilling the standard definition.”

(6) From “Remnant Fellowship: A Brief History And A Dire Warning” by Adam and Maria Brooks (http://www.spiritwatch.org/remnantwatch.htm)
“Typically, Remnant Fellowship recruits among people who are Weigh Down (WD) and Weigh Down Advance (WDA) participants. Recruits are likely contacted at Rebuilding the Wall weekends, when Gwen Shamblin will come to speak in different cities across the country.”

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