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Wes Bartel

Jason Roy

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Norma Champion

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Ed Stetzer

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Lew Shelton

Todd Starnes

Gary Smalley

Rick Cole and Dary Northrop

George O. Wood

Sarah Reeves

Mercy Me

Chuck Bengochea

Jeremy Camp

Kary Kingsland

Doug Clay

Owen C. Carr

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Sy Rogers

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Todd Tiahrt

2008 Conversations

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Conversation: Todd Starnes

Gravy on the Dipstick

Todd Starnes, author of They Popped My Hood and Found Gravy on the Dipstick (Pathway Press, 2009), is a reporter for Fox News Radio. For years he struggled with his weight until he had a near-death experience at 300 pounds. Since then, he has slimmed down to 150 pounds and embraced exercising. With a comic’s touch he recently talked to Kirk Noonan about obesity, fitness and how the church can play a role in all that.

evangel: What set you on the road to obesity?

STARNES: I was a good evangelical Christian growing up. I had a Bible in one hand and a piece of fried chicken in the other. Unfortunately, I never learned self-control when it came to my eating habits.

evangel: In your book you contend that too many members of the body of Christ are too big. Talk about that.

STARNES: We love food and fellowship, and it seems that loving someone usually means heaping piles of food on them. Whether that takes place on the church’s grounds or at a home Bible study, there is always cake or something similar to eat at church functions. That type of environment fostered what happened to me.

evangel: So, you were obese because you went to church?

STARNES: No, I was fat because of my own stupidity. No one was forcing me to go through the drive-through at McDonald’s and order three Big Macs instead of one. I have no one to blame but myself.

I believe gluttony is a greater problem in the church than alcohol. It’s a topic that most people don’t want to talk about because most of us are dealing with it. It’s a lot easier to pray for the person down at the local bar than the person stuffing their face at the local International House of Pancakes.

evangel: What can churches do to help people live healthier lives?

STARNES: Remove temptations and offer nutritious alternatives. At church functions, churches could offer grilled rather than fried chicken. They also could offer heart-healthy pastas rather than buttery mashed potatoes. Offering at least one meal a week in a person’s life that is healthy is a good start.

evangel: In your book you also say your faith helped you slim down. How so?

STARNES: When I finally realized I needed to make some changes to my lifestyle, and that Jenny Craig and Richard Simmons weren’t going to be able to do it for me, I turned to the power of the Holy Spirit to help me lose the weight.

evangel: Besides your girth, what prompted you to lose the weight?

STARNES: It was an act of the Lord. The symptoms of my heart problem were masked by the symptoms of obesity. I was tired, lethargic, my heart beat fast all the time, and I always got out of breath. I had always thought those were just symptoms of me being fat, but in fact they were symptoms of my heart shutting down.

I went to the hospital thinking I had bronchitis. But the doctors discovered that my aortic valve was shutting down. As you might know, the aortic valve is very important to the function of the heart — once it goes they can’t do anything to bring you back.

evangel: You believe that was the beginning of a healing process that would take a couple of years.

STARNES: Sometimes we want God’s miracles to include bright lights and angels — and poof, we’re fixed. But many miracles don’t happen like that. For me, I saw the miracle in the way God used other people to help and minister to me. God gave someone the wisdom to create a heart/lung machine that kept me alive; He gave the doctors wisdom and knowledge to fix my heart; He also prompted a body of believers from my church to minister to me spiritually and physically. God is at work every day in our lives in the big and little things.

evangel: In the book it seems like your friends gave you some tough love.

STARNES: I went to the only church in America where no one had the gift of mercy. After my surgery the cardiologist told my friends my heart was fixed, but I needed to do something about my weight. One of my friends stood up immediately and said, “Don’t you worry, we’re already on it!”

evangel: And now you’re a proponent of tough love?

STARNES: Who wants to go up to an obese friend and say, “Hey, you’re fat and you should do something about it?”

Unfortunately, we don’t do that because we’re too nice. By ignoring it, we could unintentionally help send our friends to an early grave. Sometimes, you have to practice tough love. Ask your obese friends if they would like to work out with you or start a diet with you. Hold each other accountable.

My church friends were so influential in encouraging me and helping me stay focused. They helped me establish patterns of discipline early on. In the first few weeks after surgery people from my church would help me walk so that I could begin exercising. I lost the first 60 pounds through proper diet and walking.

evangel: What encouragement do you hope people draw from this book?

STARNES: I am not some super-spiritual Christian who has figured it all out. I just wanted to share my struggles and say, “Yeah, I went through that.” Hopefully, some people will see that and say, “If that crazy guy can make it through something like that, so can I.”

evangel: If you want to lose weight and get healthy, do you need to sign up for one of those diet programs on television?

STARNES: My working philosophy is why pay someone else when you have to do all the work? I decided to lose the weight the old-fashioned way — by dieting and exercise.

evangel: What kind of diet are you on?

STARNES: It really isn’t a diet as much as it’s a lifestyle change. I watch what I eat and avoid fried food. I also eat a lot of green vegetables, and I exercise regularly. That’s how it has worked so far. It’s been four years since the surgery, and I’ve lost 150 pounds and have kept it off.

evangel: You also embraced running. How is that treating you?

STARNES: My first run was four years ago, and I ran an 18-minute mile. Now I run 9-minute miles. My goal is to get down to 7-minute miles. I do that, and I’ll be real happy.

evangel: How do you not get obsessed with losing weight and chasing after perfection?

STARNES: God created me to look a certain way. He also prescribes a certain amount of food we need every day to survive. Unfortunately, I overloaded my body with food and got fat.

evangel: Why do you advocate good eating habits and regular exercise for everyone?

STARNES: We have to understand that we may not have health problems now, but we will down the road if we don’t eat right and exercise regularly now. My mom smoked as a teenager and into her early 30s. She was in great shape, but years after smoking she developed emphysema and died. Sooner or later we’ll pay the price. So why not prepare ourselves now?

evangel: What encouragement would you give to someone who is struggling with his or her weight?

STARNES: God loves us unconditionally. There are a lot of people who, if they were honest with themselves, would realize they are unhappy. Yes, I was a happy, fat person, but one day I looked in the mirror and realized I didn’t really like the person who was staring back at me.

The good news is that we can make immediate changes. We can start right now, even though the results will take time.

Getting healthy is a lifestyle change. There are no quick fixes, and that’s hard to accept because we are a quick-fix society. Losing weight and getting healthy are a journey. But we’re not alone on that journey. Whether we are going through good times or bad ones, Jesus is with us.

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