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
evangel: What can churches do to help people live healthier
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
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
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
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
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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