The Weigh Down Workshop Diet Controversy Explained

The Weigh Down Workshop, started by a conservative Christian named Gwen Shamblin, blended late-20th-century diet and weight loss culture with Christian spirituality (via The Guardian). A Christian approach to dieting proved popular. Shamblin sold millions of books and in 1999 started her own church, the Remnant Fellowship, in Tennessee. The church became embroiled in controversy, according to a 2004 New York Times article, after investigators raided Shamblin's office while looking into the death of an 8-year-old boy whose parents were Remnant Fellowship members. "A lot of our evidence is that they disciplined their children in ways the church recommended,” a police official said at the time. Both parents were sentenced to life plus 30 years in prison for murdering their child, per The Guardian. The investigation into the church's role in the boy's murder was inconclusive.

A new HBO Max documentary called "The Way Down: God, Greed, and the Cult of Gwen Shamblin" looks at the Atlanta boy's death, along with claims that Remnant Fellowship operated like a cult. The final two episodes of "The Way Down" won't air until early 2022, according to a recent New York Times article, because the filmmakers need time to incorporate new information following Shamblin's death in a plane crash in May.

If you or someone you know is dealing with spiritual abuse, you can call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1−800−799−7233. You can also find more information, resources, and support at their website.

A new documentary claims the Weigh Down Workshop became a cult

The Weigh Down Workshop preached weight loss through religious discipline. As The New York Times explained in the 2004 article, the workshop and the Remnant Fellowship taught members how to tell the difference between hunger that's just in your head and real hunger, which shows itself when your stomach rumbles. If you feel hungry but don't feel the rumble, Shamblin would advise reading the Bible instead of checking out the contents of your fridge.

People appearing in the new HBO Max documentary "The Way Down" claim the church exercised more and more control over its members, according to The Guardian. Punishments within the church grew extreme, too, according to the documentary. A babysitter featured in the doc said she was ordered to beat a boy at the church. Shamblin's Remnant Fellowship checked all the boxes for being a cult, including control and abuse of members and cutting them off from family, the documentary's producer told The Guardian. It's an accusation the church denies on its website: "Remnant Fellowship categorically denies the absurd, defamatory statements and accusations made in this documentary."

If you are struggling with an eating disorder, or know someone who is, help is available. Visit the National Eating Disorders Association website or contact NEDA's Live Helpline at 1-800-931-2237. You can also receive 24/7 Crisis Support via text (send NEDA to 741-741).