Barbourville–Seymour Wattenbarger isn’t nearly the man he once was.
A year ago, Wattenbarger tipped the scales at 325 pounds, but a healthy diet has allowed the 76-year-old Baptist preacher to trim down significantly.
He’s shed 75 pounds—and counting.
“My clothes didn’t fit me,” he said. “My suits were too small. I felt terrible. My doctor informed me that I had crossed the line into diabetes. I made up my mind the weight had to come off.”
Now, Wattenbarger, director of missions for the Knox Association of Baptists, is warning other preachers that they need to be careful to avoid one of the chief occupational hazards of their jobs—overeating.
Facing schedules heavy on weekday luncheons, Sunday afternoon dinners and endless potluck meals, it’s easy to add inches to the waistband. Studies have found more than 75 percent of American preachers are overweight or downright obese.
Wattenbarger said Kentucky Baptists often joke about their food consumption, but, he says, it’s no laughing matter.
“Our pastors are digging their graves with their teeth,” he said. “We tend to eat, eat, eat. I’ve been known to eat a whole pie myself in years past.”
Wattenbarger went on a low-carb diet when he walked out of his doctor’s office last year. Three months later, his blood sugar level was in the normal range. His blood pressure was down. His triglycerides and cholesterol plummeted.
“My energy level went up,” he said. “I feel so much better. Inch by inch, anything’s a cinch.”
Wattenbarger is challenging other Kentucky Baptist pastors to follow his lead. He’s convinced healthy diets will translate into more souls saved, because the preachers have more energy for evangelistic efforts, whether one-on-one in homes or in worship settings.
Christians across the country have begun focusing on better eating habits, in part thanks to books like The Daniel Plan that was co-written by Rick Warren, founder of the Saddleback megachurch in Lake Forest, Calif. Warren has said in interviews that he realized the need for such a book because of his own weight problems and those of his Saddleback church members.
The Daniel Plan quickly became a New York Times bestseller. The book gets its name from the Old Testament hero who refused the standard table fare of the Babylonian empire, opting instead to make fruits and vegetables his primary food source.
Wattenbarger, who believes the key to his weight loss has been to avoid carbohydrates, recalls the day 11 years ago when his poor eating habits first caught up with him.
“I was dizzy,” he said. “My ears were ringing. My speech was slurred. I couldn’t stand up. I couldn’t walk. All I could do was dry heave.”
Wattenbarger was rushed to a local hospital where his self-diagnosis was confirmed. He had had a stroke.
Though he came home on a walker, Wattenbarger quickly rebounded and was soon back in the pulpit. That close call didn’t significantly alter his diet, at least not long term.
It was the realization that he faced insulin injections that finally got his attention.
“All these suppers, all these homecomings, all these potlucks had caught up with me,” he said. “And they’ll catch up with all preachers sooner or later unless they’re careful.” (KT)