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Carole Lewis & Jody Wilkinson

Author of The Divine Diet

Review  |   Author Bio  |  Read an Excerpt  |  Interview

CBP:  I thought it would be nice to start with your background, if you could to share how you became a Christian.

CAROLE:  Sure.  I became a Christian when I was 12-years-old.  My parents became Christians when I was six, and that was a life-changing event for our family.  So when I was seven I wanted to be baptized because my parents had been baptized and I’d seen all that, and they took the Lord’s Supper.  So I talked my mother into thinking that I had accepted Christ, and she took me to the pastor and he thought I was ready, but nothing happened, and when I was 12 – I’ll never forget – an evangelist named Clay Baker came to our church and he was in my 12-year-old Sunday School and he used that Scripture “When the Lord Jesus returns one will be taken and one will be left.”  And for the first time, I realized that I would be in that group that would be left.   You know, I think you have to get lost before you can be saved.  And I totally knew that morning that I was lost, and I went with a bunch of other kids into a room and they told us what to do, and I prayed that prayer, and my life has been forever different.  

I can’t say that I’ve always lived for Christ, but I’ve at least worked for Christ.  But until 1984 I was what I would call a kernel Christian.  When I got into a jam, I would ask God to get me out of it.  And He helped me with marriage, and He helped us raise our children.  Our kids all went to Christian school, but God wanted more from me.  In fact, He wanted all of me.  So in 1984, in December, I finally gave it up and said, “Whatever you want to do with my life, you can have every part of it.”  And it was good, it kept me from doing that, maybe God would do something with me that I didn’t want to do.

CBP:  I think everybody thinks that.

CAROLE:  But, you know, He only wants good for His kids, and so my life took off like a rocket in ’84.  Everything happened in ’84.  I heard Patsy Clairmont for the first time, and she talked about daring to dream.  If you’ve got any dreams – well, I didn’t have any dreams, I’ve been busy raising three kids, and my nest was empty, and I thought, “My kind of dream might be doing what she’s doing!”  She was having so much fun, she just started speaking.  I heard her at a women’s retreat, and immediately when I got back home, people started asking me to speak; to come to their Sunday school classes.  This had never, ever happened!  And God just opened that up, and everything in my life started changing.  

In ’87 I was asked to direct a play – we had 50 churches, now we have 12,000 – it’s nothing that I have done; it’s all God.  He’s written all eight of my books, I’m not a book writer, never wanted to write a book, but He had plans.  He helped us out when our middle child was killed by a drunk driver three years ago, and He’s been with our family and her husband and three children; she had three daughters.  And my husband has stage four prostate cancer – I’ve got a lot of stuff in my life that I’m overflowing with joy because God has control of all of it.  So it’s been a journey.  I feel that we’re all on a journey, and Jesus always said, “Go.  Go and tell.  Keep going.”  So that’s where I am today, just sort of clicking along.

CBP:  I was really surprised -- last year there were so many diet books, and now – why is the Divine Diet different?

CAROLE:  Well, the Divine Diet -- to me, the only diet that I could say would be divine would be one where I could eat from every food group.  Most of the diets out there are so restrictive.  They leave out two or three food groups.  The Atkins diet leaves out many vegetables and all bread.  Who can live on meat and fat forever?  No one.  And people do lose weight because of calorie restriction.  But a divine diet would be one where I could eat food in their proper proportions and not gain weight.  The word diet is one that we all hate.  Usually we’re either going on one, or coming off one, or thinking you need to get back on one again.  

So I really resisted using the word diet in the title because in First Place, we say that our program is not a diet.  In fact the first three letters in the word diet are d-i-e, and that’s what most people feel like they do when they’re on one.  We call ours a “live it.”  And it’s a lifestyle.  And people who are losing weight in First Place eat exactly the same foods as people who are at their goal.  The difference is people who are at their goal have many more calories; but it’s the same food.  Once they learn to cook healthy, they can just have, probably, a double portion of what they had when they were losing weight.  

Regal just insisted on the word “diet,” and I’m very glad that they did in the title because the book is selling very well.  And really, the whole purpose of the book is to introduce people to First Place so that they would find a group or find a friend, because it’s just total program that deals with the total person.  It’s not just about weight loss; it’s about emotional growth, spiritual growth, mental growth, and physical.  They overrode me, and I kept saying, “You can’t use diet in the title, it’s not a diet.”  

Last night when I was doing the signing every woman walked in, “Just exactly what I need!”

CBP:  It gives you the chance to change their attitude.

CAROLE:  If you walked over to a bookstore you would not think that it’s a weight-loss book.  So all of these:  The Maker’s Diet, The South Beach Diet, The Atkins Diet, they’re all diet in the title.  So I’m glad they overrode me. I didn’t even tell people in First Place that I was writing a book, because I thought they were going to think I was crazy!  It was going to be Losing it for Life, which I love.  But last summer, we met with these people who had copywritten this program called Lose it for Life; so we had to change the title.  

CBP:  You talk about the spiritual aspect.  How does our weight affect our witness?

CAROLE:  Oh gosh.  Well, Daniel 16:7 says that man looks at only outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.  So I really don’t believe – we’ll know when we get to heaven – but I don’t believe that our weight is a huge problem for God.  Whether we’re big or small, because there are amazing Christian leaders that I know that are overweight, and they still have an influence for Christ.  But I do know that God looks at the heart.  

A man if he’s big, he just says that he’s a big man.  They never say that they’re a fat man.  But a woman – when we go to church or to weddings or to a class reunion, we are so miserable that we’ve let ourselves get in this shape, and we can’t wear anything that we feel good in.  I think that God does look at the heart and He says, “If you would just ask me for help in this area, I would love to help you.”  

And this is what First Place does; we teach people how to have a relationship with Christ; how to have a quiet time every day.  We don’t assume that people know how to do that.  We teach them how to journal, how to pray, how that we should start our prayer with adoration and praise, and then move on to confession, and then move on to thanksgiving, and the very last thing should be our requests.  And in our prayer time, where basically – we find – people start their prayers with all the requests, “Now God, I need you to do this and this and this.”  So as we mature, we lead more into praise and less into requests because the Bible says that God knows what we have need of before we ever speak the words.  So He knows – we don’t have to spend our whole prayer time – the other thing spiritually we do is we teach our people to memorize Scripture.  Every Bible study has ten memory verses.  In the back of the Bible study, there’s a CD that puts those memory verses to music to exercise tape.  So when you’re out for a walk with your CD player, you listen to these Scripture memory verses.  

What ours does is it will say, “Isaiah 41:13, ‘For I am the Lord your God, who takes hold of your right hand and says to you do not fear, I will help you.’”  Then the song plays, and so you’ve got track number three that you’re trying to memorize, you can keep hitting 3 with the word and the reference until you learn that and then listen to the song and memorize the song.  So this morning – the reason I use that one, I’m going to be doing a devotional in the back of the live feed, and I’m going to use that verse.  All the time I was showering this morning, I was singing that song.  If I forget where it is, I’ve got the song to remind me of the words.  I have learned over 100 verses like that, and I practice them every day on the treadmill.  

The mind, many times, has to be reprogrammed.  Bad habits are there, that’s why people are overweight, they have bad habits and they’re not willing to change.  It’s too hard; change is hard.  I’m a First Place leader, besides directing the program, and I challenge the people in my class that the very last meeting, I will have a very nice prize for them if they can say all ten verses.  Out of my group, I probably had 15 out of the 20 that said all ten of their verses.  See, whatever we make important to us, other people will think it’s important to them, but I know it will change their life.  For years, I would say my verse when I got on the treadmill and then I never thought of it again.  But if you don’t ever say it over and over and over it never becomes a part of who you are, so that’s why it’s so important.  

And then to have 13 different Bible studies in First Place, and the program goes for 13 weeks a session, and 10 weeks of that is Bible study.  So people come into First Place and stay forever.  Churches have an ongoing program that goes all year long – if you did four Bible studies a year, they could go for three years without ever repeating.  The exciting part is now that we’re on number 13 coming out in July; all of the meetings are going to be in-depth studies.   All of our others are so different from like, Beth Moore, because they take about 10 minutes to do where hers take an hour to do.  But what we’re trying to do in First Place is to give people bite-sized pieces at the Christian life.  A Bible study, a quiet time, Scripture memory, learning how to eat right, learning how to exercise, and you can’t give them something that will take hours; they’ve got to be able to do it on the run.  

It started 25 years ago, and I did not write the original program.  In March it will be our 25th anniversary.  But I’ve been the director since ’87, so all of the leader’s guide and the member’s guide and the videos, I’ve done all that.  But the original people had the foresight – the 12 that wrote the program – and back in ’81 that was a big deal.  Everywhere you turn in the secular world it’s about power.  How do you balance your life so you don’t have stress?  So it’s exciting!

CBP:  You make some comments and I wonder, is spiritual maturity is tied to the condition of our bodies?  Do those go together?

CAROLE:  No, I don’t think so.  I can think up some great leaders who are extremely overweight and I would argue that they are spiritually mature.  But it’s just like we were talking about – well, one of my memory verses that I love is John 14:21.  One day I was just telling the Lord how much I loved Him and then all of a sudden it hit me that I didn’t have a clue how to love God, and I just shared and said, “I just want to love You with my whole heart, but I just feel like I’m barely scratching the surface.”  He reminded me of John 14:21, it was like He said, “Carole, don’t you remember that whoever has my commands in his waistband, he is the one who loves me?  And he who loves me will be led by My Father, and I too will love her so much.”  And I had one of those “Ah ha” moments.  Now I memorized that verse in ’81 in my very first Bible study, but that day sitting in my chair having my quiet time in 2002, He took that verse from my head and dropped it right in my heart.  And I said, “Oh, you want me to obey You; that’s how I show I love you!”  Well, see, obedience -- and one of the fruits of the Spirit is self-control.  I don’t like that, and I’m glad it’s listed last and not first, but nevertheless, that is something that only God can work into our lives.

For years I thought I should have self control in dieting.  And I tried to do it myself; being a rather strong personality I thought I could beat any program.  I could always lose the same 10 pounds, but I’d gain it back.  When I realized that God – you know, faithfulness, gentleness – can I do any of those in my flesh?  All of that God has to work out in my life and self control is the same way.

CBP:  Well, what do you tell someone who’s repeatedly failed on a diet?  

CAROLE:  Well, first of all, I would tell them, “Don’t join First Place thinking that you’re going to fail God if you fail this program.”  Does this mean that God doesn’t have any power?  It is all about obedience; it’s all about accountability.  The beauty of First Place is that we’re holding ourselves accountable to a group.  We’re willing to weigh in once a week.  Just the fact that I’m going to weigh in makes me stay on the program.  We keep a commitment record, check off everything when we do our prayer commitment or our Bible study commitment, that’s accountability.  And it’s handed in at our meeting, and our leader evaluates it and puts encouraging comments on it and gives it back to you  the next week.  So all of that is accountability, and whether somebody has to do First Place on the internet or their sister lives a million miles away; they have to be accountable to each other.  Come together once a week say, “Ok, I weighed in today, I didn’t lose any weight but I held my own.”  Whatever.  They’re doing it by email.  

It does work.  We have internet groups that have been great.  We have an internet group in Australia.  People come from all over the world because they can hook-up by the internet. So, yeah, it works.  But a group works better.  Most of us need people with skin on that are going to be encouraging us verbally.  On the internet you don’t have a leader that’s going to facilitate the group time.  You have to do the Bible study – I know a lady that did it with her sister, her brother was getting married, and they both lost 20 pounds in one session for the brother’s wedding and they didn’t live close to each other.  And they got on the internet at noon on the same of every week; they talked about their Bible study, they talked about their week, and weight loss.  So yes, it does work, but accountability is a huge part of being successful.  People decide they’re going to do it by themselves; most of them never get started.

CBP:  Through this book are you hoping that people would then connect with a group?

CAROLE:  We’re hoping that they will, but they could get the materials and do it.  The core of the book in chapter three is really the message that I wanted to bring.  The ABC’s of beginning.  Accept where you are, be willing to change, and following God.  And that’s been a message I’ve been teaching since ’99.  

CBP:  I’m going to quote from memory so it might not be exactly accurate, but you say something like “Successful people are the ones who start over faster.”  I thought, “What a great image!”  Because it’s not that they’re failing, it’s that they keep going.

CAROLE:  Yeah, I mess up all the time!  But I’ve learned to begin again quicker.  See some people who gain their weight back, they don’t do anything for two years.  They are so disgusted that they spent all this money on this new thing, they’ve got new clothes now, they’ve gained the weight back again that they just stop and they don’t begin again.  Yes, they will.  I’ve seen people gain 130 pounds back before they begin again.  It’s not if you will, it’s when.  

You see people who go through a divorce and they swear they’re never going to go through anything like that again.  Well, they may not marry again, but they’re still going to have relationships whether it’s with women.  If you have a relationship problem in a marriage, you probably take that same problem, whatever it was, into other relationships.  It’s not ever one-sided.  There’s his side, her side, and the truth.  So relationship problems are really what life is about.  Your childhood, your family of origin, your friends, your marriage; relationships they’re forever.  I could do this job if it wasn’t for the people.  People – we wouldn’t have this job if it wasn’t for the people.  People are difficult, relationships are hard.  

When I said that to the Lord Jesus in ’84, that is where He’s worked in my life ever since then – relationships.  I’ve gotten rid of the huge sin in my life and now it’s character flaw; my tongue, my actions, my lack of actions.  Paul talks about it in Romans 7, “wretched man that I am” you know.  So that’s why I say I’m just clicking along.

CBP:  I noticed in the beginning of each chapter you have quotes from different people.  Who has influenced you?

CAROLE:  Zig Ziglar is my greatest influence.  I love him.  In all of my books I have something that Zig has said.  Zig says things like, “Emotions follow actions, not the other way around.”  And he says, “You can act your way into a new way of feeling easier than you can feel your way into a new way of acting.”  I love that because you act the way you want to feel, and the feelings will follow the actions.  Not the other way around.  Feelings never leave; feelings will always tell us, “Give it up.  You can’t do it.”  But actions will cause the feelings to fall into line.  Florence Littauer is another one of my mentors.  She taught me to speak.

CBP:  What you said reminds me of another thing to think about; a faulty belief system.  It’s an emotion, too.

CAROLE:  That’s right.   Somebody who has a faulty belief system, -- all of us talk to ourselves all the time in our brain, but when they make a mistake, they’ll say, “You’re so stupid, you always do that.”  Where I would say, “That’s not like you; you can do better than that!”  I talk to myself too, but I don’t beat up on myself.  Some people through Scripture memory will retrain that faulty belief system because those things are so ingrained, maybe from a mother or daddy telling you that all your life.  You know, “You’ll never amount to anything; you always make the stupidest decisions.”  Whatever they said, it’s in there, and the enemy wants to pull out the bad stuff and keep us beaten down because his job is to kill love and destroy everything that God has for us.  He’ll pervert all the good.

CBP:  You have something in the book called the four spiritual links.

CAROLE:  It’s prayer, Scripture reading, Scripture memory, and Bible study.  Those are the four spiritual commitments of the First Place program.

CBP:  And that makes it very unique.  

CAROLE:  Oh, yes.  And really, what happens is we have ten weeks of Bible study in a thirteen week program, so the first two weeks we spend teaching our people how to eat; teaching them the food plan.  And then they start Bible study after week two, after the meeting, and then on week three we start going into the Bible study.  Well, in the meeting, in an hour and fifteen minute meeting – 16 minutes is for weigh-in, and signing the memory verse and turning in your CR and getting back the one from last week, and then an hour worth of meeting.  Only 16 minutes of it is spent on something that we call a wellness worksheet.  Why should you eat breakfast? Why should you drink water? Why is exercise so important?  Then we spend a full 30 minutes on the Bible study each week in the class, and there are questions in the back of the Bible study for the leaders who facilitate the discussion.  I mean, they get into that Bible study.  And at the end of the session, they will always say when I ask this question, “What did you get out of this session?”  They say the Bible study.  Even if they lost 20 pounds – they came in to lose weight – but the spiritual changes are, by far, the most important.  And then 15 minutes of our meeting is spent in prayer time.  

I have a noon group, and they cannot take even an hour and fifteen minutes and I know they’re going to get up and start leaving so I do the prayer time first.  I broke them up into small groups and they take each other’s prayer requests and pray for fifteen minutes.  Then we start the meeting and I do the Bible study first; I do the wellness part in the last fifteen minutes.  If somebody needs to leave, I have an agenda where they can go back and do it or take it with them.  I believe we need to prioritize what’s most important.   The prayer and Bible study, for me, in the meeting is the most important thing.  

Last time I had a personal trainer – and I gave her the entire wellness calendar – in the meeting, she would talk about different aspects of exercise, whether it was strength training or she’d give handouts, and they loved that.  She took them over to a weight room and took them through it.  At our church we do total fitness testing on all of our participants, and we charge twenty dollars for the program to pay the personal trainers that do all the testing, and we give them a computer printout of where they are starting.  And they love these things later after they get involved and see how bad it was in the beginning.

CBP:  They can see that they’ve moved forward even if it doesn’t feel like they’ve done anything.

CAROLE:  Everybody does the program differently.  That’s the beauty of it.  They buy the materials, they read the leader’s side and then they decide what they’re going to do.

CBP:  I like what you said because some people do the program and went back to their normal eating habits and then they came back – it clicked for them.

CAROLE:  I included testimonies in this book of people who had kept the weight off at least five years.  Very different from my other book because some of those people probably had already gained their weight back again.  But I wanted to show in this book that it is possible to lose weight and maintain.  But people were very transparent and honest.  

I heard Sheila Robbins the other day and she used to work for us in First Place but lost 160 or something, and she’d gained about 50 pounds and then she got back on track and already lost 25 of it.  And that happens all the time.  People think they can go it alone, and they get out there doing it and they swear they know it, but the weight starts creeping back up.  

And it’s not because of the program having any power, it’s the commitment.  You get your life balance; spiritually, emotionally, mentally and physically.  And when it gets into balance, that’s the way God intended for us to live.  Jesus said in Mark 12:30 that we are to love the Lord our God with all our hearts, all our souls, with all our minds, with all our strength.  It says in Luke 2:52 that we are to love God in all areas.  So we love God with our bodies by taking care of it.  Eating healthy and exercising so we can live a long time and be able to serve God as long as we live.  I don’t want to live the last fifteen years of my life in a wheelchair, or confined to a bed because I had a stroke.  It doesn’t mean that these things will not happen to me, but I can better my chances by doing my part.

CBP:  Well, thank you so much!

CAROLE:  You’re welcome.