Health issues, Chubby Challenge encourage pastor Ryan Culpepper to lose weight
By Lonnie Wilkey
Editor, Baptist and Reflector
RIPLEY — As 2015 winds to a close, pastor Ryan Culpepper is not nearly the man he was when the year began. And, for that he is grateful to the God he worships and serves. At the start of 2015, the 6-foot, 7-inch former college football player, weighed 460 pounds. “I was miserable,” he recalled.
As of Dec. 17, Culpepper tipped the scales at 295 pounds. His goal is to lose at least 50 more pounds during 2016. “I’ve still got a ways to go,” acknowledged the pastor of Mary’s Chapel Baptist Church, Ripley.
Culpepper noted a variety of things finally caused him to get serious about losing weight when the year began. He had sleep apnea and he had to take aspirin just to relieve the pain of walking. “It hurt just to walk to the pulpit,” he said.
Finally, Culpepper read about the Chubby Challenge, an initiative by Randy C. Davis, executive director/treasurer of the Tennessee Baptist Convention. In January Davis issued the challenge, encouraging Tennessee Baptists to get fit by losing at least 10 percent of their body weight.
In his Clarity column in the Jan. 28 issue of the Baptist and Reflector, Davis wrote, “In the end, some of us will move from chubby to fit and others of us will move from obese to overweight. But we’ll be living healthier lives and be better witnesses for Christ.”
Culpepper wanted to lose weight to improve his health, but also because he was truly convicted that overeating is a sin. “The Bible says so much about that,” he said, pointing out that gluttony or excess of food is one of the three sins attributed to Sodom in Ezekiel 16:49. In addition, the book of Proverbs (23:20-21, 28:7, and 23:2, among others) has a lot to say about overeating, Culpepper said.
“Gluttony is a sin. The Bible is clear about that,” he said. Culpepper acknowledged there are a small percentage of people with medical issues that prevent weight loss, “but most of us can help it.”
Culture, however, has made overeating the “acceptable sin,” the pastor continued. Not only is it true in culture, but overeating is also the “acceptable sin in Southern Baptist life,” he said.
Culpepper didn’t find a magical diet for his weight loss. “There’s really no secret to weight loss — just clean eating and exercise.”
It hasn’t been easy. “I haven’t had a slice of pizza or any dessert since last February,” Culpepper said. That’s pretty amazing for someone who jokes that his “dream girls” when he was growing up were Little Debbie and Sara Lee.
It’s important to eat the right foods, he stressed. “As you practice the discipline of eating right, you are better able to resist temptation,” he said. One of his best tips as to eating right is to “avoid food that comes out of a window” (drive-through, fast-food restaurant). “You have to be accountable for what goes down your throat,” he said.
Culpepper is convinced that losing weight has given him more credibility as a pastor. “I was a walking, talking hypocrite. I would tell people that we have to be obedient to God in every area of our life and I clearly was not doing that in the area of food,” he said.
When you weigh over 400 pounds, it’s hard to tell people to be obedient to God when you’re not doing it yourself,” he added.
Culpepper has been an example to his members, many of whom want to lose weight as well. He plans to continue losing weight in 2016 and so is his congregation. Beginning on Sunday nights in January Culpepper and others in the church who have lost weight and kept it off will share testimonies and encourage church members to get healthier.
“We are going to encourage our members to lose 1,000 pounds in 2016,” the pastor said.
He offered some tips on how to lose weight:
(1) Consult a doctor. Never start a diet plan without talking to your physician first, Culpepper advised.
(2) Eat breakfast.
(3) Drink water.
(4) Never allow yourself to have a “food emergency.” In other words, don’t go without food for a lengthy amount of time. There will be a tendency to eat a large meal to make up for it, he said. Control your portion sizes at every meal, he said.
(5) Accountability. Everyone needs to have an accountability partner, he stressed.
(6) Support from your loved ones is essential. Culpepper said his wife, Katie, played a major role in helping him to lose weight. “I couldn’t have done it without her help.”
(7) Educate yourself on what to eat and what not to eat. Eat plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, he suggested. Avoiding processed and junk foods is imperative as is avoiding foods high in sodium, Culpepper added.
(8) Limit soda, including diet drinks. Diet sodas make you crave other things, he noted.
(9) Exercise. “We have to move and burn calories,” Culpepper said. Instead of looking for the closest parking spot at church, the grocery store, or mall, choose one that makes you walk the farthest, he suggested.
Culpepper knows he could not have accomplished the weight loss without the support of his wife and family and his entire congregation. All have been extremely supportive of his goal to lose weight. Most of all, he credits God for helping him get to where he is today.
“If it wasn’t for God’s grace and help, this (weight loss) would not have happened. We have to allow God to touch our hearts and convict us of our sins. I knew it was wrong to be so overweight,” he said.
— Culpepper is willing to encourage anyone, par-ticularly ministers, who want to lose weight. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.