By Madison Cash
“We are the house of God,” junior Katelyn Beaghan told the Record. “He does not dwell in Jerusalem, he dwells within us. Are we approaching ourselves with that same reverence and that same respect?” she asked, hand resting on the bright copy of a laminated booklet with big, colorful letters spelling out the words “Come Alive!.” The interdisciplinary studies (IDS) student, with her easy, confident mannerisms and enthusiastic grin, certainly seems to come alive talking about her new initiative that bridges a biblical understanding of nutrition with practical health principles.
Beaghan is bringing a Bible and nutrition curriculum to Wheaton, creating more conversation and support around fostering a biblical understanding of nutrition and health. This curriculum was first put together by Angela Stephenson, executive director and co-founder of Living Abundantly Ministries. Stephenson told the Record in an email that the nutrition study, entitled “Come Alive!,” had a slow start at first, but was finally published in December of 2015. Small groups started using it in 2016 in churches in Wheaton, Carol Stream and Elmhurst in Illinois and Kearney, Mo. Churches as far as Albuquerque, N.M. and Australia are interested in using the curriculum, according to Stephenson.
At Wheaton, the study also meets a common yet rarely-discussed need on campus for a biblical understanding of nutrition. Interim Director of Student Health Services (SHS) Beth Walsh explained how her job at SHS has revealed several misunderstandings about nutrition that “Come Alive!” can rectify. “I’m meeting with students who are struggling in various realms related to nutrition, from an extreme of an eating disorder to body image issues, to ‘What do I even eat?’” Milligan has also collected student stories about health and their struggles with nutrition and notes this trend at Wheaton as well. She describes the divide “between students who really don’t care much about their physical health … students [that] tend to prioritize homework above caring for our physical bodies,” and “Wheaton students who are such achievers that they do work out [or monitor their food], maybe to the point where it’s a little too much and it becomes unhealthy.” She feels that “Come Alive!” can help students who struggle with both issues, whether it be carelessness or overcare for their bodies.
Both unhealthy sides of the spectrum stem from a deep misunderstanding about the value of a biblical understanding of nutrition. For Beaghan, her grasp of biblical nutrition and why it’s important stemmed from her recent experience in Israel over Christmas break. She explained, “We obviously went to Jerusalem and went to the place where the Temple used to be.… The meaning of that verse [1 Cor. 6:19-20] grew exponentially for me after seeing where the Temple was in Israel, how people approach it with such reverence and respect.” Her approach to nutrition now revolves around pushing individuals struggling with nutrition and health to respect themselves as temples of the Lord. Sophomore TJ Whitfield, the graphic designer for “Come Alive!,” agrees with Beaghan. In his opinion, “You can’t really talk about nutrition, talk about the well-being of your body, without bringing up the conversation … that our bodies are the temples created by the Lord.”
The “Come Alive!” curriculum is specifically equipped to address these issues because of its progression from spiritual principles to practical health steps. “I think the component of ‘Come Alive!’ that’s so wonderful is that you can’t really separate who we are in Christ and our spiritual walk, and how we care for our bodies, and I think combining the two is just, it makes this unique and puts it together in a whole-person way,” Walsh told the Record. The program’s objectives walk students through how to “Seek God First, Love and Be Loved,” and finally to “Honor God with my Body” with five principles: eat delicious whole foods that are high in fiber, phytonutrients and omega-3 fats, drink water throughout your day, create a mindful approach to eating, move more in ways that get your heart pumping and practice an intentional rhythm of work, play and rest. This progression moves students through the tenants of a biblical understanding of nutrition and orients them to what Beaghan calls the right heart attitude. “Everything is always a heart attitude, so it goes back to the way that you’re approaching yourself and thinking about yourself,” she explained.
Even so, while it is a Bible study, the “Come Alive!” study also causes documented real-world benefits for men and women interested in becoming healthier versions of themselves. Volume 7 of the Center for Disease Control’s (CDC’s) Preventing Chronic Disease journal reported on the effectiveness of “Come Alive!” as a weight loss and nutrition program. The CDC found that 90 percent of participants in a church-based progression through the curriculum completed the eight-week program. Nearly 75 percent of those participants continued to maintain or lose weight in a 10-week follow up after the study’s close. Even more significantly, Living Abundantly Ministries’ website reports that the incidence of metabolic syndrome, the indicators of heart disease, “reduced from 44 percent to 24 percent of participants.” The curriculum precipitated an average weight loss of 1.3 pounds and 1.6 pounds per week for women and men respectively.
The study at Wheaton is slated to be eight sessions long and each session is about 90 minutes. Small groups of students will gather on their own time and work through the curriculum, guided by a student facilitator. “It’s very chill. They don’t have to be a nutritionist, they don’t have to be an expert, they just guide discussions,” Beaghan told the Record. She worked with the EVP of Student Care, junior Grace Milligan, and Stephenson to host an event on Reading Day last semester that garnered 40-45 interested students. In addition, SHS sent out a campus-wide announcement about the study on Friday, Jan. 18. The study’s structure stems from a desire to allow participants to progress gradually in order to maintain healthy results. Stephenson said, “We propose to address them in short time segments within the rhythm of your day, only focusing on one thing at a time. Once you have a healthy routine or habit, then it’s a lot easier to maintain that healthful aspect of your of your lifestyle. ”
This study is unique in Wheaton’s sizable landscape of Bible studies. Milligan explained that it fills a gap on campus, because it’s not a DSG or a “wellness class [that] wants to throw in a Bible study.” She thinks that the powerful difference lies in the fact that the “Come Alive!” study is student led and incorporates scientific principles along with its biblical focus. “I think that’s a really powerful way to do it because you can keep each other accountable for how well you’re sleeping or choosing to eat well, your physical well-being, if you’re working out,” she stated. One of the future student facilitators, sophomore Sara Decker, agrees. She described how her own journey of nutritional health was deeply connected to her spiritual journey, and she views leading a small group as an outgrowth of her own journey. “It’s just something that I’ve come a long way with, and how God has used that in my life as a way of revealing himself and revealing his plan to me has been really amazing,” she said slowly, pausing at intervals to emphasize her own passion about this project.
Beaghan first discovered the curriculum through Theresa Stolt, the Academic Coordinator for the IDS department. Stolt introduced her to Stephenson to discuss Beaghan’s initial research question for IDS: “How does nutrition affect your spiritual life?” Stephenson and Beaghan met, and Beaghan told the Record that “The first time that we met we talked for five hours … because we have similar passions.”
This conversation also jump-started a new passion for Beaghan. “At first, I was just like, ‘This is incredible and it’s everything that I’ve ever wanted to study, so however I can be involved I want to be involved,’” Beaghan said, laughing a little at her own enthusiasm. She went through the study, along with Stolt, as a participant. After completing the study, she realized that the principles presented in the “Come Alive!” study could be beneficial for Wheaton’s campus. She began connecting with SHS, Bon Appetit and Student Care to organize the study and tailor it to Wheaton students. SHS and Student Care endorse the study and refer individuals to it, while Bon Appetit’s role in the promotion of the study remains to be determined.
Stolt told the Record, “We’ve been really, really impressed with Katelyn’s level of initiative in moving forward with this project. She’s done so much work behind the scenes of contacting people and getting things organized and moving beyond what is traditionally the role of an undergraduate student in putting this together — it’s really impressive.” Stephenson agrees — she told the Record that “Katelyn adds tremendous value to our nonprofit as an intern and she is the initiator and leader for the “Come Alive!” launch at Wheaton College. Our mutual desire is to help students and staff on their journey to a more abundant spiritual and physical life.”
One common theme throughout the responses given by those involved in “Come Alive!” leadership was their emphasis on the sovereignty of God, not only over nutrition but also over the study itself. Walsh said,“We’re just giving it to the Lord to lead, for whoever needs to come and be a part of it.” Beaghan echoed that sentiment several times, explaining that “God has been swinging doors open. I feel like I’ve done nothing, and I’ve just been following in his footsteps and he obviously has something up his sleeve. He’s got something.” She shook her head and grinned, repeating herself in disbelief. “Because here we are… here we are.”