Part 2: Diet theory based on Holocaust (Story created: 7/1/01)
The Weigh Down Workshop has become a multimillion-dollar business based on a simple concept:
Your weight loss is a reflection of your faith.
Weigh Down founder Gwen Shamblin, who touts her credentials as a registered dietitian, tells her followers: "it's not genetics."
"I don't think there's any debate whether genetics plays a role in obesity and weight loss," Vanderbilt dietitian Jamie Pope tells investigative reporter Phil Williams.
She points to numerous scientific studies of children separated from their birth parents, as well as studies of twins.
"Identical twins that are reared even apart end up being very similar in body weight despite different environments."
But Shamblin counters, "I believe that's described from Exodus 20 where it talks about the sins of the generation."
So what's Shamblin's basis for rejecting the role of genetics?
"Gwen went on to say that there were survivors of the Holocaust who got out of there alive not having had barely any food at all," says former employee Tonya Cardente.
Cardente says Shamblin frequently pointed to the Nazi genocide of the Jews and saw justification for her diet plan. "Clearly you can survive on a whole lot less than you think, look at the Holocaust victims."
"This is not true that I've used the Holocaust over and over again," Shamblin responds. "It's somebody who told you that. I have not."
But on CNN's Larry King Live, this is what the Weigh Down founder said:
"How in the Holocaust did you have all these people getting down real skinny? They ate less food."
And in a videotaped deposition obtained by NewsChannel 5, she explained her rejection of the role of genetics:
A: "What I base the genetics on is documentation in the siege in the Holocaust, that when people were in prison camps and ate less food, they lost weight -- all of them."
"I am offended because I think of the victims," says Rabbi Mark Schiftan of The Temple. His parents survived the Holocaust, but 6 million others lost their lives.
"These were all people who were forced to starve. They were all given a diet of one meal a day often less than 600 calories that wouldn't sustain anyone."
Schiftan says Shamblin's theories reveal an immense ignorance about the Jewish experience.
"Those who did not perish in the crematoria, perished because they didn't have enough sustenance to sustain them."
Here is how Shamblin responded in her testimony:
Q:"Ms. Shamblin, surely you are not making a comparison between the forced starvation of a population and middle-class American's eating habits? Are you honestly doing that?" A: "I have been for 15 years, and a lot of people have responded."
During their interview, Phil Williams asks Shamblin, "Do you have any idea what the Jewish victims of the Holocaust endured?"
"Oh, just awful, just awful," she replies.
"And you still think it's appropriate to use it to push your weight loss plan?"
At that point, Shamblin's lawyer -- who is sitting off to the side -- interrupts, "That's enough."
"Do you think it's appropriate for you to use the Holocaust to promote your weight loss plan?" Williams asks again.
"She's never used" the Holocaust, counters the attorney who then escorts the Weigh Down founder from the interview.
Shamblin says her main point is that people will lose weight when they eat less food.
But other experts argue that doesn't take into consideration that some folks may have an extremely difficult time losing weight -- regardless of their faith or lack of faith.
"Genetics may not prevent you from losing weight," Pope says. "It's just that how much you can lose and how low you can go may be limited somewhat by genetics."