South Georgia United Methodists shed pounds, focus on health


By Kara Witherow, Editor

In early 2010, Rev. Ashley Randall was at his heaviest. What had once been an easy activity – taking a quick walk around the block with his wife – had become a struggle.  His wife, Laine, had her own health issues, and began to look at their diet for possible solutions.

About the same time, they learned of the Virgin HealthMiles physical activity program sponsored by the United Methodist Board of Pension and Health Benefits.

Rev. Randall, eager to have something to help motivate and hold him accountable, enrolled.

“I had gotten into some bad habits and was not as active as I needed to be,” said Rev. Randall, who serves Garden City United Methodist Church. “It was the loss of capacity, feeling not as strong as I had, that led me back to the gym.”

He began running, using a couch-to-5K program that alternates walking and running small distances to slowly building up the runner’s endurance.

“The first few times out I ran about 100 yards and then had to walk a quarter of a mile,” he said. “That’s where I started. But by staying committed to a program I was able to experience progress.”

In 2009, Rev. Randall ran his first half marathon. The next year, he competed in five triathlons. And on November 5, 2011, he was able to check one more activity off his “life goals” list – competing in and finishing his first marathon.

The couple made drastic changes to their diet, too, deciding to become vegan, eating only plant-based, whole foods.

In less than two years, Rev. Randall has lost 65 pounds, going from 225 to a lean 160.

“I feel very well and haven’t gotten any colds or been sick in two years,” he said. “I also sleep better than I did before.”

In January 2009, the pension board’s Center for Health introduced the Virgin HealthMiles program to annual (regional) conferences and employer groups that sponsor the HealthFlex insurance plan. In 2010, the program expanded to include any United Methodist conference that wanted to offer it.

“This is a program to get people up and moving,” said Eleanor Dickson, assistant director for pensions and benefits for the South Georgia Conference. “We’re a sedentary, obese nation, and anything you do toward improving your health is good not only for yourself, but it affects your insurance. The healthier we can get our participants, the lower our insurance rates are.”

HealthMiles participants receive pedometers to track their activity and upload their data to the program’s website. Participants save on their medical plan deductible and can earn up to $400 a year. Nearly 49% of eligible adults participate in South Georgia’s HealthFlex Virgin HealthMiles program.

Rev. Rich Wright’s goal is to take 12,000 steps every day. The pastor of Hinesville First United Methodist Church, Rev. Wright works out every weekday morning and tries to play golf twice a week.

As a former Army Airborne Ranger infantryman, physical activity is a way of life, but Rev. Wright also makes conscious choices to be active in his everyday tasks. Instead of taking the elevator, he opts to climb the stairs. When making hospital visits, he parks further out than the designated clergy parking space.

In constant pain from his days of jumping out of airplanes, Rev. Wright, who fractured a hip during a parachute jump and suffers from four herniated and bulging disks in his neck, says he is fortunate to still be in good enough shape to exercise.

“If I can take an hour or hour and a half out of my day to keep myself in shape as best I can, then I need to do that,” he said. “Not just to earn money through Virgin HealthMiles, but it’s just a smart thing to do. God wants us to be a victor instead of a victim. Too many of us allow ourselves to be a victim and not realize that there are lots of things that are within our power. If they’re within our power then we need to make a change.”

Once enrolled in HealthFlex, Ruth Khaw, wife of Millen United Methodist Church pastor Rev. Bernie Khaw, made a change in her daily activity level. Although very conscious about her diet and caloric intake, Ruth didn’t exercise much until a few years ago. She now works out on an elliptical machine and treadmill and has a goal of walking 12,000 steps every day.

For the Khaws, maintaining a healthy lifestyle is part of living a faithful life in service to God.

“We’re given our bodies so that we can serve God, and we can’t serve if we’re not healthy ourselves,” said Rev. Khaw, who walks to and from church and paces during his daily devotions. "I see the way we eat as a way of being faithful to God. We take good care of our bodies so we can serve Him.”

Very conscious of their diet, the Khaws eat little meat and lots of fruits and vegetables. In a job that often includes frequent church suppers and potlucks, they try to lead by example by bringing healthy food options, choosing wisely and limiting their portions.

Rev. Khaw even advocates living a healthy lifestyle from the pulpit.

“I sometimes put it in our sermons,” he said. “One time I said, ‘We pray before we eat and ask God to give us good health, and then we pile onto our plates all the grease and butter and cream. How can we pray for good health when we follow that prayer with eating unhealthily?’”

For all three pastors, making healthy choices is a matter of faith.

“For me, it ties back to the fruit of the Spirit,” Rev. Khaw said. “Galatians 5:22 tells us the fruit of the Spirit, and at the very end is self control. When we rely on God and try to be faithful to Him we receive the fruit of the Spirit, and self control is right there. So really, it’s something that works only if we rely on God’s grace and help.”

For Rev. Randall, exercising and eating healthy helps him honor God with his body more faithfully.

“We kind of give a passing nod to the concept that our bodies are the temple of God, but I challenge people to ask the question, if your body is God’s temple, what are you doing to care for that temple?” he asked. “How are the choices you’re making contributing to it being a fit temple for God’s service?”

Ruth Khaw’s broccoli salad

This is a light, healthy side dish, perfect for potlucks and covered-dish suppers.
1 bunch of broccoli, chopped into small pieces

½ cup light mayonnaise

½ cup Splenda or other sugar substitute

2 tablespoons vinegar

1-2 tablespoons of chopped fresh onion (optional)

1 cup peanuts

1 cup raisins

Sprinkle of bacon bits (optional)

In a large bowl, combine the broccoli and onion. In a small bowl, combine the mayonnaise, vinegar and Splenda. Pour over broccoli mixture; toss to coat. Sprinkle with bacon bits, if desired. Refrigerate. Add the raisins and peanuts just before serving so that they will not get soggy.

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