It's the world's fastest-growing diet, but it doesn't involve calorie-counting, food-combining or exercise. With the Weigh Down Diet, all you have to do is pray yourself thin. Richard Johnson heads for Nashville to hear the good news. Photographs by James Rexrode
wen Shamblin is 5ft 4in, 7st 11lb, and an American size six - but it's not down to slimming pills. It's certainly not

down to exercise. It's down to God. Shamblin received her master's degree in nutrition from the University of Tennessee but - more importantly - she has loved God since she was a girl. The Lord of Heaven is her nutritional foundation.

"We are created with two empty, needing-to-be-fed holes in our body," she says. "One is the stomach and one is the heart. Only God can bring us to a peace with food. Binge out on God." Shamblin's Weigh Down Diet is now the fastest-growing weight-loss programme in the world. God, it seems, is moving in mysterious ways.

Religious diets aren't new: there's More Of Jesus, Less Of Me; there's Help Lord, The Devil Wants Me Fat. They are your basic low-fat diets with Bible study supplements. There's the Hallelujah Diet, advocating raw fruit and vegetables like those found in the Garden of Eden. And Jehobics, a way for Christians to exercise away unwanted pounds. After all, original sin was really a form of gluttony.

But only the Weigh Down Diet lets God-fearing men and women eat what the hell they want and still lose weight. Maybe that's why it's proving so popular. Shamblin has built an empire of 24,000 classes in only six years, and now it's in more countries than Weightwatchers.

Shamblin, 44, had problems with her weight at college. She recalls that she looked like "a potato with toothpick legs", and had started to fasten her trousers with safety pins.

One day she was in McDonald's with a thin friend. The friend left half her Big Mac because she was, well, full, and Shamblin set about studying the eating habits of thin people.

"My goal was to be a dietician in a hospital," she says. "Then I realised that food was my God. I knew God, but He wasn't everything. He was a portion. I enjoyed Him, but I loved His food