Weighing In on Gwen Shamblin Lara’s “Cult:” What Went Down With Weigh Down.

Gwen Shamblin Lara in 2018 at 63 years old. Wikipedia

“I had the big shoulders; I had the big hair. I loved the ’80s. It was all about power women.” Jeannette Walls

I am anticipating publishing at least three posts on this subject. Today I will barely scratch the surface.

Today, I want to give an overview of Gwen Shamblin Lara’s Weigh Down Workshop and her “only perfect church” known as The Remnant. I will be drawing on several resources, not the least of which is a couple who were members of The Remnant for 20 years and recently left the church two years ago, around the time of Lara’s death in an airplane crash. The documentary The Way Down: God, Greed, and the Cult of Gwen Shamblin and this made-for-TV movie Gwen Shamblin: Starving for Salvation provided much information. However, as I am learning, they merely scratch the surface of a complicated story.

Here is an overview from Wikipedia on the start of Shamblin’s “ministry.’

Lara started with a good education in the area of diet and nutrition.

Lara earned an undergraduate degree in dietetics and a master’s degree in food and nutrition with an emphasis in biochemistry from University of Tennessee, in Knoxville.[3][4] She was a registered dietitian, consultant and a faculty member at Memphis State University for five years.[5][6] She also worked in the city’s Tennessee Department of Health for five years.[4]

Her religious upbringing was in the church of Christ. These churches are known for believing that baptism is necessary for salvation and for not allowing any instruments during their services. Max Lucado is one well-known member of that denomination.

In her personal life:

In 1978 she married David Shamblin, with whom she would have two children, Michelle Elizabeth Hannah and Michael Gordon Shamblin. In 2018 Shamblin filed for divorce and married Joe Lara.[44]

She had two children. Her daughter would go on to lead the current Remnant Church after the death of her mother.

Lara struggled with weight in college and came up with a weight loss plan which, in itself, was not unique,

Lara began a weight control consulting practice in 1980.[6] She had struggled with her weight in college.[11]She counseled that genetics, metabolism, and behavior modification did not explain why some people were thin while others were overweight.[12] Lara founded the Weigh Down Workshop, a weight-loss program with no food restrictions, exercise regimens, weigh-ins, or calorie-counting in 1986.[13][14][15][16]

In discussions with the couple I will introduce on Wednesday, I learned she was also responding to the well-known epidemic of obesity in the US. Her obsession with weight control would eventually morph into a critical component of her supposedly perfect church, The Remnant. It would become the raison d’être or the nidus of sin, of her church, something that surprised me.

Her weight loss plan was simple: portion control. Cut food intake in half and only eat when truly hungry.

Other programs have offered a similar plan, such as Thin Within and The Eden Diet. However, none of the others had someone like Lara at the helm.

Gwen was charismatic, speaking convincingly of her growing Weigh Down Workshop, which incorporated the Christian faith into the program. Lara was soon making bank with her scheme.

This thing took off as Lara incorporated video and audio tapes.

Lara developed Weigh Down Workshop while working on her master’s degree at Memphis State University.

…The program was offered as small classes in retail and non-religious settings.[21][22] She began hosting the program at Bellevue Baptist Church near Memphis in the 1990s.[13][14][23] The program consisted of 12-week seminars guided by video and audio tapes featuring Lara.[24][25]

The program was offered in about 600 churches in 35 U.S. states by 1994.[12] The program was in more than 1,000 churches in 49 states, Great Britain and Canada by January 1995.[15] The program had grown to about 5,000 churches, with about 10 percent located in Lara’s home state of Tennessee, by July 1996.[26]Approximately eight churches in Britain were hosting workshops in December 1996.

Shamblin/Lara used the Dave Ramsey approach: push it to churches.

Lara spoke of transferring one’s love of food to God. Bible studies were part of the program. I knew of several churches in Dallas that offered her program. One friend in Raleigh told me she had lost 100 pounds in the program. It was the perfect marketing tool: Get thin by leaning on Jesus. What could go wrong?

In 1996, Weigh Down Workshop had a staff of 40 and built a headquarters in Franklin, Tennessee, and Lara began hosting an annual summer convention, Desert Oasis, in the Nashville area.[14][28]

Weigh Down Workshop hosted more than 21,000 classes with more than 250,000 participants worldwide by August 1998.[29] Classes were hosted in every U.S. state and in Canada and Europe.[14][30]

In 2001, local (Tennessee)media began to ask questions about her finances.

Lara made some claims that the media found questionable.

Lara was criticized for using the Christianity label while building her business.[31] In 2001, Nashville CBS affiliate WTVF investigated how Weigh Down Workshop leaders spent money. Lara said half the proceeds from Weigh Down Workshop were paid as taxes and the other half were put back into the program.[32]

In 1996, Lara pivoted and started her own church.

Here’s where it starts to get interesting. Lara had a huge following of people who had lost weight with her plan and couldn’t get enough of her teaching.

In the meantime, it appears that Lara began to think of herself as a prophet or Christian leader. It seems she decided that people were backsliding on their diets because they were not perfectly sold out to God.

She bought land in the Tony, exclusive town of Brentwood, TN.

Shamblin founded the Remnant Fellowship Church in Franklin, Tennessee in 1999.[10] The church’s building was completed in 2004 on 40 acres Lara purchased in Brentwood, Tennessee.[10][33][34]

Shamblin had preached that members should give their money to the Remnant Fellowship church, the only true church, and that all other churches were fraudulent. Upon her death in 2021, it was found that Shamblin’s will left none of her multimillion-dollar fortune to the church.[35]

In the meantime, the money from Weigh Down kept rolling in until…

Lara denied the doctrine of the Trinity in 200O.

This should have been a warning to the embers of her church. Hank Hannegraff once said something to the effect of:

Every heresy begins with a misunderstanding of the nature of God.

The Baptist Press describes her newly found belief as this:

“As a ministry, we believe in God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit,” Shamblin wrote. “However, the Bible does not use the word ‘trinity’ and our feeling is that the word ‘trinity’ implies equality in leadership, or shared Lordship. It is clear that the scriptures teach that Jesus is the Son of God and that God sends the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit does not send God anywhere. God is clearly the Head.”

At this point, it is clear that although she had some training in dietetics, she had not been trained in understanding the Trinity. I know a group of Lutheran 6th graders who could have pointed out her error.

Shamblin/Lara set herself up as the leader of this church. She now had money and power.

Although she espoused several complementarian beliefs, her elders were the typical “yes” men we have seen in many of our stories.

At this point, we will get a personal view of the practices inflicted upon the faithful. Let’s take a look at one example.

For years, Shamblin preached against divorce. As we will see, abused spouses were told to stay with their abuser. That changed in 2018 when Shamblin met Joe Lara and ditched her marriage of 40 years to marry this would-be actor who once played Tarzan in Tarzan in Manhattan. Totally grade B, but Shamblin was smitten. Suddenly, the doctrine changed, and divorce was allowed.

The Hair

My husband walked by and asked, “What’s up with the hair?” I replied, “The higher the hair, the closer to God.” Joking aside, the evolution of Shamblin from a good-looking, normal-appearing woman into a woman who appears to be denying her age is notable. Perhaps it was her way of standing out from the crowd. Her hair stayed the same until her death.

Shamblin/Lara’s death

Joe Lara fancied himself a good pilot. According to Wikipedia:

Lara was a certified pilot holding multi-engine commercial and instrument ratings along with a type rating for the Cessna Citation I.[4]

According to the documentary, some questions arose regarding Lara’s capabilities when the day became cloudy. However, Todd is an expert on this stuff, and I shall turf it to him.

Her will left nothing to the church.


The Remanat still exists. It is supposedly run by Lara’s daughter, who, according to some, rarely attends the church. People are still getting hurt, and families are being torn apart. They have videos and audio of Lara, which can last a lifetime.  Join us on Wednesday when I introduce a couple who were devoted to The Remnant until about two years ago.

I have barely touched on the unique features of this cult. Get ready for much, much more. I knew Lara had died, but I had no idea this group was still functioning. They apparently have devoted followers all over the world. It’s time to open the windows and let the light shine in.



Weighing In on Gwen Shamblin Lara’s “Cult:” What Went Down With Weigh Down. — 69 Comments

  1. I’m very familiar with the Weigh Down program, although I never used it. Back before her Weigh Down Diet book was published, she came and spoke at my church. Something seemed “off” about her but I couldn’t put my finger on it.

    I watched both The Way Down documentary and the movie Starving for Attention and recommend both of them highly.

    I worry about her daughter. In pictures I’ve seen of her, she looks skeletal.

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  2. Up until the last 1 1/2 years, WTVF was my go-to channel for news and weather. (Yes, I am a Southern Kentuckian, but up until we got satellite the only channel we could get in KY was a very small station in Bowling Green.)
    Up Phil Williams’ (Channel 5 WTVF investigative reporter) story was aired, Shamblin ran ads on Channel 5. After Williams’ story, the ads stopped.
    I watched the WTVF news reports of the plane crash. The plane went down just a short distance from the bank and a boat ramp. The plane was destroyed – they found it in pieces- and it took days to find all of the bodies. All investigators would tell reporters is that the crash was due to pilot error.

    Just an FYI, Nick Beres is my favorite WTVF reporter, he’s a little crazy…. and then there was this:

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  3. Muslin fka Dee Holmes:
    If you’re curious, here’s the NTSB report on the plane crash:https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/23720251-gwen-shamblin-ntsb-plane-crash-report?responsive=1&title=111 pages, very detailed.

    Disorientation in cloud/low visibility ending up in (according to witnesses on the ground) a full-throttle vertical dive into two-meter deep water. With the expected results; aircraft completely shredded. Autopsies tentative “because of fragmentation”. “Fragmentation” as in the meat shreds in a Mongolian Barbecue.

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  4. That changed in 2018 when Shamblin met Joe Lara and ditched her marriage of 40 years to marry this would-be actor who once played Tarzan in Tarzan in Manhattan.

    Hit the wall and started chasing Chads.

    Totally grade B, but Shamblin was smitten. Suddenly, the doctrine changed, and divorce was allowed.

    Similar to “The only moral abortion is MY Abortion.”

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  5. I participated in the Weigh Down Workship (via vhs video) in Nashville around 2000. I quit after a few sessions. I thought her approach was legalistic and I didn’t like her vibe.

    I had the same bad vibe experience after hearing James McDonald on the radio for the first time in 2006 and watching a Driscoll video (he was all the rage when I was in seminary) on masculinity in 2007.

    Ravi Zacharias fooled me though! I think my time in India and resulting love for the Indian people jammed my bad vibe radar. :0)

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  6. Tom Rubino: I had the same bad vibe experience after hearing James McDonald on the radio for the first time in 2006 and watching a Driscoll video (he was all the rage when I was in seminary) on masculinity in 2007.

    Holy Spirit vibe, no doubt! I’ve learned you can trust that check in your spirit. For some people, it takes red flags, trumpet blasts, and a miserable experience or two before they decide it ain’t spiritually healthy to hang out with folks like Driscoll and MacDonald.

    SBC seminarians darn near worshiped Driscoll at the height of his macho-man, bad-boy, potty-mouth ministry … they are now “pastors” and wreaking havoc in SBC churches = Driscoll/MacDonald legacy.

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  7. dee: You were not the only one fooled by Ravi!

    A touch of charisma, a gift of gab, and a bag of gimmicks will do it every time!

    That’s why the Apostle John wrote “Don’t trust every spirit, dear friends of mine, but test them to discover whether they come from God or not. For the world is full of false prophets.” (1 John 4:1)

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  8. Max,

    But a lot of these types won’t do anything unless there’s a Bible Verse for justification.
    Exact Word-for-Word.

    “That’s not Scripture! SHOW ME SCRIPTURE!”
    — PastorRaulReesCalvaryChapelWestCovina (all one word)

    So what’s the exact SCRIPTURE(TM) that justifies this one?

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  9. I didn’t know who she was until after she died, but I know her program was popular in a few churches I was in. I checked out a copy of her book, and found it amazingly inaccurate both in terms of Scripture and health. Then, when I saw her death’s head face, I felt terrible for anyone who followed her advice. I attended a church for a while that had a Weighdown program that many women participated in. That, and a few other reasons, caused me to leave the church. There are enough cults in the world without hosting one in your own building.

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  10. dee,

    I knew in 2011 (took me 90 seconds at a bookshop shelf). Nonsense about cricket. And the fact that he had been browbeaten on his hospital bed aged 17 explained he had got damaged (not sound basis for vocation). And he stressed Daniel knowing Cyrus’ name as proof of a Messiah (not logical, nor philologically convincing) (this made Banjo Atheist suspicious in 2015, good man).

    Going public wasn’t something I thought of. I could have saved Mr Weitnauer a lot of trouble. Then, God wants to show witnesses like Mr Weitnauer and me what He sees in various movements / organisations.

    Always trust your sense / nonsense gauge. Nouwen, Vanier, Stott, Schaeffer, Virgo: they too, wrote word salad, in Vanier’s case especially nasty towards his inferiors. But David Pawson always and R T Kendall mostly, are compelling, and verifiable from Scripture meanings.

    I have suffered most from non-writers; elders and animators with their spoken half truths and cunning manoeuvres. I have belatedly developed a manoeuvre critique technique.

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  11. Unrelated thoughts: When Weigh Down came to our church in the four corners region, I thought it a cult then and still do. And people that were not overweight were being shamed into needing to join the program anyway. Hoo Hockey.

    As to the wreck, my heart is very tender there. I have a grand child in training to be a commercial pilot. Already a private pilot with instrument rating working on the commercial and CFI and complex aircraft/multi engine certifications right now.

    One thing I have learned is that not all attitude indicators are the same. Go figure. I would assume they looked the same in all aircrafts. They may not, and a pilot can become confused by the switch. What looks up on one indicator may look down on the second type. Most are one type, the second is on I think just one brand or type of aircraft, but that simple change can kill people. I have no clue if that was a factor here or not. But spatial disorientation is real and can happen in an instant. Pilots train a bunch to overcome their native instincts and fly by the instrument, but easier said than done. Reflexes can get in the way. So can muscle memory. And which altitude indicator face you trained on the most can come into play.

    When it happens it is truly a tragedy. The more flight time as pilot in command a person has, flying on instruments, the less likely it is. That is why the airlines want a person to have at least 1500 hours logged to be hired to train for second chair. And yet, it can still happen to the best.

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  12. I remember when those work shops were all the rage. I had just had another baby and wanted to go, but had neither the time, money, or energy for them. Praise God! I am sure you will get to it in your other articles, but I had read hubby #2 barely knew the Bible or was a fairly new Christian. So she could lead and church and a marriage.

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  13. in a world where one out of seven children are starving,
    it seems mis-placed to be centered on one’s own eating excesses . . .

    must it always be about ‘I, Me, My’ ???????

    Our Lord asks of us to have a care for those we encounter who suffer and to intervene when we can, in ways that we can, to help them, to serve them


    seems to me that cults ask people to ‘worship’ at the altars of strange leaders who pander to that which soothes the egos of ‘the faithful’

    what a strange religion Christianity is that it calls us to forget about our own interests and find fulfillment in serving others in need . . . not very ‘appealing’ to them what are self-obsessed, no . . . . not at all

    so ‘Christianity’ was changed by the cultists to adapt to a selfishness radiating from a broken soul and narcissism is worshipped as the ‘leader’ will ‘I, me’, my’ the sheep to kneel down before him/her and be LOYAL above all else . . . .

    no Trinity? course not . . . no room for the salvific mysteries of Our Lord, no

    the Cross? what IS that ? why do they call it a ‘crucifix’? Who was that guy?

    God is who we say He is. We SAY. Listen only to us. No one else. And so it goes among the cultists and their sheep – to the end of times, or to when the money runs out

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  14. ““However, the Bible does not use the word ‘trinity’ and our feeling is that the word ‘trinity’ implies equality in leadership, or shared Lordship. It is clear that the scriptures teach that Jesus is the Son of God and that God sends the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit does not send God anywhere. God is clearly the Head.”

    hey, just like CBMW, Bruce Ware, Wayne Grudem, Denny Burk, etc.

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  15. Tom Rubino:
    Tammy Fae Baker… Jan Crouch… Gwen Shamblin

    What’s the deal with the big hair and makeup with these folks??

    It’s idolatry – of youth and beauty, and denial of the temporal nature of our physical bodies. No different that what the serpent told Adam and Eve: “You will not surely die.” Human nature being what it is, we keep falling for the same lies no matter how old they are!

    Has anybody seen the movie version of 1984 titled ‘Brazil’ released in 1985? It was prophetic in many ways – the main character’s mother is constantly undergoing plastic surgery until her nose/face is falling off (life imitates art; the same thing happened for real to Michael Jackson just a few years later). So many examples . . . Kenny Rogers comes to mind for me and most recently, Marie Osmond – have you seen her latest TV commercials? You can’t even recognize her!

    Thank you Dee for bringing the light to these situations! My former church, no longer in existence, could also be described as a cult, and I’ll just leave it at that. Looking back I remember my mom saying as much to me when I first started attending, but I didn’t see it at the time myself. I thank God for the wisdom that comes with age & experience.

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  16. Tom Rubino: What’s the deal with the big hair and makeup with these folks??

    When I was a girl back in the 1960s, beehive hairdos were all the rage. My family has pictures of teenage – 20s relatives with their hair teased and hairsprayed into elaborate, over the top ‘dos. It’s part of my childhood, like mid-century modern furniture and weird Jell-O salads.

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  17. Muslin fka Dee Holmes: My family has pictures of teenage – 20s relatives with their hair teased and hairsprayed into elaborate, over the top ‘dos.

    Like the Martian infoltrator in Mars Attacks?
    (The big hair camouflaged the Martian’s giant brain and space helmet.)

    It’s part of my childhood, like mid-century modern furniture and weird Jell-O salads.

    I’ve heard “Weird Jell-O Salads” called “Utah Salads”.
    Because that’s still de reiguer for Utah Mormons.
    Only in Utah does “Salad” mean Jell-O with unidentifiable bits suspended in it like remains and treasure in a D&D Gelatinous Cube.

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  18. Calling jello salad is big in the northern plains and intermountain west, not just Utah.

    In some parts when you hear the words “pot luck” you know there will be about 10 varieties of “hot dish” which is tuna casserole, and “pink stuff” which may or may not be pink. It is cool whip, jello, and canned fruit cocktail with some nuts and coconut mixed in perhaps. Each family has their own “hot dish” and “pink stuff” recipe.

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  19. Muff Potter,

    no, they have not recanted.

    they were roundly trounced at the Evangelical Theological Society annual meeting in 2016 in San Antonio.

    instead of responding honestly & acknowledging the public dismantling of their theological grounding, they went silent for many months (including the CBMW website).

    then they suddenly reemerged with the Nashville Statement.

    to save face (& their reputations & careers), they simply switched from the culture war against the threat of female equality to the threat of sexual minorities.

    it is not hard to stoke evangelicals fear of this demographic. it meant an easy way to regroup their following and add to it.

    furthermore, they used the Nashville Statement to bolster their following and standing by making it the litmus test on faithfulness. sign or be a pariah. sign or be blackballed. sign or you may lose your job in ministry / christian higher education.

    CBMW exploited vulnerable human beings & their own followers for the sake of their own reputations & careers.

    I’m appalled at their self-centered cowardice.

    and at how passive, happy-go-lucky, cognitively dull and ethically asleep evangelicals are in going along with it.

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  20. Muff Potter: Nancy2(aka Kevlar): and it took days to find all of the bodies

    That’s cuz’ the crows got mosta’ the pieces.

    A high-speed air crash doesn’t leave much in the way of bodies. More like shredded taco meat (raw or char-broiled, depending on whether there was a secondary fuel fire/explosion) scattered over a wide area.

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