A strange and shocking documentary series has premiered on HBO Max and it exposes Gwen Shamblin’s weight loss empire as a cult. The series, The Way Down: God, Greed, and the Cult of Gwen Shamblin has only released the first three episodes and the last two are scheduled to be released in spring 2022.
Gwen Shamblin rose to power in the early ’80s when she founded a new diet which used religion to help her followers lose weight. The main principle of her diet was that people should eat when they hear their stomach growl and that they should use prayer to stop their cravings.
“Honor God with your body,” she said. “I teach people how to stop bowing down to the refrigerator, and how to bow back down to Him.”
This strange diet became very popular and Gwen was able to write a book, The Weigh Down Diet, amassing enough followers to start her own church. The Remnant Fellowship Church became very controversial in traditional Christian circles because it was run by a woman and Gwen’s religion removed the Holy Trinity in favor of two Gods – God and herself.
Gwen’s church, based in Tennessee and founded in 1999, boasts over 1,500 members and 150 congregations across the world. Her teachings and diet culture attracted women who wanted to lose weight and have the support system of religion.
Former followers of the Remnant Fellowship Church said that Gwen’s teachings became abusive and creepy. She would bully those who weren’t losing enough weight and suggested that they stop eating completely. She told parents to beat their misbehaving children with glue sticks so they wouldn’t leave a mark.
The Remnant Fellowship Church released a statement in response to the HBO series. The church said that their religion is based on love and that “Remnant Fellowship categorically denies the absurd, defamatory statements and accusations made in the HBO documentary. Despite rumors, we do not body shame anyone, as we know that God created all of us uniquely with all kinds of different sizes, shapes, and weights.”
Nile Cappello, one of the journalists who helped create the series, said that former followers are still afraid of the Remnant Fellowship Church. He said that when he interviewed people many of them believed that he was a spy for the church and was trying to get them to say something bad about the religion.
“People talk a lot about her makeup and her hair, and of course there’s a funny aspect to it, but that is a mask, that is a façade in itself,” Cappello said. “It is a perfect representation of her doctrine and the way that she approaches the world, and the way that she has her members portray an image of perfection and happiness and joy to the outside world when they’re suffering internally.”
That fear that former members have is justified, because back in 2003, the church was embroiled in the death of an 8-year-old boy. Joseph and Sonya Smith, who were members of Gwen’s church and lived in Atlanta, were convicted of killing their son.
According to the trial, the parents had been abusing the boy by locking him up in a wooden box and he died from a blow to the back of the head. Joseph and Sonya were sentenced to 30 years in prison.
Many members of the church supported them and denied that they had done anything wrong. The loudest voice of support was Gwen who said, ““You’ve got a child that’s going from bizarre down to in control,” she is heard saying in the doc. “So, praise God!”
Interested viewers of the series can watch the first three episodes on HBO Max. The last two episodes are scheduled to be released in spring 2022 and will focus on the recent death of Gwen Shamblin and her two children who have inherited the church.