Brenda Ortiz walks 3 1/2 miles along the Courtney Campbell Causeway every Sunday morning. • Every weekday, she wakes up at 5 a.m. to hit the gym before going to work. • But Ortiz, who eats a diet of organic produce and whole foods, doesn't count calories. • She is a student of the book The Daniel Plan: 40 Days to a Healthier Life, a Christian guide to clean living by Purpose Driven Life author and pastor Rick Warren.
"I wasn't eating right and I was working too much," said Ortiz, 46, of Carrollwood. "Reading the Daniel Plan changed everything for me. It made me realize I wasn't treating my body right and that God wants me to take care of myself."
According to the Old Testament, a young soldier named Daniel once refused the savory foods of kings in favor of fruits and vegetables.
Eating healthy pleased God, he said, so he preferred nuts and seeds to fatty meats and breads.
Fast-forward a few millennia and Daniel's message has really caught on, spreading through churches across the country thanks to Warren and his co-authors, physicicians Daniel Amen and Mark Hyman.
The modern-day Daniel Plan, however, focuses on more than diet; it includes exercise, as well as the role friendships and faith play in caring for oneself.
Ortiz learned about the Daniel Plan at Grace Family Church in Lutz.
In March, Grace senior pastor Craig Altman dedicated a message series to the book, inspiring members to start fitness groups, join farm co-ops and clean out their pantries.
Ortiz attends a weekly class at Grace led by church members Johann Grieco and Marlene Brewer, two registered nurses.
"The Daniel Plan was the answer to my prayers," said Grieco, 45, of New Tampa. "I am hypothyroid. I was struggling with my weight and feeling yucky. This changed the way I eat and live. It changed the way I feel."
Grieco, a married mother to two teenage girls, now keeps her refrigerator stocked with all-natural foods.
"In the beginning, man ate fruits and vegetables," Grieco said. "And if they wanted meat, they had to exercise to get it. There were no chips or processed foods. We were not made to put those things in our bodies."
With the plan, participants get more than a diet fad, said Brewer, 39, of Lutz.
"It is making a commitment to God," she said. "That keeps me accountable and doing the right things."
For Ortiz, the plan is a life-changer, not a 40-day challenge.
"I treat myself better now," she said. "I truly enjoy life."
Contact Sarah Whitman at firstname.lastname@example.org.