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One preacher's journey to burn fat and build faith

Published: Friday, Aug. 22 2014 9:00 a.m. MDT

Updated: Friday, Aug. 22 2014 1:03 p.m. MDT

Ron Williams, a nondenominational Christian pastor, leads an exercise group of Utah National Guard members at their headquarters in Draper on Thursday, Aug. 14, 2014.

Laura Seitz, Deseret News

Ron Williams is talking about fat: How it sometimes seems impossible to defeat, clinging stubbornly to bodies despite exercise and calorie control and even prayer.

The latter is an important point, because Williams is not just a fitness instructor and body builder with international titles. He’s also a man of God, pastor of a nondenominational Christian church who taught himself to read by studying the Bible after he wearied of his way of life and found God in his late 20s.

Recently, standing before the congregation of the Community of Grace Presbyterian Church in Sandy, Utah, as a guest speaker, his well-defined musculature hidden beneath layers of a three-piece suit, he explained the “soul wounds” that send people to food for comfort, as well as the preservatives and other chemicals in foods that make the battle to stay trim a hard one.

He has written a book about lasting weight management called “Faith and Fat Loss” and has been teaching its principles, based on such scriptural truths as self-control, restoration and healing. Ever since Adam ate the apple, he said people have had a complicated relationship with food.

“It’s not entirely your fault,” said Williams, speaking to those who are overweight. “But it is your responsibility.”

That is a statement that could apply to most aspects of his own life. Taking responsibility for change is how Williams has become the man he is today. He has chosen transformation and renewal, moving past early hurts and embracing health in his physical habits and in his relationships — with people and with God.

Rough childhood

Abandonment was the first of Williams' “soul wounds,” which he describes in interviews and in the foreword to his book. He was born in Indianapolis 52 years ago and grew up in a poor neighborhood. His father, who never married his mother, dropped him off at a baby sitter when he was 3 years old and didn't come back for him.

Williams was too young to understand all the details of his abandonment, but he remembers bits and pieces he overheard: The woman on the phone, asking his father to come get him because she already had her own eight kids to feed. When he was a little older, he heard the woman’s husband, then dying of cancer, tell her to raise the boy because no one else wanted him.

Williams stayed mostly with that family, knowing that his was another appetite they could ill-afford. As a result, he developed an eating disorder. Sometimes he was pawned off on others briefly; along the way he was sexually and physically abused. He grew up feeling unloved and, he was certain, unlovable.

By the time he became an adult, he was desperately lonely and sometimes pondered suicide. The one thing that worked for him, he says 35 years later, was sports. He’d seen how people fawned over athletes who won and he determined to be one.

“If I could win, people would love me,” he said. “Winning and losing became life and death.”

In high school, he had been an athlete, but no scholar. He dropped out, still illiterate. Although he didn't know about all of them at the time, he fathered four children out of wedlock, the first when he was 17. Later, in his early 20s, he married and had two more kids, but that marriage lasted just five years. He worked to support and maintain a relationship with all of his children, where the mothers would permit, and remains close to most of them. His youngest is now 25.

“I try to help them through the downfalls I had so they won’t make the same mistakes,” he says. "I realize that even though I financially supported my kids, one of the worst things this society is breeding is fatherless, one-parent homes. Their father's influence is so utterly important for male and female children, for their future, as well as their relationships with God."

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