Dean Ornish Lifestyle Program

Dean Ornish Lifestyle Program

Sustainable weight loss. Natural weight loss. It sounds so good, but is sustainable natural weight loss only available to those who can afford posh resorts and comprehensive programs in luxurious settings like the Canyon Ranch? Since many of us cannot afford that, let’s look at the Dean Ornish Lifestyle Program which definitely will not break the bank.

This is one of the best researched and thoroughly proven programs around today. You can access the official program (at a price!) or you can put the principles to work on your own.

This article provides a step-by-step approach for those who choose DIY. I gave some insight to his program and some effective weight loss strategies in my most recent article Medical Weight Loss Solutions.

Dean’s powerful lifestyle change program has consistently produced transformational results within a few weeks, including reversing heart disease, diabetes, and cancer.

You can listen to this video as Dean Ornish and Tamara Horwich from UCLA explain how lifestyle medicine works.

History of the Dean Ornish Lifestyle Program

Dean Ornish is a physician trained in the humanities at University of Texas and with a medical degree from Baylor College of Medicine. You can learn all about him here.  What is today a world-famous program had it’s beginning with extensive research in the 1970’s through the 1990’s, on the relationships between diet, stress, and heart disease.

The resulting Program for Reversing Heart Disease is a multifactorial approach to health that is effective in reversing heart disease. Not only heart disease, but also high blood pressure, diabetes, and obesity, have successfully been turned around using this innovative program.

With more than 30 years of experience, the Ornish program is one of the best researched and most well-proven approaches to weight loss and general health. In 1993 the program became the first therapy for heart disease that wasn’t based on surgery or medication to qualify for insurance reimbursement.

Here are the steps you can take to get started.

Find Out What it Takes

Begin by learning more about the program. Dr. Ornish has written a number of books about his lifestyle program. The latest of these was released in January 2019 and is available on Amazon and it is called UnDo It! How Simple Lifestyle Changes Can Reverse Most Chronic Diseases (with Anne Ornish).

They present practical tips for eating, moving, de-stressing, and loving—the basics components of comprehensive lifestyle change that not only lets you lose weight but reverse chronic disease.


This combination of good nutrition, exercise, stress reduction, and social support also helps you address the social and emotional needs that often trigger overeating and poor food choices. As Dr. Ornish says, “The only side effects are good ones.”

The program has four essential components. Eat well. Move more. Stress less. Love more.

Eat Well

Good nutrition is the first key to health. The whole foods plant-based diet is naturally low carb and low fat and is both nutritious and delicious.

Let’s break that down. Whole foods simply mean that you are eating real food, not processed food-like substances. Plant-based means focusing on fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and plant-based proteins, although limited amounts of lower-cholesterol animal foods are included.

The nutrition program is intentionally very low fat, about 10% of the total diet (as compared to 20 to 35% as recommended in the U.S. Dietary Guidelines).

The key is to get the right kind of fat in your diet, since fat is an essential macronutrient. By concentrating on whole, plant-based foods, the fat content becomes a non-issue; you will be getting less fat and only good fats.

Health Tip of the Day!

Since its hard for most of us to picture what it really means to eat a plant-based diet (without becoming anemic vegans who are delusional enough to think that tofu burgers are a good substitute for the real thing!), here are some suggestions for each meal, to help get you started. Some recipes are available here.

Breakfast. Scrambled eggs (egg whites) with vegetables. Oatmeal. Roasted potatoes with herbs. Strawberries, blueberries, and other berries. Peaches, applesauce, melon, pineapple. Nonfat Greek yogurt. Whole grain muffins, bread, or bagel. Green smoothie. Granola. Whole grain toast.

Breakfast is an important meal of the day. If you’re going to skip a meal because you’re “too busy”, skip lunch. Don’t skip breakfast. Eating a good breakfast with plenty of protein and antioxidants gives every cell in your body a jumpstart on the day, with the fuel and brainpower you need.

Lunch and Dinner. Green salad with balsamic vinaigrette. Lentil chili. Cornbread. Pasta with vegetables and mushrooms. Roasted asparagus, sweet potatoes, potatoes, carrots, beans, and any other vegetables. Steamed beets. Tacos. Curry. Brown rice. Lasagna. Stewed tomatoes.

Don’t feel that you totally need to miss out on dessert either. Fruit parfaits, berry smoothies, fresh fruits, whole grain brownies, and other delicious and healthy options will give your meal a delicious ending without sabotaging your weight loss or your health.

Dean Ornish Lifestyle ProgramSnacks. Whole grain crackers. Hummus. Sliced apples. Whole grain muffins. Green smoothies. Fresh berries. Granola. Sliced vegetables, such as cucumbers and carrots.

Instead of thinking of foods as being either good for you or bad for you, think of it as a spectrum, with five levels. On one end are the colorful vegetables and berries, the foods that are the best choices.

On the other end are processed foods, junk food, sugary snack foods and so on. All the foods that are definitely bad for you. In the middle are foods that may not be the best, but they aren’t killing you either.

Since you have decided to be a healthy person, choose most of your foods from the healthier end of the spectrum, the best two levels of the spectrum.

Completely avoid the worst foods and limit the amount of not-quite-so-good foods. This approach keeps you from feeling like you are stuck with a strict diet, and gives you choices and empowerment.

Move More

Exercise is the second powerful (but not surprising) part of effective lifestyle change for weight loss. The Ornish program was originally designed for people with severe exercise intolerance, who get chest pain just from walking.

Incredibly, from that very moderate beginning, people who do the program are able to get to intensive cardio workouts in a very short time. Aim for 180 minutes (3 hours) of exercise per week. That means exercising for 30 minutes a day, six days a week.

Start with what your body can handle. The older you are and the more medical concerns you have, the more important it is to first have a conversation with your physician about where you should start.

Dean Ornish Lifestyle ProgramFor many people, myself included, the accountability and socialization of going to a gym or having a workout partner is helpful. Begin with a 30-minute walk daily and work up from there.

Advertisements and promotional materials to the contrary, exercise is not easy, and whatever you are doing should be challenging but not so difficult that you aren’t still having fun.

An exercise buddy, a personal trainer, or a group fitness class can help keep you challenged and having fun. For myself, when I first started going to a gym, as a relatively fit and young person, I found that within a few weeks I was ready to try the occasional group fitness workout. It is fun and pushes me to a higher intensity than I might do just on my own.

Be willing to change what you are doing whenever it stops working well for you. Try new things and find the joy in exploring and learning. Who knows, you may discover that you are a marathon runner, or a triathlete, or a cross-country skier. Or it might be Ultimate Frisbee. Or playing softball with the neighborhood kids. Don’t be afraid to find out!

Stress Less

Stress management and stress reduction is an often-overlooked key to weight loss. Its not enough to know what you should and shouldn’t eat; when you are stressed out you are far more likely to down a quart of ice cream even though you know full well that it isn’t meeting your long term goals.

Stress reduction helps your body release feel-good calming chemicals, which in turn helps you to respond to challenges in productive ways and to have more energy left for the things you really want to do. When you have more energy, you are more likely to exercise, which helps you feel calmer; it’s a feedback loop of the most positive kind.

There are two general ways to stress less. The first is to avoid stress, the second is to manage stress by changing how you respond to it. Avoiding stress is not always possible or desirable; but responding well is always a good thing.

The Dean Ornish Lifestyle Program teaches various stress management and relaxation techniques, including stretching, meditation, deep breathing, progressive relaxation, and imagery.

Daily practice is important, because your body learns to do automatically whatever it does repetitively. You want to unlearn the old stressed out responses and retrain your body and mind to automatically use healthy stress responses.


The best way to do this reprogramming is to practice daily and develop a routine. For the first several weeks, focus on learning how to do these new techniques and not so much on the results.

With time, the results will come, but it may not happen immediately. Also, be aware that when you first start to learn to meditate and relax, you may become aware of just how much tension and anxiety and racing thoughts you have. This is normal, and it will get better, even if it feels like it gets worse first!

Love More

Social support—having the encouragement and support of a group—can make a world of a difference as to whether we succeed or fail with lifestyle change.

“Giving and receiving love and support makes you healthier and happier.”

If a drug could make a big a difference in your health as love, intimacy, and connection do, every doctor in the country would be prescribing it.

Dean Ornish Lifestyle ProgramOf course, you can’t prescribe connection, because no pharmacy could fill that prescription.

Connection is something that happens in community, and it takes effort and attention.


Here are some ways that you can foster intimacy, community, and connection.

Spending time with friends and family. Building communication skills. Plugging in to a support group. Practicing confession, forgiveness, and redemption.

Prioritizing compassion, altruism, and service. Participating in psychotherapy. Giving and receiving safe touch. Practicing meditation. Learning to commit and to stick to a commitment.

Putting It All Together and Getting Started

The Dean Ornish Lifestyle Program is a comprehensive program that affects every aspect of one’s life. This can look overwhelming, but for many folks a big change all at once is easier than trying to do progressive tiny steps.

So I encourage you to jump in and go big. Of course, if that truly is overwhelming and un-doable, start small. Regardless, just start already!

Drop a comment or three below. Let us know what you have tried, what’s worked and not worked, and tell us what you are committing to doing next. Be Well!

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  1. As always, you have surpassed my expectations. This is a well written and informative article. I struggle with weight as most Americans do. It can be challenging to find the right program to reach a healthy lifestyle.

    I love the thought of eating whole foods over the processed garbage sold today, and that is a simple change that I can make. Fruit is an excellent alternative to sweets. I call fruit, “God’s candy.” It amuses my kids.

    Exercise is the thing I hate. I mean, I really hate it. So, I dance whenever I can. I love dancing, and often I forget that I am working out. I do not do any formal dance classes or anything. I just put on music and dance around my living room.

    • Hi Dovey,

      Thank you for your kind words. I agree it is sometimes very challenging to find a weight loss program that fits our particular body as we all are different. I am glad you found some nuggets of information here that is of help to you.

      I think so many of us hate exercise. It plays tricks with our minds lol. But if you choose dancing I must admit that is a pretty rigorous exercise regime. I applaud you for that.

      Thanks for stopping by and adding so much value today. Keep up the great work and Be Well!

  2. Woahh this Dean Ornish guy sounds amazing. I can’t believe he has a program for reversing heart disease, it’s a shame you don’t hear about these things more often. 

    Plus that lunch & dinner meal sounds amazing.

    Overall a great read, with a lot of easily applied life changes!

    • Hi Gaius,

      Thank you for visiting. I am a big fan of the program as well. There is a lot of value in his program. I am glad you found it useful. I look forward to you visiting again soon. Be Well!

  3. Hey Nate,
    Awesome post man! This is so informative, easy to read, lots of pictures and I love the fact you included a video – that brought another depth of knowledge to the table.

    • Hi Joe,

      Thanks for visiting. I am glad you found some useful information here. I appreciate your kind words. I hope to see you back again. Be Well!

  4. What a great and informative review Nate. I have never heard of Dean Ornish Lifestyle Program before but judging from you review as a personal trainer I can tell that this program should be really good. Everything you mentioned that this program has its spot on! That’s exactly what I say to my client, first and most important eat healthier, then move and exercise more, try not to stress and get good sleep, these things are the main factors to a healthier lifestyle.
    I really liked that you included a video on how a lifestyle medicine works as well.
    I will definitely bookmark your page and will show this program to my clients. Thank you for sharing this great post.

    • Hi Marius,

      Thank you for visiting. I appreciate your kind words. Yep Dean’s program has some very good things that I actually love about it. As a personal trainer I appreciate your viewpoint on this topic.

      I agree with you wholeheartedly that eating healthy and exercising is a very strong foundation and will move us in the right direction towards a healthier lifestyle. I am glad you liked the video. I found it very interesting myself.

      Thank you for bookmarking my blog and offering it to your clients. It is much appreciated. Thanks for stopping by today and adding so much value. Be Well!

  5. This is a well-written article and I subscribe to SOME of the tenets listed. I currently follow a Keto and Intermittent Fasting way of eating and I find that it works well for me.

    There is no one-size-fits-all to weight-loss, but as long as we do the basics – move more and maintain a calorie deficit – the rest should take care of itself. Of course, eating healthy foods is a very important part of my program.

    Great post with some good tips. Thanks for posting.

    • Hi Dawn,

      Thank you for visiting and your very kind words. I am glad that you found some information here that was useful to you. Keto is very popular and many people I know swear by it. I agree that moving more and maintaining a calorie deficit is important and a very strong foundation.

      I appreciate the value you added to this topic today. Hope to see you again soon. Be Well!

  6. I love the Love More portion. Very few people realize how important love is for overall health. I am glad to see that you have included it. I feel like love should begin with the individual.

    If you love yourself, it opens you to love everyone else. Also, if an individual can gain love within themselves where they are now, a person will be more motivated to do the other steps to get healthy.

    We take care of the things we love. Anyways, those are my thoughts. Thank you for creating such an excellent article.

    • Hi Athena,

      Thank you for visiting. I agree with you on your point about love being an important part of our health. I have done lots of research on this topic and it is truly an important part of our health for many reasons.

      You have provided so much value today. I really appreciate you taking the time to provide your insight,. Be Well!

  7. Hey Nate, thank you for this great article! It is very informative about a potential weight loss plan for anyone that may need it.

    • Hi Alex,

      Thank you for visiting. I am glad you found it useful to you. Hope to see you back again soon. Be Well!

  8. Hi Nate,

    It sounds like a sensible system and one that is pretty easy to follow, I help people to naturally increase testosterone production and one of the benefits of having higher T is increased fat loss, I can see there is some cross over in terms of the methods that I recommend as well. I can always get behind people moving more and reducing their stress levels, I’ll be checking out the ornish lifestyle in more detail and see if I can look at recommending it to my clients; and obviously send them your way.

    • Hi Nate,

      Thanks for visiting today. That is absolutely awesome that you help people naturally increase testosterone production. It seems we are on the same path of helping others live a more healthier lifestyle.

      I appreciate you taking a closer look at Dean Ornish Lifestyle Program. I cannot wait to visit your blog and read about your thoughts on testosterone. Hope to see you visit again. Be Well!

  9. HI
    What a great and informative review!! I have learned a lot through this review. Combining health with lifestyle is really new for me I think this Dean Ornish Lifestyle program is worth it. I’m going to pay for this book. Health is priceless and as you said, it’s not going to break my bank account.
    THank you for this review and tips provided!!

    • Hi Sebastian,

      Thank you for visiting. I am glad you enjoyed the review. Dean Ornish has some valuable ideas in his book and I was so thankful when someone I know introduced me to his methodology.

      I hope to see you back again soon and enjoy the book. Be Well!

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