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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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!
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.
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!