By September 18, 2011

“Eat More, Weigh Less”: The Heart Healthy Ornish Diet

The Ornish Diet, also known as the “eat more, weigh less” diet, was designed and created by Dr. Dean Ornish, an advocate for lifestyle-based approaches to treating common diseases, specifically heart disease. The “eat more, weight less” diet was originally a treatment plan for patients with severe heart disease who had not shown improvement with prescription drugs or surgery. The result of the treatment plan was a drop in cholesterol and body weight for the patients, leading Dr. Ornish to share his treatment plan in his books Program for Reversing Heart Disease and Eat More, Weigh Less.

The Ornish diet is a high-fiber vegetarian diet in which on 10% of the calories consumed come from fat. What patients eat is divided into three groups:

“Eat freely”
• Beans and legumes
• Fruits
• Whole grains
• Vegetables

“Eat moderately”
• Nonfat dairy products
• Egg whites

“Banned”
• Simple carbs such as alcohol, honey, and sugar
• Meat, poultry, and fish
• Oils and oil products (butter or margarine)
• Avocados and olives
• Nuts and seeds
• Commercially prepared foods with more than two grams of fat per serving

Adherents are encouraged to eat smaller, more frequent meals, and to eat from the open group as often as they feel they want, until they feel full. There is no calorie counting and you are supposed to eat only when you feel hungry, not because it is a “meal time.”

The diet is extremely heart-healthy, without question. It has been clinically shown to reverse heart disease by targeting the diet-related areas that contribute, including weight, cholesterol, blood pressure, and blood sugar (and, by extension, adult onset diabetes). In a study published in 1990, the Ornish diet tracked a random sample of 48 patients with heart disease and found that compliance to the diet reversed coronary artery blockages within one year. It also lowered blood pressure and total cholesterol levels, including LDL (bad) cholesterol. Because the diet is meant to be a permanent change, it is a healthier way to lose weight than crash diets.

Eating habits are not all the Ornish diet targets. It also strongly encourages getting at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise per day (brisk walking, swimming, etc.) and engaging in a stress-management routine such as yoga, meditation, or massage therapy. These routines should be enjoyable and are designed to complement the diet for each individual, so they should be tailored to individual preferences and abilities.

The drawback to the diet is that it, like some others, includes a very radical change in eating habits. Restricting fat to only 10% of caloric intake is, of course, very healthy, but may be hard for some used to higher-fat diets. Additionally, it restricts a large group of foods that are very common in a standard Western diet, making it harder for some patients to stick with. Cutting out fish and nuts will also restrict a person’s intake of omega-3 fatty acids and good fats (mono- and polyunsaturated), which are considered crucial to a heart-healthy diet by most cardiologists.

What the diet does have going for it is that it places emphasis on more than one area of lifestyle to improve heart health, placing it in the list of best ways to lose weight. It also allows for some foods in moderation, as opposed to black and white “good” and “bad” foods, giving adherents more leeway in their eating habits – wiggle room, so to speak. For those considering the “eat more, weigh less” diet, Ornish’s book The Spectrum is a crucial resource, as it includes over 200 recipes.