In 1993, Dr. Dean Ornish came out with a book entitled Eat More, Weigh Less. The primary focus of the book was to urge people to boost their consumption of whole grains, fruits, and vegetables while decreasing their consumption of fat. Ornish subsequently made headlines by becoming a dietary consultant to McDonald's, helping the hamburger giant to develop the fruit and walnut salad which now appears on the restaurant's re-vamped menu.
Ornish's work began in 1977 when he was studying ways to combat heart attacks. He hypothesized that heart disease could be successfully treated by cutting the fat in a patient's diet, as well as reducing the amount of unrefined carbohydrates he or she consumes. During his research, he noticed that his patients lost about 25 pounds each and managed to maintain the weight loss for five years.
Ornish offers two different diets, the Reversal Diet and the Prevention Diet. Those who suffer from heart disease and who are trying to decrease their risk of another heart attack would conceivably benefit from the Reversal Diet, while the Prevention Diet is designed for people who have high cholesterol levels, but who have not developed heart disease. Both versions are vegetarian, consisting of 10 percent fat, 20 percent protein, and 70 percent carbohydrates.
If you decide to follow the Ornish diet, you will be eating a great deal of fiber, little fat, and a great deal of vegetables. Under the Ornish program, you can eat as many beans, fruits, grains, and vegetables as you want. However, non-fat dairy products such as milk, cheese, and yogurt should be eaten sparingly. The same holds true for fat-free desserts and yogurt bars.
Still, under the Ornish plan, you will be giving up a great deal. For instance, you will not be permitted to eat meat of any kind, including fish and chicken. You must also pass up oils, avocados, olives, nuts, sugar, and anything that consists of more than two grams of fat for each serving. The diet also forbids the consumption of alcohol. The doctor recommends eating a number of small meals so that you will feel hungry less often. Following this plan, less than ten percent of your calories should come from fat.
Ornish recommends at least 30 minutes of exercise each day, or an hour of exercise three times each week. He also encourages some type of stress management, such as meditation, massage, or yoga. Why? In his book, Ornish writes, "When your soul is fed, you have less need to overeat. When you directly experience the fullness of life, then you have less need to fill the void with food."
Supporters of the Ornish plan are enthusiastic about its effect on the body. It can successfully combat heart disease, prevent cancer, alleviate the symptoms of diabetes, and help stabilize high blood pressure. In fact, one doctor has said that the Ornish program succeeds because it has a clear scientific basis. Also, the diet is convenient to follow because it does not involve counting calories.
The major disadvantage of the Ornish plan is that it is highly restrictive. This can make it difficult to stay with over the long haul. A number of dieters may be uncomfortable eating food that is so low-fat. The diet also represents a radical change from the typical American meat-and-potatoes fare.
In addition, Ornish fails to recognize that some types of fats are actually good for one's health. For instance, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated oils can protect against heart disease. Therefore, Ornish's prohibitions against fish and nut consumption would seem to be counter-productive.
Is the Ornish diet worth the trouble? If you must not only manage your weight but struggle with heart disease as well, it might be just the diet you need. Also, if you have medical reasons for losing weight, the program is certainly one you should consider. However, if you have difficulty sticking with specific menus—and you love meat—the Ornish diet may be too hard to deal with. When you decide to undertake the Ornish diet, you are making a commitment to vegetarianism. The diet provides you with less protein than the typical diet, which could sap your energy. Thus, a good rule of thumb is to discuss the plan with your family physician to determine if it's appropriate for your case
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