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What is the Dean Ornish Diet?

By Bethany Keene
Updated May 17, 2024
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The Dean Ornish diet is an eating plan based on the book Eat More, Weigh Less: Dr. Dean Ornish's Life Choice Program for Losing Weight Safely While Eating Abundantly by Dr. Dean Ornish, a cardiologist. Ornish's basic concepts are based on his success at reversing heart disease through diet and exercise. His diet is high in fiber, low in fat, and completely vegetarian, allowing the user to eat virtually as much as they want of the correct foods.

In the book, the Dean Ornish diet is described thoroughly, discussing which foods may be eaten regularly, which should be eaten in moderation, and which should be given up entirely. More than 250 recipes are provided, from many well-known chefs. In addition, the Dean Ornish diet includes an exercise plan of at least 30 minutes per day, or one hour three times per week. Finally, stress management is the third key factor in this diet, and Ornish discusses ways to relieve stress, such as meditation, yoga, massages, or even therapy.

When diet, exercise, and stress management are combined, they are effective at preventing or reversing heart disease, encouraging weight loss, improving mood, and helping to prevent other illnesses such as cancer or diabetes. Though it is necessary to read the book to fully grasp the Dean Ornish diet and its rules, the basic principles are fairly easy to understand.

The Dean Ornish diet is a vegetarian diet, as mentioned above. This means that meat and fish should be completely cut out; Ornish also recommends avoiding dairy products, nuts, oils, sugar, alcohol, and a number of prepackaged foods, among others. Yogurt and nonfat dairy products can be eaten in moderation. In general, however, dieters following the Dean Ornish diet primarily eat fruits, vegetables, grains, and beans in a number of small meals throughout the day, which helps to boost the metabolism.

Critics of the Dean Ornish diet often state that the vegetarian lifestyle change is too drastic, and that the recipes are somewhat difficult, and require more prep time and cooking time than many are comfortable with. People who have had success with the diet, however, state that it is an effective way to lose weight and become healthier, and that one gets used to eating a vegetarian diet fairly quickly. Some continue to eat a small amount of meat in moderation while following this diet, if they find it too difficult to become completely vegetarian.

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Discussion Comments

By alex94 — On Mar 07, 2011

@medicchristy: I had never heard of him or his diet until I did a little research. His full name is Dean Michael Ornish. He is the founder and president of Preventive Medicine Research Institute, a nonprofit organization. He is also a clinical professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco.

He is widely known for his approach to the control of CAD (coronary artery disease). He has participated in studies that have shown that a lifestyle regimen of meditation, Yoga, a low-fat vegan diet, exercise, and smoking cessation could stop the progression of CAD and even reverse it.

By medicchristy — On Mar 05, 2011

I am not very familiar with this particular diet. It seems like I have seen Dean Ornish books before but I've never heard of this diet. Who exactly is he and why does he have his own diet program?

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