There are a lot of popular diets out there that focus only on dropping weight. While almost all of us are wanting to see a lower number on the scale, that’s not always indicative of overall health. There has been a big focus on diets that will increase your overall health in recent years, which has seen a rise in popularity for the Ornish Diet. In terms of diets that focus on your health, the Ornish Diet is second to none right now.

The program was designed by Dean Ornish, a physician and speaker that has focused on controlling heart disease for much of his career. Ornish has created a lifestyle that creates a good balance between mind and body and has focused his plan into one diet that has been used by the likes of former President Bill Clinton. Let’s take a look at the Ornish Diet and see how you can benefit from this plan.

Understanding the Ornish Diet

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Dean Ornish has had many published works about nutrition and health, so the man is certainly someone that most of us would trust when it comes to dieting. Ornish has said that following his plan will not only make you feel better, but become healthier with a longer lifespan and lose weight in the process. Even diabetes and prostate cancer prevention and treatment have been the focus of Ornish’s plan.

The main part of the Ornish Diet involves eating whole foods, staying away from the processed and sugary foods that can lead to disease over a long term span. So what type of foods is Ornish suggesting you to put on your plate? There are a lot of fruits and vegetables (naturally) with the Ornish Diet, but it doesn’t stop there. Ornish also suggests eating whole grains, soy, nonfat dairy, egg whites, legumes and foods high in Omega 3 fatty acids.

You’ll be staying away from the foods that are high in “bad” carbs, fats and proteins as Ornish claims the whole foods with the good versions of these substances can prevent cancer, heart disease and aging. Ornish himself has said that his diet has an emphasis in “real foods as they’re found in nature rather than processed foods.”

Most diets ask you to count calories so that you can track exactly what you are taking in and exerting each day so that you’re losing around two pounds per week. With the Ornish Diet, however, you will not be asked to count calories. Instead, the focus is on multiple small meals every couple of hours that will boost your energy without leaving you too hungry or too full. This will also be beneficial for your blood sugar, avoiding spikes and crashes.

Picking the Right Plate

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If you are a meat lover, then it should probably be noted right now that this plan might not be the best for you, unless you are ready to go into a healthier vegetarian focused lifestyle. Meat is all but banned from the Ornish Diet as he says that eating these foods (or anything made from them) results in long term problems like heart disease. While most diets would suggest at least eating lean meats, that’s out the window on the Ornish plan.

Meat is low in carbohydrates, which is a big part of plans like the Keto or Atkins diets. You’re still expected to keep carbs low, but only in the “bad” section for the Ornish Diet. Carbohydrates that come from sugar, sweeteners, white flour and rice are limited with Ornish. Alcohol is another big source of carbs, and you are very limited in this department. One drink per day is the maximum, which you can bank for one night per week as long as you cut from other places.

Less than 10 percent of the calories you eat on the Ornish Diet come from fat, and this is mainly from what Ornish calls “good fats.” These are the fats that you can find from vegetables, fruit, legumes and some nuts. Those types of foods are also very low in cholesterol, with many not having cholesterol at all. You will be having a small amount of cholesterol, which mainly comes from non-fat dairy like soy milk. If you’re lactose intolerant, you get a bonus here (for once) as dairy isn’t even mandatory.

Salt is allowed on the Ornish Diet, but you should try to limit it as much as possible as too much can lead to heart problems. Caffeine is in the same boat as you can still have it, but limit it to as little as possible. Finally, you should be taking a multivitamin each day to make sure that you are meeting all of your daily nutritional needs. Plant based foods can’t give you everything, so this will help you in the long run.

What’s on the Menu?

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There are plenty of resources available, as Dr. Ornish has written several books throughout the past 30 years. When it comes to this particular program, it most closely follows Ornish’s 2008 book called “The Spectrum: A Scientifically Proven Program to Feel Better, Live Longer, Lose Weight and Gain Health”. This book will have most of the recipes you need to follow the program, though we can give you an idea of what a normal day will look like. Here is what you can expect on the Ornish Diet:

Breakfast

  • ½ Cup of Nonfat Milk
  • 1 Slice of Whole Grain Bread
  • ⅓ Cup of Blueberries
  • ⅓ Cup of Strawberries
  • ⅓ Cup of Blackberries
  • 1 ¾ Egg White Zucchini Frittata

Lunch

  • 1 Slice of Cornbread
  • 2 Cups of Vegetarian Chili
  • 2 Cups of Mango Beet Salad

Dinner

  • 2 Cups of Fennel and Arugula with Vinaigrette
  • 2 Cups of Whole Wheat Penne Pasta and Vegetables
  • 2 ½ Cups of Fruit and Yogurt

Snack

  • 6 Whole Wheat Pita Bread Wedges
  • ½ Cup of Grapes
  • ½ Cup of Green Pea Guacamole

Exercising on the Ornish Diet

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Some diets will ask you to spend a lot of time in the gym each day. The main reason for that is because giving it all you have will lead to faster weight loss, and make their numbers look better when you check in after a short 10 or 15 day span. That’s not the case with the Ornish Diet as the focus is on long term weight loss and health, so something more sustainable is in the cards.

All that Ornish asks from those that participate in the diet is 30 minutes of exercise per day. That’s also on average, as some are a bit busier than others. In that case, exercising 60 minutes every other day is also acceptable. It doesn’t have to be a full out sprint for 30 minutes, as even walking can lead to significant health benefits. Ornish does suggest that you speak with a doctor so that you know what your exercise limit is going to be and how you can maximize your efficiency.

Losing Weight on the Ornish Diet

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Obviously, the first question that people ask when looking at a diet is “how much weight am I going to lose?” There are no wild promises from the Ornish Diet about a certain amount of pounds in a certain amount of days, just that you will gain overall health. Many of the people that have participated in studies on the Ornish Diet have seen sustainable weight loss, however.

One study showed that those on the Ornish Diet lost 24 pounds in their first year and had kept more than half of the weight off five years down the road. Other studies have shown that Ornish Diet followers lose anywhere between five to seven pounds in a year with the ability to keep it off. These patients were not monitored for a reduction in calories, instead focusing on meeting the nutritional needs of the Ornish Diet.

Summing it Up

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You are asked to give up quite a lot on the Ornish Diet, and it can be hard to make the transition if you are accustomed to a life filled with meat and alcohol. You probably already know that those two things can lead to weight gain in the first place, but cutting yourself off cold turkey can be quite difficult. There is no slow transition like there is on other popular diets, which is why the Ornish Diet gets its lowest marks in terms of easiness to follow.

If you can stick to the plan, though, you will find that your long term health benefits are better than just about any diet out there. Diabetics and those looking to reverse or prevent heart disease have seen tremendous success following the Ornish Diet. Not everyone is looking for a quick weight loss plan, so that’s definitely a huge positive if you’re desperate for healthiness.

Then again, it all cycles back to the weight loss. While not limiting yourself calorie-wise won’t be all that beneficial for weight loss, focusing on a vegetarian diet usually does lead to pounds melting off slowly. The Ornish Diet has gotten above average marks for weight loss both in the long and short term, so it’s definitely not the worst plan out there if you want to drop weight. All in all, this is a good diet with a lot of benefits, even if you find it hard to stick to sometimes.