Love is not something cardiologists talk about, which is ironic, as the heart is the symbol for love. But lifestyle medicine pioneer Dr. Dean Ornish, aside from being the first to reverse heart disease with lifestyle changes, is also the first to take a whole-person perspective in his methods.
“The essence of lifestyle medicine is to treat the root cause. People who are lonely or depressed are more likely to get sick,” said Ornish in “The Truth about Weight Loss” summit 2020.
“People say, ‘Fat coats my nerves to numb the pain,’ or ‘If you take away these cigarettes, I lose the only friends I have, what are you gonna give me?’ ‘Video games take away my pain.’”
Support groups are more likely to make lifestyle changes and sustain them. “The more isolation people experience, the more likely they are to get sick and die because they had no one to trust, so they go on a downward spiral of self-destructive behavior, including overeating. Awareness is the first step of healing.”
He warned that obesity is contagious. “We are more likely to be obese when our friend’s friend is obese. Our genes are our predisposition, but they are not our fate. If your friends are obese, there’s a 45-percent chance of being obese yourself. If your friend’s friend is obese, 25-percent chance, even if you’ve never met. That’s how interconnected we are.
“It’s good to lose weight if you need to, but do it in a way that enhances your health, not in ways that mortgage it,” said Ornish, who is also the founder and president of the Preventive Medicine Research Institute.
Ornish has helped the likes of Bill Clinton and Clint Eastwood get healthier. His method reverses heart disease and other chronic diseases by optimizing what you eat, how much you move, how you manage stress and how much love and support you have.
Fear of dying
“Fear of dying is not a sustainable reason to make lifestyle changes. Getting more pleasure and joy in return, quickly, is a good reason to make it. There is no point in giving up something you enjoy unless you get something back that’s better, and quickly,” said Ornish.
The elite athletes who participated in the research on erections in the documentary “The Game Changers” had longer-lasting, harder and more frequent erections after eating just one plant-based meal instead of one meat-based meal (even if it was grass-fed and organic). Just for this alone, some men have reframed their reason for making these lifestyle changes.
“When you make these changes, your brain gets more blood so you think clearly, have more energy, your face gets more blood so you don’t age as quickly. The increased blood flow enables better quality erections but also better everything: You can reverse heart disease, make love to your spouse, cross the street, go to your job or play with your kids without chest pain,” said Ornish.
“Then you can say: ‘I like cheeseburgers, but not that much because what I gain is so much more than what I give up.’”
He talked about a doctor who needed a heart transplant, and while waiting for a heart donor, did Ornish’s whole-food plant-based (WFPB) program. In nine weeks, his heart was so much better he didn’t need the transplant anymore.
“People are amazed when they learn that these simple changes in diet and lifestyle are so powerful and inexpensive, because we often think it has to be a a new drug, a high-tech laser—or expensive,” he said.
If it’s so simple, why don’t more doctors tell their patients to adopt it?
“It’s taken 40 years but the right idea at the right time is slowly coming around as more doctors are finally coming around to it. More studies show that stents, angioplasties and other traditional interventions really don’t work because they don’t prolong life, don’t prevent heart attacks, don’t reduce chest pain, yet we continue to pay lots of money for these dangerous, expensive, invasive, ineffective procedures,” said Ornish.
“In the United States, Medicare, after 16 years of review, and many major medical insurance companies now cover lifestyle medicine programs. When you change reimbursement, you change medical practices and medical education.”
Pleasurable + meaningful = sustainable
He initially thought that the younger, less sick patients he was treating would have the fastest turnarounds. But it was actually those who made the most changes quicker that got better faster, regardless of their age. It’s very empowering to know that it’s never too late for anyone.
He noted that all religions have some form of dietary restriction; for Catholics, it’s no meat on Lenten Fridays. The faithful make this conscious choice because there is meaning attached to it.
“If you want to help stop global warming or feed the hungry, continuing to eat livestock degrades the environment more than all transportation in the world combined, so that’s a concrete meaning you can latch onto. It helps your health and the planet, and that act is imbued with meaning,” he said.
“What’s good for you is good for the planet; what’s personally sustainable is globally sustainable,” said Ornish. “When we can act more compassionately, it helps our hearts as well. Love yourself. Love your family. Love your community. Love your planet. Have hotter sex and a cooler planet.” —CONTRIBUTED