Healing Through Diet Dean Ornish

Third world countries are beginning to eat like us, live like us, and die like us. Even though their diets were the healthiest. The good news is intervention can make a powerful difference. More good news, what's good for you personally is sustainable for the planet. 20% of fossil fuels are burned to make processed foods. It takes 10 times more energy to eat higher on the food chain as opposed to a plant-based diet.

Livestock consumption accounts for more global warming than all forms of transportation combined. 18% the greenhouse gas emissions versus 13% for transportation. Livestock methane is 23 times more toxic to the ozone layer then carbon dioxide. Three-quarters of our health care cost are for chronic diseases that we can largely prevent or even reverse through dietary and lifestyle changes. A study in 2009 showed this could cause 93% less diabetes, 81% less heart attacks, 50% less strokes, and 36% less cancers.

Most of these are effects of diabetes but also includes amputations, blindness, kidney failure, and so on, all preventable with diet and lifestyle changes and only good side effects. Our bodies have a remarkable capacity for healing, and much more quickly than we realize. It is important to note that the more changes people made the more they improved. If this was a drug it would be worth billions. The other epidemic is depression and loneliness. Study after study has shown that people who feel lonely and depressed are many times more likely to get sick and die prematurely than those who have a sense of Love, connection, and community.

People don't have secure jobs, neighborhoods with several generations of neighbors living together, or an extended or nuclear families like they used to. Community creates trust, trust leads to intimacy, and intimacy leads to healing and meaning. Altruism, compassion, forgiveness and love free us from loneliness, isolation, depression and suffering.  Even through, sickness, disease, loss, and death we can help people use suffering as a doorway for transforming lives to find meaning and healing.

Lifestyle change significantly lowers risk of colon, prostate, and breast cancer, as well as diabetes and hypertension. Life style changes not only help you lose weight and feel better, but can stop and even reverse heart disease and diabetes. Healing is the ultimate natural wonder. Your body has a remarkable capacity to begin healing itself and much more quickly than people realize if we simply stop doing what's causing the problems. So much of what we do in medicine and life in general is focused on mopping up the floor without also turning off the faucet.

He loves doing this work because it really gives people new hope and new choices they didn't have before. When you look at all spiritual traditions, you find what Aldous Huxley called "perennial wisdom". When you get past the names and forms and rituals that divide people, it's really about our true nature, which is to be happy and healthy.

And happiness is not something you get, health is generally not something you get, but rather all of these different practices that lower your blood pressure and unclog your arteries are powerful tools for transformation, for quieting down our minds and bodies, and to allow us to experience what it feels like to be happy, to be peaceful, to be joyful, and to realize that it's not something that you pursue and get, but it's something that you already have unless you disturb it.

People would ask his spiritual teacher, are you a Hindu? He would say said no, I'm an undo! It's about identifying what's causing us to disturb our innate health and happiness, and then to allow natural healing to occur. That's the real natural wonder. An optimal lifestyle program includes a diet of low-fat, whole, plant-based foods, vitamins, and supplements, but also stress management training, moderate exercise, stopping smoking, curtailing excess drinking, and social intimacy and support groups.

It's not just a diet. It's about helping people customize a lifestyle program and diet that is right for them. Yes a strict diet reverses disease but a good diet is enough for most people to prevent illness and live healthy. We use expensive high-tech measures to prove the power of inexpensive low-tech and in many ways ancient interventions and daily practices. It doesn't take extreme measures to live longer, feel better, lose weight, be happier, and so on.

He started by looking at heart disease. At that time it was thought that once you have heart disease it can only get worse. What they found was instead of getting worse and worse in many cases it could get better and better, and much more quickly than people realized. He then shows a graph of a heart patient who chose lifestyle changes and got a 300% improvement in blood flow in one year. Huge differences can occur without drugs or surgery.

He couldn't walk across the street without getting severe chest pain but within a month, like most people, he was pain free, and within a year, climbing more than 100 floors a day on a stair master. And this is not unusual, the oldest patients improved as much as the young ones. He found 99% of the patients stopped and reversed the progression of their heart disease. Dr. Ornish  thought if he just did good science it would change medical practice, but that was naive.

It's important, but not enough because doctors do what they get paid to do, and trained to do what we get paid to do. So if we change insurance then we change medical practice and medical education. Insurance will cover bypass and angioplasty but it won't often cover diet and lifestyle. Eventually he was able to convince the insurance company to try the lifestyle program and they found almost 80% of patients who needed bypass surgery or angioplasty were you able to safely avoid it for at least three years with comparable safety and benefits.

And it was not only medically effective, but also cost-effective. Mutual of Omaha calculated saving an average of $30,000 per patient. He wondered what would motivate people to make the changes they needed. What doesn't work is fear of dying, and that's what's normally used. The problem is people don't want to hear it so they don't listen. Everybody who smokes knows it's not good for you, yet 30% of Americans smoke, 80% in some parts of the world. Why do people do it? because it helps them get through the day.

But the real epidemic isn't just obesity, disease, or smoking, it's loneliness and depression. One woman said I've got 20 friends in this pack of cigarettes, they're always there for me and nobody else is. You're going to take away my 20 friends? What are you going to give me? Or they eat when they get depressed or use alcohol to numb the pain, or work too hard, or watch too much TV. There are lots of ways we have of avoiding, numbing, and bypassing pain. The point is to deal with the cause of the problem at the root.

The pain is not the problem it's the symptom. And telling people they're going to die, or that they'll get emphysema, or a heart attack doesn't work because they don't want to think about it, so they don't. What was the biggest selling drug of all? Viagra. Because a lot of guys need it. It's just not something we talk about and yet look at the number of prescriptions that are being sold. It's not so much psychological, vascular, and nicotine makes your arteries constrict. So does cocaine, high-fat diet, and emotional stress.

So the very behaviors that we think of as being sexy in our culture are the very ones that leave so many people feeling tired, lethargic, depressed and impotent. And that's not much fun. When you change your behaviors your brain gets more blood, you think more clearly, and have more energy, your heart gets more blood and your sexual function improves. These occur within hours. Same for a big fatty meal,. On a low fat meal, the blood flow actually goes up.

Many of you have kids, and you know that's a big change in your lifestyle. People are not afraid to make big changes in lifestyle if they're worth it. And the paradox is when you make big changes, you get big benefits, and you feel so much better so quickly. For many people, those choices are worth making, not to just live longer, but to live better. He then talks about people who are overweight or obese. The rates have gone much higher as Americans are at 30% overweight and 42% obese. Diabetes has also increased 70% in 30 year olds in the past 10 years.

He then shows a chart of obesity trends in America from 1985 to 2001 showing the epidemic sweeping across America and worsening. He then shows the cartoon of the woman sitting in a chair with her feet on the scale. There's no mystery to losing weight. You either burn more calories by exercise or you eat fewer calories. One way to eat fewer calories is to eat less food, which is why you can lose weight on any diet if you eat less. Or you can restrict categories of food. The problem is you get hungry so it's hard to keep it up.

The other way is to change the type of food. Fat has nine calories per gram, protein and carbs only have four. And when you eat less fat, you eat fewer calories without having to eat less food. Americans I've been told to eat less fat and they have, as now the percentage of calories from fat is lower. Yet Americans are more overweight than ever because fat doesn't make you fat. The problem is people were eating more food overall.

The percentage is lower but the actual amount is higher. Americans eat too many simple carbs, the bad carbs. Things like white sugar, white flour, white rice, alcohol. You get a double whammy. All the calories that don't fill you up because you remove the fiber and they get absorbed quickly so your blood sugar spikes and you make insulin to combat it but that creates stored fat. Not what we want. The more change they made in lifestyle the better their PSA, less tumor growth, and improved their arterial blockage as well in cardiac studies. This is true for breast cancer also.

The psychosocial impact. Loneliness, depression, and isolation increase mortality by 3-7 times. Effects persist even when controlling for known risk factors. Depression, loneliness, and isolation are an epidemic in this country also. We are also more likely to drink too much, work too hard, and smoke. We are also three to five times more likely to get sick and die prematurely. Depression is treatable. Intimacy is healing.

Anything that promotes intimacy is healing. Things like sexual intimacy, friendship, family. altruism, and compassion. Also service, meditation, forgiveness, community, and support groups. These are part of all religions and cultures, because they free us from our suffering and disease. A Stanford study by David Spiegel on breast cancer found that women in the treatment group that met for an hour and a half once a week in a support group for one year lived twice as long (five years later).

Someone asked his to Swami what's the difference between illness and wellness. He went up to the board and wrote the two words and then circled the I and the we ("I" leads to illness, "we" leads to wellness). Anything that creates a sense of connection, community, and love is healing. Then we can enjoy life more fully without getting sick in the process


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