Beyond Dieting--Affirmative Eating

  • Print Page

By Carole Carson
Special to NurseZone

Jan. 18, 2010Dean Ornish, MD, the founder of the nonprofit Preventive Medicine Research Institute, has long argued that comprehensive lifestyle changes can make a difference in preventing or reversing coronary heart disease. These changes include "stress management, moderate exercise, group support and a low-fat, whole-foods nutrition plan. Most people experience substantial improvements in weight, cholesterol, blood pressure, vitality, and quality of life."

When I read Dr. Ornish's comments, I stood up and cheered. I am, after all, living proof of this medical theory. When I began my makeover, I was in the 90th percentile for risk of diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancer and stroke. After changing what I ate and incorporating regular exercise into my routine (and losing 62 pounds in the process), my risk for those same diseases had dropped to the normal range.

Another idea Dr. Ornish proposes, however, adds an additional dimension to getting fit. Perhaps like you, when I focus on losing weight, I typically review the food that I should avoid eating to keep from gaining weight--for example, chocolate cake and ice cream.

But Dr. Ornish encourages us to move beyond that mentality. Instead, he wants us to eat affirmatively--that is, eat food that nourishes our bodies:

  • It's not just about what you exclude from your diet that's harmful, but also what you include that's beneficial. Fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, and soy products are rich in substances that, in my opinion, can help reduce the risk of coronary heart disease as well as breast cancer, prostate cancer and colon cancer.
  • Just 3 grams per day of fish oil or flaxseed oil are rich in omega-3 fatty acids that, in my opinion, may reduce your risk of a heart attack by 50 percent or more. Also, this may help reduce your risk of prostate cancer, breast cancer and arthritis.

Research over time will validate the truth of Dr. Ornish's theories about fish oil and flaxseed oil. (My own theory is that laughter is the best medicine.) But the idea that we need to eat affirmatively for health purposes (and not just limit caloric intake) is a solid one that those of us who seek to lose weight need to incorporate into our approach to eating.  For more information on Dr. Ornish's views (and free recipes), go to and