Dean Ornish's Eat More, Weigh Less


Dean Ornish's Eat More, Weigh Less diet focuses primarily on eating a low-fat diet of plant products and simple carbohydrates to achieve weight loss and better health without feelings of deprivation and hunger. It also emphasizes stress reduction techniques and light exercise. Creator Dean Ornish claims that the diet can prevent and even reverse some forms of heart disease.


Ornish received his Bachelor of Arts degree in humanities from the University of Texas at Austin and received training in internal medicine at Baylor College of Medicine and Harvard Medical School. He received further medical training at Massachusetts General Hospital. While Ornish was a medical student, he became interested in heart disease. In 1978, he began doing research on patients with coronary heart disease.

Ornish created a diet that was very low in fat and completely vegetarian and studied its effects on the symptoms experienced by the patients. This was the beginning of Ornish's research on the effects of low-fat and low- or no-meat diets on weight loss, health, and heart disease. This original diet was the basis for his “Eat More, Weigh Less” diet, as well as his other diets.

Over the years, Ornish published numerous books and articles and expanded his diets. All of his diets revolve around the same basic principles, with additions or changes depending on a person's goals. For example, Ornish's heart disease prevention diet allows small amounts of lean meat or fish, while his heart disease reversal diet is completely vegetarian.

Eat More, Weigh Less: Dr. Dean Ornish's Advantage Ten Program for Losing Weight Safely while Eating Abundantly was published in 2001. Six years later, The Spectrum: A Scientifically Proven Program to Feel Better, Live Longer, Lose Weight, and Gain Health was published. The “spectrum” includes diet, exercise, stress reduction, and other factors.

As of June 2018, Ornish was a professor of clinical medicine at the University of California, San Francisco. He founded and served as president of the Preventive Medicine Research Institute (PMRI) located in Sausalito, California.


Eat More, Weigh Less

The main focus of Ornish's diets is eating more vegetable products and fewer meat products. The diet for people trying to lose moderate amounts of weight may permit small amounts of lean chicken or fish as well as some skim milk or egg whites. For people with higher weight-loss goals, the diet may be almost completely vegan and contain no meat or animal products.

The diet is extremely low in fat, with fewer than 10% of calories coming from fat. The strictest forms of the diet do not allow any nuts, seeds, or avocados. The only oil allowed is a small amount of fish oil each day due to its cardioprotective benefits.

Foods that are encouraged include nearly all fruit and vegetable products, especially leafy green vegetables, soy products, and whole grains. Processed and animal products usually contain many more calories and fat than similarly sized portions of vegetables, whole grains, fruits, and soy. This is the key concept of Ornish's diet—a person may be able to actually eat more and still lose weight. Eating foods with low caloric densities (calories per quantity) helps promote satiety (feeling of fullness) and prevent feelings of hunger.

Ornish Spectrum

The Ornish Spectrum diet expands upon the concept of the spectrum from Ornish's original diet. The spectrum includes nutrition, stress reduction, and physical activity, as well as factors like emotional support. The Ornish Spectrum Program focuses on preventing conditions like high cholesterol and high blood pressure, both of which increase the risk for heart disease. The Ornish Program for Reversing Heart Disease is aimed at slowing, halting, and reversing the progression of heart disease and other chronic diseases. Nutrition choices are more limited for people in this group because of their health conditions.

Individuals can also develop a personal spectrum plan. Objectives include losing weight, lowering blood pressure, decreasing cholesterol, or preventing or reversing the progression of conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, and cancer.

SUPPLEMENTS. Ornish recommends that people take a daily multivitamin along with fish oil (if not eating seafood). People should not start taking dietary supplements without first consulting with their physician.

FITNESS. People are encouraged to do an aerobic exercise such as walking, bicycling, or swimming for a minimum of 30 minutes each day or for an hour every other day. The goal is to do three to five hours of exercise each week. People may increase the amount of time exercising and the intensity of the physical activity if they are physically able. Ornish also recommends resistance training, also known as strength training, two to three times weekly.


Ornish's Eat More, Weigh Less diet and the Spectrum diet are used for weight loss and disease prevention. People trying to reverse heart disease or other chronic diseases should only undergo the diet with the consent of their physician.


Because the Eat More, Weigh Less diet includes almost only plant products, it is high in antioxidants and fiber and low in saturated fat and cholesterol. Ornish also claims that his diet can help prevent or reverse heart disease.


Anyone thinking about beginning a new diet and exercise plan should first consult their primary physician. Patients with heart disease or other chronic conditions should be especially cautious. Although Ornish has published data about how his diet may be able to prevent or reverse heart disease, no major dietary changes should be made without consulting a physician. Ornish's diet is not a replacement for medications prescribed by a doctor. In addition, the diet does not replace any medically recommended procedures. It is important to discuss all possible options with a physician and to make decisions based on professional recommendations.

A molecule that prevents oxidation. In the body, antioxidants attach to other molecules called free radicals and prevent the free radicals from causing damage to cell walls, DNA, and other parts of the cell.
Coronary arteries—
The arteries that supply blood to the tissues of the heart from the aorta.
Coronary heart disease—
A progressive reduction of blood supply to the heart muscle due to narrowing or blocking of a coronary artery.
A diet containing no meat or animal products.

If a person is not used to eating large amounts of fiber, additional fiber should be added to the diet slowly to avoid intestinal problems. Drinking fluids with fiber will help move the fiber through the intestines.


If people on the Ornish diet stop eating meat and animal products, they should make sure that they are still receiving enough dietary protein and other nutrients. Discussing the diet plan with a physician or registered dietitian will help ensure that nutritional needs are being met.

Because of the very low fat allowance of some versions of the Ornish diet, there is some concern that people on this diet may not get enough vitamin E.

Research and general acceptance


In 1990, Ornish and several coauthors published an article titled “Can Lifestyle Changes Reverse Coronary Heart Disease? The Lifestyle Heart Trial” in the Lancet. This was the first study to investigate whether changes in lifestyle alone, without the use of prescription drugs, could stop the progression of, or even reverse, coronary heart disease. The patients selected to participate had severe coronary heart disease and were divided randomly into two groups: those who would follow Ornish's program, and those who would follow the usual recommendations for such patients, including moderate lifestyle changes and cholesterol-lowering medications, if necessary.

Ornish's regimen included a diet that was very low in fat and completely vegetarian. It also emphasized moderate exercise, stress-reduction techniques, and quitting smoking (if applicable). The diameter of the coronary artery was measured at the beginning of the study and again at the end of the study one year later. For people following the usual recommendations for coronary patients, the average percentage of narrowing was 42.7% at the beginning of the study and increased to 46.1% at the end of the study. For patients on Ornish's plan, the average percentage of constriction was reduced 2.2% during the period of the study, from 40.0% to 37.8%. For the patients with the most constriction, the difference was even greater.

Since the 1990 study, Ornish and various coauthors have continued to research how lifestyle changes alone can positively affect heart disease in both the long- and short-term. In 2007, he published a study in the Journal of the Society of Behavioral Medicine that found reductions in the risk factors of coronary heart disease in just three months.

See also Antioxidants ; Coronary heart disease ; Fiber ; Low-cholesterol diet ; Low-fat diet .



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American Heart Association, 7272 Greenville Ave., Dallas, TX, 75231, (800) 242-8721, .

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Division for Heart Disease and Stroke Prevention, 4770 Buford Hwy NE, Mail Stop F-72, Atlanta, GA, 30341-3717, (800) CDC-INFO (232-4636), TTY: (800) 232-6348, Fax: (770) 488-8151,, .

National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, PO Box 30105, Bethesda, MD, 20824-0105, (301) 592-8573, TTY: (240) 629-3255, Fax: (240) 629-3246,, .

Helen Davidson
Revised by Liz Swain

  This information is not a tool for self-diagnosis or a substitute for professional care.