How often have you heard someone say “It’s in my genes”, or “It doesn’t matter what I do, it runs in my family”? Like a bazillion times, right?
Ughhh! Isn’t there such a sense of powerlessness in that? A “might as well give up now while I’m ahead” kinda hopelessness?
Well, I totally used to think like that.
Hell, my family probably came up with the whole saying. No offense famjam!
I really did believe people were destined to be skinny or fat, healthy or sick. And that really scared the bejoseph out of me since the cards were stacked against me.
When I was 12, I went from being the kid who woke up at the crack of dawn and buzzed around all day, to the kid who couldn’t be drag out of bed. I was diagnosed with Hypothyroidism at the age of 13 and put on meds immediately. From there, my weight and list of symptoms kept growing.
It didn’t help that for years, I believed that no matter what I did, I’d end up sick, overweight and eventually with heart disease or diabetes like most of my family. It was the doom and gloom story doctors told my parents of their health, so I figured there was no escaping it for me!
For years, this kind of thinking totally sabotaged me.
It gave me permission to eat like a teenager, party like a freshman and exercise basically never, well into my twenties.
After all, it didn’t matter what I did, my story was already written on the wall. Or so I thought.
It turns out, I was wrong! And believe me, I’ve never been happier to be wrong about anything! The unfortunate thing is, I had to learn the hard way. Go figure!
After getting way too sick, seeing dozens of doctors, being tested for everything you can imagine, losing over half of my thyroid (and hair) to Hashimoto’s Disease, and finally being jolted back to my senses by an Epi shot after an anaphylactic reaction, I figured it out!
What I eat and expose myself to can change EVERYTHING! And it did!
All of a sudden, even symptoms I’d suffered from for almost 20 years were gone. Almost as if I’d taken some magic pill.
In this video below, Dr. Dean Ornish, M.D., Professor of Medicine at the University of California, author of 6 national bestsellers and President & founder of the non-profit Preventive Medicine Research Institute (PMRI) , speaks about his 35 years of research and explains why we are NOT destined to be fat, to have heart disease, to develop cancer or to become diabetic.
This talk is jam-packed with really amazing information that will change the way you think and hopefully, how you approach life and your health. I’ve also posted a short version of a Ted Talk where Dr. Ornish really breaks it down just in case your short for time. I really recommend you listen to the longer presentation too. It’s truly mind blowing.
Because I want you to get the most of this, I’ve highlighted my major takeaways from his presentations.
My Major Takeaways
1.Your genes are NOT your Destiny
Is this not the most encouraging and empowering thing you’ve ever heard? It means even though you may be predisposed, you are not doomed. There is a world of difference between the two. The major one being your ability to affect the outcome. To me, this is the greatest shift in nutritional science as of yet.
In just 3 months on Dr. Ornish’s lifestyle plan, participants were able to change the expression of over 500 genes, turning off disease-promoting ones and turning on health-promoting ones. In particular, he saw a downregulation of genes that promote breast and prostate cancer which are two of the most common cancers.
Finally, proof that the lifestyle choices you make matter and can change everything, quickly!
2. Changing your Lifestyle Changes Everything
Dr. Ornish says getting to the root of disease is key. He explains how mopping up the water from an overflowing sink isn’t going to solve the issue if the faucet’s been left on. According to Dr. Ornish, the root of most disease is the same as the cure.
While making lifestyle changes was once seen as good preventative medicine, Dr. Ornish and his team are showing the world how it actually may be the best means of treatment after all.
In his 35 years experience, he’s proven that lifestyle and dietary change can work as well as drugs and surgery, sometimes better, and at a fraction of the cost. And unlike drugs and surgery, they only have good side-effects. Double Bonus!
It’s truly amazing what your body is capable of when you give it what it needs. On Dr. Ornish’s lifestyle program, people are healing in ways we didn’t even think possible. Dr. Ornish’s plan’s been proven so successful at reversing heart disease, it became the first lifestyle program to ever be covered by Medicare in the U.S. That’s a huge game-changer!
Dr. Ornish and colleagues have also shown how lifestyle changes can:
- Reverse the aging process on a cellular level by lengthening telomeres – the ends of chromosomes.
- Destroy tumors, by preventing the formation of new blood vessels, cutting off their life source.
- Improve, even reverse, chronic conditions – such as diabetes prostate cancer, and heart disease.
- Change gene expression, turning on health-promoting genes & turning off disease-promoting genes.
3. There are 4 Main Lifestyle Changes You Should Make
- 1. What you eat. Eating real food provides your body with the nutrients, minerals, bacteria and enzymes it needs to function and thrive. Eating Frankin-foods, a.k.a food-like substances, can lead to severe nutrient deficiencies, not to mention fill your body with harmful chemicals that can be detrimental to your health. Everything you eat washes over your genes and can turn them on and off. Getting back to nature is key to good health, especially with food.
- 2. How you respond to stress. The plugged-in, fast-paced lives we lead can be stressful. And chronic stress, even from daily work and life demands, can lead to disease. Your body doesn’t recognize the difference between running to catch the bus or running from danger. Learning to reduce stress in your daily life is crucial. No one goes through life unscathed but your perception and reaction to life’s events can make all the difference between disease and wellness. With practice, you can learn to alter your perception of stress and manage your reaction by applying techniques to minimize the impact on your health and well-being. Dr. Ornish recommends a daily practice of stretching, meditation, deep breathing, progressive relaxation, and imagery.
- 3. How you exercise. Whether or not you move your body, and to what degree, is a major factor in your health. Exercise increases blood flow to your organs and cells, making nutrients more readily available, and increases the rate of healing. Exercise creates feel good hormones and is key to stress management. 30 minutes a day, or 1 hour every other day, of moderate exercise seems to be the magic number. Again every bit helps. Dr. Ornish promotes finding something you love doing and doing that. Finding a friend to join in also increases your odds of sticking with it!
- 4. How much love and support you have. We’re social beings. Without love and support, we literally fail to thrive. Giving and receiving love and support is crucial to being happy and healthy. Having a good support network makes happy times happier and difficult times easier. Loneliness and isolation, more than any other factor, contributes to a greater rate of disease and early death. In this day and age of Netflix binge watching, texting and Facebooking, it’s crucial to be intentional about connecting with the ones you love. For their benefit and yours! This means face-to-face, uninterrupted quality time or a phone call where you’re talking to a living, breathing, feeling person that you can connect with. Finding hobby, sport or social groups to be a part of, or taking part in church or community groups and events, are also great ways to make meaningful connections with others.
4. The More You Change The Better You Get
Dr. Ornish explains that any amount of change can make a difference. The more you do, the better you get, regardless of your age and health. This is also good news! This means you can do it bit-by-bit or you can jump all-in. Whatever feels good for you. It’ll all help you get feeling better, just on a different timeline. The greater the degree and number of changes, the better you will feel. So the “Doing this one thing won’t make a difference” attitude stands no more. Every bit makes a difference!
5. You don’t have to be PERFECT all the Time
What you do most of the time is what matters. Dr. Ornish explains that if your overall way of eating, exercising, managing stress and the state your relationships is good then that’s what counts. It’s about maintaining an overall healthy balance. So if you indulge one day, then you eat better the next day. If you have a busy stressful day one day, you can make a point to meditate and relax longer the next day. The key is making a conscious effort every day to eat healthy, exercise, relax and connect.
Dr. Ornish’s Lifestyle Program is THE FIRST to ever be covered by Medicare in the U.S.A.
Watch Dr. Ornish’s Short Version TED talk here:
Watch Dr. Ornish’s Full Version Presentation here:
So you’re probably wondering “What IS Dr.Ornish’s food plan”?
Dr. Ornish focuses on eating whole foods as they’re found in nature and staying away from processed foods. He recommends a diet that’s high in good carbs, fats and protein. The diet resembles a vegetarian diet with added egg, optional dairy and fish oil.
Dr. Ornish’s Food Plan Highlights
- 1. Eat mostly plants, and in their natural form. Dr. Ornish promotes eating a diet mostly consisting of whole plants such as fruit, veggies, whole grains, legumes and soy. He recommends avoiding gluten-grains (wheat, barley and rye, the most common forms) if you seem to be intolerant or have celiac disease.
- 2. Eat mostly plant-based protein. Dr. Ornish encourages you to get your protein primarily from beans, legumes and soy. Egg whites and limited amounts fat-free dairy products are also a part of the plan.
- 3. Limit sugars and refined carbs. Any added sugar (maple, honey, white sugar,…) or processed grain product (bread, pasta, muffin, flour,…) are not recommended but are permitted in limited quantities, no more than two per day. Alcohol falls under this category and again, is not recommended but limited to one drink a day.
- 4. Eat 4 Grams a day of good fat. Including fish oil, flax seed oil, plankton based Omega 3 fatty acids, small amounts of nuts and seeds. Non-fat dairy products are optional but restricted to 2 servings a day. Non-dairy alternatives are encouraged for added health benefits.
- 5. Limit fat intake to 10% of calories. Dr. Ornish encourages getting fats primarily from grains, vegetables, fruit, beans, legumes and soy foods that have naturally occurring fats. Because of their high-fat content, he recommends eating small amounts of nuts & seeds. He recommends staying away from added fats and oils, avocados, coconut and olives.*
- 6. Limit salt. Limiting salt consumption is recommended. Using spices, herbs, vinegars and citrus to enhance flavour of food is a good alternative.
- 7. Reduce caffeine. Limiting your intake of caffeine is important as it increases cortisol, the stress hormone. It’s recommended to limit coffee to 1 cup a day and decaf or tea to 2 cups a day.
- 8. Supplements. Because the plan limits animal protein, a low dose multivitamin/mineral supplement with B12 and iron (if of childbearing age) is recommended. A good fish oil, with heart healthy Omega 3, is also recommended. For some, a calcium supplement may also be recommended, depending on the advice of your physician.
I realize there are varying theories on fat, especially saturated fats from animal protein. Admittedly, if you’ve read my post Why you’ve been eating all wrong + 7 things to do about it, Dr. Hyman’s take on fat is very different than Dr. Ornish’s. This is not meant to confuse you by no means. If anything, it proves that there isn’t just ONE way to get healthy.
For now, just know that the overall message still rings true. When it comes to food, you want to focus on eating whole vegetables, fruit and grains while incorporating heart-healthy Omega 3 fatty acids from nuts, seed, phytoplankton, eggs or fish. Maintaining good physical activity, stress management and loving and supportive relationships is just as important to your health as the food bit.
Hopefully, hearing that you have the ability to change the outcome of your health empowers you and inspires you to start making changes in your life, however small.
As for the question on fats, keep an eye out for my upcoming blog post where I’ll highlight the latest on fats, breaking down the good and the bad, to help you make the best choices for you.
Remember, it’s about striving for progress, not perfection.