International Plant-Based Nutrition Heathcare Conference Round-up – Part 4

The Power of Lifestyle Changes, Social Networks & Love

What’s the best motivation for changing your lifestyle habits?

Dr Dean Ornish is a legend in the field of lifestyle medicine; that is, the practice of treating – not just preventing – disease by helping patients change the way they eat, exercise, relax and relate to others.

I read one of his first books, Dr. Dean Ornish’s Program for Reversing Heart Disease: The Only System Scientifically Proven to Reverse Heart Disease Without Drugs or Surgery back when I was in naturopathic college. It was a game-changer for me: here was proof, validated by studies published in major medical journals, that people suffering from advanced heart disease could reverse their condition merely by changing the way they lived.

It was really exciting to hear first-hand, at the International Plant-Based Nutrition Healthcare Conference, of the progress that Dr Ornish has made since then, in gaining ‘official’ acceptance of his approach.

The US Medicare system, through which the Federal government provides access to medical care for retired and disabled Americans, now pays for people suffering from cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and early-stage prostate cancer to participate in Ornish’s Optimal Lifestyle Program, which incorporates 

  • Low-fat, wholefood, plant-based diet;
  • Stress management;
  • Moderate exercise; and
  • Psychosocial support.

Gaining Medicare reimbursement was a stunning and hard-fought achievement for Dr Ornish and fellow advocates of rational healthcare (as opposed to disease care using drugs and high-tech procedures, which are financially unsustainable and on the whole, completely ineffective – for example, neither coronary artery bypass grafting nor insertion of stents in blocked arteries prolong the lives of the vast majority of patients who undergo these procedures).

In fact, in took Dr Ornish 16 years of intensive work by Dr Ornish to get Medicare reimbursement for his Program for Reversing Heart Disease, which is a lot longer than it take for new drugs and procedures that are far less effective, to be made reimbursable!

You can view my summary of Dr Ornish’s wide-ranging presentation in the International PBNHC Round-Up Webinar.

But today I wanted to focus on one key element of Dr Ornish’s presentation – and in fact, a central tenet of his approach to lifestyle treatment: To make lasting change in our lifestyle habits, we must be motivated not by fear, but by the desire to experience more fun, freedom, pleasure and love, and the recognition that changing our habits will give us the ability to do this, now and into the future.

Naturally, people who have just had a heart attack, or been diagnosed with prostate cancer or diabetes, are initially likely to be motivated to change by the fear of suffering and death. But this ‘fear motivation’ is unsustainable. For starters, over time most people get used to their diagnosis and are no longer terrified by it; and for seconds, it’s too exhausting to be in a constant state of fear!

But Dr Ornish noticed that as his patients began to improve their diets, exercise regularly, learn to manage their stress and develop better skills in connecting with their loved ones, their ‘fear motivation’ was replaced by a ‘joy motivation’.

They felt better physically and psychologically; were able to do more of the things they’d formerly enjoyed (or develop entirely new interests that fulfilled them); felt more able to love and be loved; and wanted to stay alive not out of a fear of death, but a sense that they had a lot more good times to experience while alive!

As he puts it,

“The more you change, the better you feel and the more you improve… At any age.”

And this is a sustainable motivation for lifestyle change!

When I begin working with my clients, I ask them what their goals are in coming to see me. Vague statements like “I just want to feel healthier” don’t cut it with me; it’s important to define from the outset, just what you want to get healthy for. I don’t consider any motivation to be ‘better’ than another; as long as it’s personally meaningful to you, it’s a good motivator!

So what’s your motivation for wanting to switch to a healthy lifestyle? Add your comment below!

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