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Can You Reverse Heart Disease?

Is It Too Strict? continued...

"You have to live a very strict lifestyle," says Lori Mosca, MD, director of preventive cardiology at Columbia University Medical Center.  

If you already have heart disease, Mosca emphasizes slowing it down through a healthy lifestyle that allows for more variety than Ornish's "reversal" plan. “I don’t think that dietary approaches that are highly restrictive are sustainable," Mosca says.

She avoids using the word "reversal."

"I wouldn’t say you can ‘reverse’ heart disease, because that implies you had something and now you don’t," she says. "You can’t cure heart disease, but you can slow its progression.”

Ornish agrees that if you're just trying to slow heart disease, you might have more freedom with your diet.

“If you need to reverse a life-threatening illness, you’re well advised to live as much as you can on the healthiest end of the spectrum,” he says. “But if you’re just trying to stay healthy, it’s [unrealistic] to say, ‘Never eat certain foods.’ It’s much more sustainable to just move in a healthier direction.”

What if you slip up and eat something that’s really not heart-healthy, like a bacon cheeseburger or a doughnut? Get back on track.

“Forgive yourself and move on," Ornish says. “If you indulge one day, then eat healthy the next. If you don’t exercise one day, do more the next.”

In time, your new habits should start to feel more normal.

“We found that the more people changed their diet and lifestyle, the more they felt better," Ornish says. “The better you feel, the more you want to keep doing it."

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Reviewed on October 18, 2013

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