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Optimum Health Plan

Definition

The Optimum Health Plan is a program created by Andrew Weil, M.D. that uses ideas from integrative medicine to improve a dieter’s physical and emotional health.

Origins

Dr. Andrew Weil developed the Optimum Health Plan. He attended Harvard University, from which he received a bachelor’s degree in biology in 1964. He then attended Harvard Medical School, from which he received his medical degree in 1968. Dr. Weil believes strongly in integrative medicine. Integrative medicine is described as choosing among the best of both conventional and alternative medicine. Conventional medicine is the scientific and technological medicine that most people think of when they think of going to a doctor or hospital. Alternative medicine encompasses techniques that are more natural, such as using herbs to try to heal patients. Integrative medicine attempts to choose the least invasive alternatives when attempting to help a patient and does not use all methods used in alternative medicine. Instead, it makes use of the ideas in alternative medicine that have been scientifically proven. In this way, doctors who practice integrative medicine try to treat the entire patient, including both physical and emotional components, using the best of alternative and conventional medicine.

Dr. Weil released his book 8 Weeks to Optimum Health: A Proven Program For Taking Full Advantage of Your Body’s Natural Healing Power in 1997. He released a revised and updated version of the book in 2006. He has also written a number of other books designed to go with his program including ;Maximizing the 8 Weeks to Optimum Health Plan. He has released both a compact disc version on the program and a video version. He has authored a recipe book and many books on other topics in integrative medicine.

Description

The Optimum Health Plan is available in a number of different formats. It is available in Dr. Weil’s book 8 Weeks to Optimal Health, in his 72 minute educational video of the same title, and online through the “My Optimum Health Plan” program on his Web site, <http://www.MyOptimumHealthPlan.com>. The idea behind the various Optimum Health Plan products is that for best results change should be accomplished slowly, one step at a time.

Dr. Weil lays out an eight week long plan that makes changes slowly over that time period, so that by the end of the program the dieter has made significant diet, exercise, and lifestyle changes, all accomplished little by little. Dr. Weil uses ideas behind integrative medicine, such as the idea that there is a tie between mental health and physical health, to make health and well-being recommendations for the whole person. This means that, according to integrative medicine, it is important to treat the entire person, even if the complaint or problem seems to be just medical, because the physical body and the mind and emotional aspects of a person are all interconnected. Dr. Weil believes in the uses of various aspects of both alternative medicine and conventional medicine, and his plan reflects this.

The Optimum Health Plan makes recommendations for diet, exercise, and emotional and spiritual well being. Dr. Weil advocates a diet that does not contain very much meat or other animal products. Instead, he advocates getting most protein from healthier sources such as soy. He also recommends a diet that includes a wide variety of fresh fruits and vegetables. He suggests that dieters stay away from most processed foods, especially fast foods, and instead prepare healthy, nutritious meals from fresh ingredients.

Dr. Weil makes recommendations about exercise, as well as many other aspects of health. He suggests vitamins and supplements, herbs, breathing exercises, relaxation, stress-reduction techniques, and other ideas to help make the dieter healthier in every respect. There are various changes to the plan suggested to help personalize it for people who have different

KEY TERMS

Alternative medicine—a system of healing that rejects conventional, pharmaceutical-based medicine and replaces it with the use of dietary supplements and therapies such as herbs, vitamins, minerals, massage, and cleansing diets. Alternative medicine includes well-established treatment systems such as homeopathy, Traditional Chinese Medicine, and Ayurvedic medicine, as well as more-recent, fad-driven treatments.

Conventional medicine—mainstream or Western pharmaceutical-based medicine practiced by medical doctors, doctors of osteopathy, and other licensed health care professionals

Dietary supplement—a product, such as a vitamin, mineral, herb, amino acid, or enzyme, that is intended to be consumed in addition to an individual’s diet with the expectation that it will improve health

Integrative Medicine—A medical outlook combining aspects of conventional and alternative medicines.

Mineral—An inorganic substance found in the earth that is necessary in small quantities for the body to maintain a health. Examples: zinc, copper, iron.

Vitamin—A nutrient that the body needs in small amounts to remain healthy but that the body cannot manufacture for itself and must acquire through diet.

concerns, such as seniors, pregnant women, people with diabetes, and others.

My Optimum Health Plan, the online version of Dr. Weil’s program, allows dieters to customize their plans even further. Dieters can choose meal plans based on preferences, allergies, and dietary needs. The Web site also gives dieters access to recipes thatgo along with the meal plan, and the site will produce a shopping list for dieters to make grocery shopping easier.

The Website also provides dieters with an online diary where they can record their feelings and successes or frustrations as they follow the program. There is a mood tracker that lets dieters record their mood each time they log into the site so that they can observe any change in their mood over the course of the program.

Emotional support and increased emotional and spiritual well being is very important to all versions of the program. In addition to recommendations about meditation, deep breathing, and other ideas designed to reduce stress and foster a sense of peace and well-being, the online version of the program allows dieters to interact with other people trying to improve their lives through Dr. Weil’s program. It provides message boards, tips, inspirational messages, and videos from Dr. Weil himself.

Function

Dr. Weil believes that his Optimum Health Plan can help dieters in many ways. In addition to helping people lose weight, it is intended to lead to overall better health. He also says that his plan can help people age gracefully and can reduce the risk of many diseases. It can help dieters achieve a better quality of sleep at night, leading to more energy during the day. Overall he believes his plan can improve the health of dieters, physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

The Optimum Health Plan is intended to be a lifestyle-changing plan. It is intended to produce more than weight loss, although that is one of its benefits. The dieter is expected to continue to follow the recommendations of the plan well after the eight weeks are over. The plan is intended to have a lasting impact on all aspects of a dieter’s daily life.

Benefits

There are many benefits to losing weight if it is done at a moderate pace through healthy eating and increased exercise. The Optimum Health Plan would generally be considered appropriate for moderate weight loss through healthy living. Obesity is a risk factor for type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, hypertension, and many other diseases and conditions. People who are the most obese are generally at the greatest risk for developing these diseases, and for having the most severe symptoms if the diseases do develop. Weight loss can reduce the risk of these and other obesity-related conditions, and can help reduce the severity of associated symptoms.

Dieters may find the slow, step-by-step process encouraged by Dr. Weil to be a significant benefit of this plan. For many people, making huge lifestyle changes rapidly can be very difficult. Focusing on making small changes in one area of life at a time can make change seem more manageable. The eight-week time period of the plan is longer than that for many plans, but this may also benefit dieters because good habits take time to become ingrained, so by the end of the diet, dieters may find that they have many good habits already internalized. This may make it easier to continue with the recommendations of the plan after the eight weeks are over.

Precautions

Anyone thinking of beginning a new diet should consult a physician or other medical professional. Each person is different, and daily requirements of calories, vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients can differ from person to person depending on age, weight, sex, activity level, the presence of certain diseases and conditions. A doctor can help a dieter determine if a diet is likely to be safe and effective for that dieter, and if is the best diet to meet the dieter’s personal goals. Pregnant or breastfeeding women should be especially cautious because when a baby receives all of its nutrients from its mother what the mother eats can affect the baby’s health and well-being.

When a diet or lifestyle plan recommends vitamins and mineral supplements or herbal supplements, it is especially important that the dieter discuss beginning such a regimen with his or her doctor. Although many therapies embraced by alternative medicine have scientific support, it is crucial that dieters discuss these therapies with their personal physician and do not attempt to undertake them without proper medical supervision.

Risks

There are some risks to any diet. Anytime a dieter begins to eat a restricted diet there is some risk that not all the vitamins and minerals needed for good health will be consumed each day. A dietary supplement or multivitamin may help reduce these risks. Because supplements and vitamins have their own risks, and are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration in the same way as prescription medicine, dieters

QUESTIONS TO ASK THE DOCTOR

  • Is this diet the best diet or lifestyle plan to meet my goals?
  • Would a multivitamin or other dietary supplement be appropriate for me if I were to begin this diet?
  • What kind of exercise might be appropriate for my lifestyle and fitness level?
  • Is this diet appropriate for my entire family?
  • Is it safe for me to follow this diet over a long period of time?
  • Is this diet the best diet to meet my goals?

should be cautious about which supplements they choose. Talking to a doctor can help dieters choose a multivitamin or supplement that is right for their individual needs.

Research and general acceptance

There have not been any significant scientific studies done to determine the effectiveness of Dr. Weil’s program. However, it is generally accepted that a healthy diet is one that contains many different fruits and vegetables, stress reduction, and exercise, as these all have positive effects on the body.

The United States Department of Agriculture makes recommendations for how many servings of each food group should be consumed each day for good health. This recommendations are in the MyPyr-amid food guidelines, and can be found at <http://www.MyPyramid.gov>. Any healthy diet should generally follow the guidelines as laid out in the MyPyr-amid guide. The Optimum Health Plan would meet these requirements for most people, but because of the recommendations against meat, dieters may want to ensure that they are getting enough servings from the meat and beans group. MyPyramid recommends that healthy adults eat the equivalent of 5–6.5 ounces from this food group each day.

Studies have shown that diet and exercise are more effective at producing long-term, sustainable weight loss when done in combination than either diet or exercise is, when done alone. The Optimum Health Plan advocates making changes in both of these areas slowly, which may add up to large positive outcomes in the long term.

BOOKS

Shannon, Joyce Brennfleck ed. Diet and Nutrition Source-book. Detroit, MI: Omnigraphics, 2006.

Weil, Andrew. Eight Weeks to Optimum Health. New York: Knopf, 2006.

Weil, Andrew. Health and Healing: The Philosophy of Inte-grative Medicine. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2004.

Willis, Alicia P. ed. Diet Therapy Research Trends. New York: Nova Science, 2007.

ORGANIZATIONS

American Dietetic Association. 120 South Riverside Plaza, Suite 2000, Chicago, Illinois 60606-6995. Telephone: (800) 877-1600. Website: <http://www.eatright.org>

OTHER

DrWeil.com. 2007. <http://www.drweil.com> accessed April 17, 2007).

Tish Davidson, M.A.


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