Ron Weiss is a man on a mission.
The New Jersey-based physician wants everybody — not just his ailing patients — to learn about the benefits of plant-based eating. He has gone so far as to house his medical practice on a farm.
Ethos Health was launched last year by the 53-year-old physician, who thinks the 342 acres in Long Valley, New Jersey, is the only farm-based primary care practice in the country.
He admits he’s become a true believer in a diet that’s based on unrefined, unprocessed plant foods with no animal products.
“I was radicalized because it’s so important,” Weiss told Healthline. “I can’t bear to have even one person not know. Everyone has the right to know the evidence.”
Father’s Diagnosis the Impetus for Change
His father’s illness in 1992 set Weiss on his new path. He had no idea what the future would look like back when he was in a New Jersey Medical School.
“I always thought I’d be a plastic surgeon,” Weiss recalled “but you’re on your feet all day long and my feet were tired.”
Then he looked at ophthalmology.
“But every person was just an eyeball. I wanted to be a doctor for the whole person,” he said. And so began his career as an emergency room (ER) physician.
But when his father, 69, was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and given only a few months to live Weiss quit his job as a Los Angeles ER doctor and returned to New Jersey to set up a private practice.
A former botany major, Weiss was drawn to literature about fighting illness with nutrition. He developed a plant-based diet for his father centered on brown rice, seaweed, kale, collard greens, and broccoli.
The results were big. After a few months the elder Weiss’ tumor had shrunk.
“My father was able to resume his law career and lived another 18 months, most of the time feeling energetic,” Weiss explained in a press release.
Fighting Illness with Nutrition
The American Cancer Society guidelines say a diet rich in vegetables, fruits, and other plant-based foods may reduce the risk of cancer.
Ethos Health believes diet can do much more. It offers a program called “A Year of Mindful Living,” which they say is “ideal for treating chronic illnesses, preventing the diseases of aging, losing weight or just feeling your best.”
The classes include trips to supermarkets where patients are taught how to shop for healthy products.
They also meet in restaurants to learn how to adhere to the diet when dining out. Plus there are cooking lessons that stress how to maximize plants’ nutritional values.
The Ethos farm, which is run by Nora Pugliese, makes more than 40 different vegetable and fruit crops, including multiple types of cabbage, chard, kale, radishes, turnips, escarole, squash, and herbs available for purchase by patients. The farm also boasts 40 varieties of heirloom tomatoes.
Patient Becomes Loyal Follower
Weiss’ program has made a true believer out of Robert Ungar.
He had a rare tumor in his eye removed surgically, but it grew back. Then he faced a second surgery, with a good chance he’d lose vision in that eye. He had a lot of angst about the surgery and feared that the tumor might regrow a third time.
“I looked for an alternative plan,” Ungar, 51, told Healthline. “And that’s when I turned to nutrition. Finding Dr. Weiss was a godsend.”
After getting a personalized diet plan, Ungar took what Ethos calls “the 30-day challenge.” It involved a lot of greens, fruit, some spices, pomegranates, and black, red or brown rice.
After one month, Ungar’s cholesterol dropped 70 points, although the tumor did not stop growing. He credits the diet, and Weiss’ support, with getting him into the best shape to cope with the surgery, which he had last fall. He did not lose his vision.
Weiss considers that introductory month transformative.
“You come out a different person,” he said. “It changes your taste buds. It’s the opening portal through which they enter. It makes your transformation more sustainable because it changes your brain chemistry.”
Weiss, who is also an assistant professor of clinical medicine at New Jersey Medical School, Rutgers, noted that many doctors, including those practicing conventional medicine, agree that this sort of diet can benefit many of their patients but insist it’s too hard and too radical for most people to stick with.
It is, he pointed out, the way our ancestors once ate.
“For sustainability, it’s necessary to rewire your brain and your taste buds,” Weiss said. “You are better able to appreciate simple tastes.”
Getting Patients to Eat Healthy
For years before he started the farm, Weiss has been educating receptive patients on the health benefits of unrefined, unprocessed food and regular exercise.
“People came to me because they’d had a cataclysmic event. They have cancer, or their arteries are clogged, or they have lupus,” he said.
Not all want the whole program. But some do.
He calls the experience humbling for participants. Eating for fuel is a different experience than eating for pleasure, he said.
“All the pleasure memories, all the history, is lopped off,” Weiss said. “You come out a different person.”
For more information go to www.myethoshealth.com. Weiss also suggests an informative 2011 documentary, “Forks Over Knives.”