A Primer on the Pritikin Nutrition Program

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12.8 min read

When Nathan Pritikin, an inventor, introduced his theory that heart disease could be treated with nutrition and exercise in the 1970s, no one could have predicted it would change thousands upon thousands of lives. Now, more than four decades later, the principles behind the acclaimed Pritikin Nutrition Program continue to stand the test of time.

“Our program isn’t new or trendy, it’s built on a solid foundation of 40 years of scientifically proven results,” explains Kimberly Gomer, the Director of Nutrition at The Pritikin Longevity Center + Spa, which was launched by Pritikin in 1975. “Our guests can depend on us, that we’re not going to react to the latest fads and trends. In fact, about 50 percent of our guests return to Pritikin. They know they can trust that what they’re learning from us is current, based on the latest nutritional research and findings.”

Lon Ben-Asher, who’s been the Nutrition Educator at Pritikin for the past four years, concurs. “Everything we teach and recommend is based on scientific studies, on the proof and on the research.” In fact, more than 100 bodies of research validating the efficacy of Pritikin’s program have appeared in renowned medical journals, including the New England Journal of Medicine, the Archives of Internal Medicine, Diabetes Care and Circulation.

Now that you know Pritikin is based on the evidence, not the hype, want to understand more about the ins and out of the Nutrition Program? Wondering what you’ll be eating and learning, or how fast you’ll see results? Here, Gomer and Ben-Asher tell all.

On what distinguishes the Pritikin Nutrition Program from programs offered at other health spas:

Lon Ben-Asher: Pritikin is a medically supervised program that has proven results for those with cardiovascular disease, diabetes, high blood pressure and metabolic issues.

Kimberly Gomer: I believe that when you come to Pritikin, you’re getting a top-rate education. Through many modes—including lectures, trips, individual consults and other programming—we educate people, and for the first time in their life they understand their health and their markers. We don’t just look at their cholesterol, for example, we look at each person from the inside and out. What we do at Pritikin is promote a transformation, helping guests formulate long-lasting lifestyle changes.

On personalizing the Pritikin experience:

Kimberly Gomer: Both Lon and I pride ourselves on not only presenting science, but also on individualizing the eating plan based on each person’s blood work, medical health, goals and lifestyle. There’s not just one eating plan, rather we start with this foundation that branches out based on each person.

Over the last several years, I have developed a system called “Pritikin Perfect, Pritikin Friendly or No Way Jose.” It’s a way of assessing, what do you really need to focus on and how strict does it need to be? We want to give people the confidence, that our way of eating is not a religion and there can be flexibility to it. Pritikin is a very solutions-oriented program, but it should feel like an abundance mentality instead of, I can’t have this and that.

On weight loss:

Lon Ben-Asher: I think the idea behind the program is that we’re not an eating plan that focuses on weight loss. Our main focus is on health and wellness, and when people focus on the most important aspect of the Pritikin Nutrition Program, which is calorie density, the weight loss is something that comes naturally as a side effect.

On why every person on the planet can benefit:

Kimberly Gomer: The majority of Americans have metabolic syndrome, and all of those people need Pritikin. Even if you’re completely healthy, you’ll benefit by learning the latest scientific research and how to establish a better nutritional foundation for yourself. Although we specialize in diabetes, high blood pressure and weight management, a big part of Pritikin is about disease prevention and overall health as we age.

Lon Ben-Asher: I think that the Pritikin program in and of itself is beneficial for just about anyone. It’s very therapeutic and geared toward the prevention and reducing the risk of the disease process.

On the gourmet food:

Lon Ben-Asher: All the foods at Pritikin are whole, natural and devoid of any added sugars, fats and salt. There’s a pretty quick turnaround when it comes to guests learning to appreciate the natural flavors of our food; some people will notice a change in their palate in a few days, but for some it takes a week or longer.

Kimberly Gomer: We follow a plant-based, whole-foods diet featuring high-quality produce, but we’re not vegan or vegetarian, though those folks can eat here without issue. We offer limited amounts of animal protein due to its cholesterol content, but we do serve salmon, bison, shrimp and other lean animal proteins. Overall, the food is both flavorful and bountiful; it’s seldom that people complain they’re hungry and often they say they eat more here than they do at home.

On the daily lectures:

Lon Ben-Asher: The number of nutrition-dedicated lectures each week is around seven, with each class being an hour. We encourage guests to come to as many seminars, lectures and luncheons as possible.

Nutrition is the foundation of the program, which is why the core aspects of the program are taught earlier in the week. Guests will first learn about the philosophy and the eating plan. Then the next lecture delves into the premise behind the program, which is calorie density. Then there’s the label-reading class and so forth.

Kimberly Gomer: Pritikin is a two-week program. We have our first week set of lectures for new arrivals, and a second week set for stay-over guests. The majority of our guests stay for a week or two, but we have some that stay longer.

My favorite lecture is called Calorie Density, because personally, I was a life-long dieter. To be able to give people the ability to get off the diet roller coaster, to have a way of eating that works, in which you don’t have to be hungry, is such a gift.

On the trips offered:

Lon Ben-Asher: There’s the Grocery Store Tour, which anybody can attend. The idea behind it is that we practically apply what we learned in the Label Reading seminar and lecture. We take guests to a supermarket to practice what they learned, and we do it as a scavenger hunt and there’s a prize at the end. Guests have a lot of fun.

The Dining Out Experience is for stayover guests, for those who have already been here a week and are staying for at least two weeks. We teach the Dining Out course the first week, and then bring guests to a restaurant to apply the recommendations, tools and resources gleaned from the seminar to the real world.

On the specialty luncheons:

Lon Ben-Asher: At the Nutritional Facts and Myths Luncheon, we talk about the science and about trendy diets. It also serves as a Q+A session so guests can address any nutrition-related questions and concerns about the Pritikin Nutrition Program or anything else.

Kimberly Gomer: I invite anyone who is diabetic, pre-diabetic, has a history of diabetes in their family or a loved one who has diabetes to the Diabetes Luncheon. I teach them, what is diabetes, how is it diagnosed, what’s the source of it, how is it treated and how you should eat to improve the symptoms. The nutritional component will make all the difference in terms of getting diabetes to a place where a person doesn’t have complications. People routinely say to me, why didn’t my doctor ever explain any of this? It can be life-changing to understand all of this.

I also present the Mindful Eating Luncheon, which addresses how to know when to start and stop eating, because we don’t portion-control foods at Pritikin. We review the hunger scale—one being you’re starving and 10 being you’re Thanksgiving dinner full. Guests eat lunch during this guided experience, and are shocked that they never really listened to their hunger and fullness cues.

On private nutrition consultations:

Kimberly Gomer: Guests can get consults through buying a package, such as Heart Health, Diabetes or Optimal Weight Loss, which include a nutritional consult. Or they can reach out to us and book one during their stay. The purpose of the one-on-one sessions is to give people that individual plan for when they go home, and to focus on what they want to accomplish. For example, if your traveling is extensive, we’d focus on, how is this going to work in a restaurant or a hotel.

Lon Ben-Asher: Nutritional consultations can be instrumental in ensuring someone’s success when they leave, as we get to know the person on a one-to-one level, the challenges and obstacles that they face in daily life.

On nutritional coaching after guests leave the Center:

Lon Ben-Asher: When guests return to the real world, there’s very little or no support, which is why we offer a service called Pritikin On Track. It gives us the opportunity to provide support and accountability, to help people stay motivated and protect their investment of coming to the program.

Additionally, there’s an online membership that is free and available to anyone who has come to Pritikin. It includes recipes, a shopping list, a video archived library, a Q+A discussion board, a weight-loss tracker, meal-planning tools and more.

On the results guests achieve:

Lon Ben-Asher: Guests are typically off their medications or have significantly reduced them by the end of their stay. People who come here with inflammatory conditions, especially arthritis, have anecdotally mentioned an improvement in their symptoms. I’ve seen people who come in that are not in a good place, and within a week are transformed. Their mind-sets have shifted, their attitudes have become more positive.

Kimberly Gomer: The miracle of Pritikin is that blood pressure goes down in a day because of the reduction of sodium. In two or three days, guests start feeling less bloated and puffy. In terms of weight loss, it’s very individualized, and we focus more on how people feel.

On why Pritikin can be an emotional experience:

Kimberly Gomer: We hijack guests from their real life and throw them into this change. They can really assess what their life has been like, and what needs to change. A lot of people get really emotional here, so it’s our goal to give them a lot of support, not just when they’re here but when the leave. It’s not just about coming for the week, it’s about maintaining the results for life.

On the joys of working at Pritikin:

Kimberly Gomer: I love my job because it’s so varied, but by far, my favorite part is helping people with their journey. People come out of their cocoon and see so much success, and it’s so inspiring to be a part of it.

Lon Ben-Asher: Coming to Pritikin was the best decision I could have made. I love my job and am very passionate about it. I get to talk to guests, to find out what their real life entails, the challenges they face when it comes to eating, and I really get to know people on a more complex, more cordial level. We get to see the fruits of our labor, to anecdotally see the changes that occur with our guests.

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