"The Dorm Room Diet" - Author Daphne Oz Talks About Her Road To A Healthy Lifestyle

Tuesday, January 23, 2007 - 11:32am

When you start college, it’s inevitable that you’ll gain weight—or so the theory goes. Commonly known as the “freshman 15,” new college students often dread these extra pounds in addition to their exams, papers and grades. But then, life isn’t necessarily that predictable. You can control your destiny. And that’s what Daphne Oz, the author of The Dorm Room Diet, wants college students everywhere to know.

The Dorm Room Diet offers simple, practical advice that teaches college students about healthy lifestyle choices. As a bonus, it helps them avoid weight gain altogether. The book’s goal is help students get into good habits that will last a lifetime. 

Recently, we invited Daphne to talk about her book, her life, and her oh-so-healthy habits. Thanks, Daphne, for sharing with us.

Buy The Dorm Room Diet

Tell us a little about your youth. When did you first feel “overweight?” How did this experience change you?
As a fringe-benefit of playing sports all through middle and high school, I was always praised for my large frame. I don’t think it was until my junior or senior year in high school that I really began resenting my being larger than the other girls around me, and wanting to look more like them. I had heard my parents and medical trainers tell me before that I needed to lose some weight so that I would stop spraining my ankles and hurting my knees, but it wasn’t until I recognized how handicapped being overweight made me (both physically and emotionally) that I really took the initiative to change my habits and get healthy.

What motivated you to finally lose the weight?
I knew that entering college marked the beginning of my adult life. I did not want this period to be a repeat of my teenage years, where I was dissatisfied with the way that I looked and performed as a result of my weight. I thought: Why not start forming healthy adult habits now that can last me a lifetime?

Did you try any of the popular diets like The Sonoma Diet or South Beach?
I definitely tried my fair share of fad diets, but to no avail. Ultimately, I’d end up losing weight initially but then being unable to stick with the strict restrictions, which meant that I’d gain all the weight back, plus some. I was always really irritable when I was on a diet because I was so focused on what foods weren’t allowed, and I was self-conscious because I hated being that girl who couldn’t eat certain foods because she was trying to lose weight. I think that dieting, if anything, just made me more unhealthy: physically because I wasn’t able to ever permanently lose weight, and emotionally because I felt like such a failure every time I stopped following a certain plan.

In your book you mention that before starting college you lost 10 pounds. Then, you lost another 10 during your first semester. How did you lose all that weight so quickly?
Honestly, I barely tried to lose that weight. It really just came down to changing my attitude about how to eat and exercise. I stopped seeing food as this wicked temptation, and put it back in perspective as “fuel” for life. I began doing some serious thinking about eating properly: this meant acknowledging that nothing was off limits, that things I enjoyed eating I would be able to enjoy again. This realization meant that I no longer felt the need to gorge on special food items: I understood that every bite after the first would taste the same and that I could be satisfied with just a small portion. As for exercise, I simply made it a routine in my day. As soon as I got up in the mornings, I would go and do 45minutes to an hour on the elliptical, at least 3 times a week. Once it becomes a set habit and you get it out of the way early in the day, it no longer seems like this daunting obligation. It’s just like brushing your teeth.

Did you wake up one day and miraculously change your habits? Or did it take months of starting, failing, and starting again?
I must have been thinking about changing my outlook on food and life for a while, but once I set my mind to the task of getting ready and in shape for college, there was no looking back. The wonderful thing about the plan I recommend is that there is no such thing as “failing” or “being bad”. If I eat a brownie today, it’s not the end of the world. All it means is that I eat healthfully for the rest of the day.

Are there some basic nutrition guidelines and eating habits that you live by (e.g. no carbs, no soda, you ‘cheat’ one a week, etc.)?
Not at all. The biggest difference in this book is that there are no restrictive guidelines. When I talk about the Dorm Room Diet, the diet in that title is not like most others you might have heard of: it simply establishes an eating regimen that incorporates healthful habits without restriction: it’s amazing that when you don’t feel deprived, you also don’t feel the need to indulge as often because those special items don’t feel off limits.

How often do you exercise? What’s your routine?
I try to exercise at least three times a week. I get up in the morning, do an hour of cardio, stretch and try to get in some weight lifting. Girls especially tend to overlook the importance of weight training if you want to change the shape of your body and build long, lean muscles. If you have time, it’s great to get in three solid days of an hour of cardio, and then at least one day a week of 45 minutes of weight training at low weight levels with high repetitions. As long as you keep the weight amount low, you shouldn’t build bulky muscle.

Your father, Mehmet Oz, is a well-known cardiac surgeon and health advocate. Growing up in his household, you must have gotten a lot of advice about healthy living. How much of the information in your book is self-taught?
Growing up in such a medically based family, I definitely had a different understanding of health and nutrition from a young age. My dad, even though he’s a conventional doctor, incorporates a lot of alternative therapies in treating his patients, so I took on an appreciation for complementary medicine and how proper nutrition and exercise can be greatly boosted by making sure that you’re also properly supplemented. This is basically the lifestyle I advocate in the Dorm Room Diet. The idea to compile a manual to help college students understand and take control of their health stemmed from growing up with this background. Once I began to put the book together, my father was able to point me towards a number of great resources and people to work with to ensure that the book came out as comprehensive and accurate as possible.

Why did you write this book?
I wrote this book because, once I took on an interest in health, I inadvertently became a sort of health guru for my peers. It dawned on me that not everyone is lucky enough to have medical family members who can help them get on track in terms of health and nutrition, not to mention that finding information on this stuff is sometimes difficult and hard to understand even if you can find it. I thought that maybe some of these students would find a manual written for them by a peer struggling with the same issues really useful, and from the feedback I’ve received, followers of the Dorm Room Diet are seeing wonderful results. This is the most fulfilling thing about having put a book out.

Everyone loves lists. Give us your Top 3 Worst Lifestyle Habits of college students.

  1. Late night snacking. Avoid it if you can or go for low sugar, low fat snacks if you have to indulge, and always make sure to put aside the amount you’re comfortable eating so that you don’t keep digging into the bag for seconds and thirds.
  2. Putting off the gym because you don’t have time. Incorporate things you would have done anyway into time at they gym: transform your coffee date into a bicycle ride, or take the monstrous art history reading for a spin on the elliptical. If you really really, really can’t squeeze the gym in, incorporate exercise throughout your day by walking errands, going to the bathroom on a different floor…every step counts.
  3. Sleeping less than six hours a night. This is a huge problem for many college students because they are trying to balance so many obligations, but sleeping truly is the foundation of a healthy lifestyle. Not getting seven to eight hours of sleep on a nightly basis means that you are setting yourself up for a weakened immune system and low energy (which could send you diving for a high-sugar, high-carb fix). So make hitting the sheets for a solid seven hours a top priority.