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Author Daphne Oz
A new guidebook wants to help students avoid the “Freshman 15”
By ANDREA KREUZER
Eating healthy on campus and not gaining weight can be tough. There are obstacles such as the “all-you-can-eat cafeteria,” “late night snacks because there’s a paper due the next morning,” “not much time left for exercise” and “nobody cares about it but you.” Daphne Oz, a student at Princeton University, knows what it’s like to live and eat on campus and she offers help in her recently published book, “The Dorm Room Diet.” In eight steps she offers a program for “creating a healthy lifestyle that really works.”
College is the time when you’re supposed to go out and meet new people — not a time to be worried about weight. According to the book, most students don’t really have to worry about the famous “Freshmen 15″ because only 6 percent of American college sophomores report gaining that much weight. But, 50 percent still gain between 2 to 5 pounds. There are a few cases of extreme weight gain, but Cary, a student at American University, gained 40 pounds during her first two years of college. “It hit me really hard and it was really hard emotionally,” she said.
Most of the reasons for the weight gain are not hard to identify. They are connected with the adjustment to the new living environment called college. “One thing is that when you’re so busy with your schedule, you eat to escape it,” said Martha, an AU student. Her colleague, Carrie, said that the college schedule does not even offer time for exercise. “Sometimes it seems the day has not enough hours.”
The college lifestyle comes with a variety of diet choices, and students don’t always make the healthiest decisions, Martha said. “When you live away of your house you have more freedom in what you eat.” She said that when given the choice between pizza and salad, no one is there to encourage you to get the salad. Martha also blames long night time study hours for some students’ weight gain. “When you stay up late, one thing that you do to stay up is eat,” she said.
While gaining a few pounds is more an inconvenience to many students, some suffer from serious eating disorders, like Martha’s former roommate. Martha said that for the first year they lived together, her roommate would eat small servings, but after a while she ate only lettuce without dressing and drank nothing but water. “It was really hard for me because I was worried,” said Martha. In such cases, help beyond what a book can offer is needed. At AU, assistance can be received from the Counseling Center, where professionals work with students to get them treatment.
Amy Bowers has a Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology and works at the AU Counseling Center. In her opinion, a guidebook “can be useful as a resource” for people who want to adjust their way of eating in a healthier way. But it is “not appropriate for someone who is very preoccupied or focused on food, weight or body image. In that case, that is a good reason to come and talk to someone.” Oz addresses this topic in her book by telling the story of a 26-year-old girl who had bulimia, but has recovered with professional help.
The “freshmen 15” to which Oz refers in her book is not a new topic, but according to Bowers it is getting a lot of attention because of the influx of students attending college and the American culture’s emphasis on eating and dieting in the past 20 years. For these reasons, there is a lot of money to be made when someone writes about a topic that affects both these demographics. “Certain books — it’s like any marketing — you try to make someone believe that they have a need for their product,” said Bowers. “I don’t think people need as much help as the market tells them.” In the AU Campus Store, almost two shelves are stocked with such guidebooks, including some signed copies of Oz’s book.
So why do college students need “The Dorm Room Diet?” For Oz, “the DRD is special because it is the first real health manual I’ve seen on the market that is written by a teenager for young adults.” She calls it “a manual that is really easy to understand with a plan that is simple to implement.” Oz’s book is written for students who don’t have serious problems but who do want to “create a healthy lifestyle while you’re in college.” Unlike most of her classmates, Oz didn’t have problems with gaining weight at college. In fact, she lost 10 pounds without even counting calories. “I made a conscious effort to substitute where I could and eat in moderation when I didn’t want to substitute.” Oz said she would make the choice to eat an apple instead of a brownie, as long as she was still content. And when she wasn’t content, she would eat a small piece of birthday cake instead of feeling deprived. “This is really not a diet plan; it’s a plan for smart, healthy living,” said Oz.
The title “The Dorm Room Diet” can lead to some confusion. “The only thing that I don’t like is the word diet because diet has the connotation to lose weight,” said Martha. “Sometimes you have to be careful with the words that you use.” Many people connect the word diet with counting calories or a restricted choice of food and that is not the intent of this book. While at school, Oz was overweight. But she managed to lose weight and, while still a student, got her knowledge published. Oz shared her pride in her accomplishments, both her personal weight loss and writing a book to help countless others control their weight in college. “I still can’t believe it when I see the book in its final published form and know that so many people have access to this document that I put so much work into,” she said.
The book was released in September and has been reviewed in The New York Times, the Washington Post, Good Morning America and many other newspapers, TV shows and radio programs. Oz said she got positive feedback from readers — except for the ones who wanted her to include more recipes. Many readers thought the book was helpful and easy to read. “Hearing feedback from people who have benefited from the information in this book is the most gratifying experience I’ve ever had,” said Oz.
In eight steps, Oz explains emotional reasons for eating, the danger zones on campus, exercise, supplements and wellness. Below are her top four tips to avoid the danger zones of college life:
It’s all about being prepared:
Eat a little something (fruit, nuts, yogurt) before going to a party or out to dinner so you’re not famished and don’t make silly decisions
Drink half your body weight in ounces of water daily
Chew gum to keep something in your mouth so you don’t feel the need to just munch on something to pass time
Portion out the amount of something you want to eat (a small bowl of chips instead of the whole bag makes a huge difference)