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Fit for Life with Dr. Oz

The six hard truths of lifelong fitness.

Jennifer Floyd Engel

McClatchy Newspapers

February 24, 2010

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DALLAS - I am about to sit down with the next Oprah, and she's white and a surgeon with a funny name-and a he.

I realize the consensus from TV critics seems to be that Dr. Mehmet Oz is not in fact The Next Oprah. That distinction belongs to Ellen. What TV critics ignore is what has turned Oprah into a trusted friend in many American households - not sugary celebrity interviews, but rather real talk about the issues that affect us.

And so the dark horse to replace her should be the heart surgeon who made it OK for us to talk about the shape of our bowel movements, about our worst habits and vices and freely about our health when he first started appearing on her show. He is the perfect blend of knowledge and Oprah-training.

"Because I'm a male and a surgeon, I'm all about fixing things. You have a problem. I want to fix the problem," Dr. Oz said. "It took me a long time to realize you can't fix an emotion. You just have to be there and let people talk. Learning this helped my marriage, helped my practice."

And helped turn his TV show into a raging success. Of course, the question is: Can this be sustained? How many health problems can there be?

"Of course, that is what people are thinking. That is what I'd be thinking," Dr. Oz said, not chafing at all at the question.

This is where growth has been for him, no longer a doctor's TV show but rather a TV show on which he happens to be a doctor. And I am technically his target demographic: female, a mom and a die-hard Oprah adherent.

His goal is to be the doctor whom our parents had, the guy who had time to listen and did more than write prescriptions. And he, like Oprah, is on a mission to fundamentally change how we treat ourselves - mind, body and soul.

"By the time we are 50, two-thirds of how we age will be driven by our lifestyle," Dr. Oz said. "When people realize, 'My goodness, not only do I control it, only I control it.' Because doctors don't change what you put in your mouth. He can medicate you, which is painting over cracks in foundation. He can put mechanical devices in, but those are poor imitations of what you were born with. Only you can be a world expert on your body."

He had me until he said those dreaded words - lifestyle change. What exactly does that mean? Low carb or low fat? Running or yoga? Calories versus foods?

We have been inundated with so much conflicting information that eventually you just figure you should drink water and pray. So Dr. Oz gives his viewers tips every weekday - what to do, the science of it, and the real-life examples of people grappling with it so that you can do your own three-month turnaround. Here are a half-dozen top tips:

1. No carb, low carb, low fat, no fat, Atkins, cabbage soup - whatever your diet ploy is, know it will not work.

Repeat after Dr Oz: Will. Not. Work.

Let that sink in. Take a moment. Mourn all that money spent on various diet books and shakes and memberships. Now embrace what Dr. Oz calls "the biology of blubber."

"What you need to do is give a little nudge," Dr. Oz said. "If you try to do more than that, the biology is smarter than you are. There is no survival in starvation."

He suggests slicing 100 calories a day, which will drop 11 pounds in a year. Not as sexy as some diets but sustainable and in adherence with the biology of blubber.

2. Never travel without snacks, and Ding Dongs are not a snack.

Neither are 100-calorie snack packs, low-fat brownies or really anything in the low-cal, low-fat fake-food category.

Why not is simple, according to Dr. Oz: "They have to put something else in place of that fat. Low-fat foods don't grow on trees. And when they chemically modify food, it becomes a game for you and your mind can't win."

So what snacks to eat? Prepare for the usual boring list.

Nuts. Or fruit. Or yogurt. Or veggies.

"The body is designed for whole foods - foods that come out of the ground," Dr. Oz said. "And if the foods you are eating are not of that nature, eventually you can't process them."

3. Stop drinking diet sodas and, no, you cannot replace them with sugary sodas.

The ugly truth is diet sodas do not make you thin.

"If diet soda really worked, don't you think they'd market (that) they help you diet?" Dr. Oz asked. "You don't see an ad like that because diet sodas don't help you diet."

He explained the science behind this, which basically boils down to this: Diet sodas screw with your brain. They taste sweet but don't provide calories. So your brain gets all confused.

"What really happens is diet sodas remind your brain to eat," Dr. Oz said. "So you get your calories from another source, and you will eat more of it."

4. Lack of exercise does not kill you, not right away at least. It just makes those later years miserable.

Do you ever see older Americans walking around and wonder why some look ready to party while others do not? The answer is not genes or luck. It is choices.

Lifestyle. And mostly vigorous daily activity.

"What kills human beings is not heart disease or cancer. Your death certificate says that, but that is not what kills people," Dr. Oz said. "What kills us is frailty, losing the strength we once had."

He calls sweat-producing exercise "the magic solution for long-term longevity."

5. Give your doctor homework. And take notes.

Dr. Oz drops two "nevers" in the course of our almost 35-minute interview. Both deal with dealing with doctors.

"I would never walk into a doctor's office without a list of questions and have a copy to give to the doctor," Dr. Oz said. "And that recorder you have, I would never go to the doctor's office without one."

The questions set an agenda and let your doctor know you are not leaving until you get answers. The recorder lets him know you that are worth the time. What they teach in med school is 50 percent of what a doctor tells you will be forgotten or misremembered before you even leave the office.

"So if you are having a conversation with someone, and you know half of what you are saying is wasted, do you spend more time with them?" Dr. Oz asked. "No, you look for crises, write prescriptions and move on."

"Tell the doctor that you have it. Assure him it is not because you want to sue, but rather (because) you treasure him and his advice and want to make sure you get it all."

6. Hey, moms, the single most important thing you can do for your kids is take care of yourself.

I know everybody has heard the analogy to airline masks 1,000 times, and the importance of making time for yourself, and how good moms are healthy moms. None of that seems to sink in. So let's make this real simple. Let's make eating right and making time for exercise and de-stressing about your kids.

"Kids don't treat themselves the way we treat them," Dr. Oz said. "They treat themselves the way you treat yourself."

He calls moms "the army" because he believes that real transformation happens when you hear something on his show that resonates so that you carry it back into your life and to those who are important to you.

Mostly our kids.

Who learn to eat healthy and exercise from watching us.

And we learn from Dr. Oz who, sorry Ellen, learned from Oprah.