The Dorm Room Diet
Daphne Oz Reviewed by Cynthia Sass, MPH, MA, RD, CSSD, LD/N Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Spokesperson January 2007
The author refers to the book as, "Your 8-step program for achieving and maintaining your new healthy lifestyle." The Dorm Room Diet isn't a traditional diet book in that there are no meal plans or recipes. Instead, the book is filled with facts, tips, stories and suggestions aimed at helping the reader achieve one of two goals:
- Get through college without packing on the "freshman 15."
- Help students who have fallen into typical college health traps (such as skipping breakfast, eating fast food or not exercising) get back on track.
This book does not provide a diet plan per se. It is comprised of very basic nutrition, health and fitness information along with behavioral tips. The book includes information about issues such as meal timing, portion sizes, consuming fruits and vegetables, snacking, eating breakfast, budgeting for and storing healthy foods, navigating a dining hall, fast-food choices and making time for exercise.
Nutritional Pros and Cons:
For the most part, the information provided is sound (aside from the dietary supplement chapter - please see below). However, many readers will need much more specific or individualized information. Additionally, at times the books approach comes across a bit strong, even scary. (The words "danger zones," "disasters," and "activities that kill" stand out.) That said, there are also excellent messages about weight control using moderation and not deprivation, steering clear of fad diets, portion control vs. starvation, eating breakfast daily and choosing whole grains and produce. For the most part, the suggestions to implement these messages are sensible. A college student herself, the author includes realistic tips for making space in a dorm room for healthy foods and for planning meals.
As a registered dietitian who has worked for several universities as both a practitioner and an educator, I do have some concerns:
A. I strongly disagree with the dietary supplement recommendations. The book states: "There are certain supplements everyone should be taking to maintain basic health." The basic supplement plan in the book includes a multivitamin, vitamins C and E, minerals and essential fatty acids. In 2006, a panel of experts convened by the Office of Dietary Supplements and the Office of Medical Applications of Research at the National Institutes of Health explored questions about patterns of multivitamin/mineral supplement (MVM) use and their effectiveness. While the panel concluded there is insufficient data to make a recommendation regarding the use of MVMs in the general population, it expressed concern about the public potentially getting too much of some nutrients through the combination of MVMs and fortified foods. The panel also recommended developing a strategy to better understand possible interactions between MVMs and prescribed or over-the-counter medications.
The book provides no warning of the potential risks or contraindications associated with the supplements recommended, nor information on how they might interact with prescription or over-the-counter drugs, other supplements or existing medical conditions.
The Dorm Room Diet
B. The book does very little to educate readers on other resources or services for college students or how to find them. For example, most major universities have a registered dietitian on campus. And nearly all universities have a counseling center staffed by psychologists or psychotherapists to help students with eating disorders and other mental health issues. Furthermore, most also have a recreation center staffed by exercise physiologists who can provide students tailored fitness advice. Yet there is little mention of professionals other than a physician in this book. One was in "Audrey's story" about a young woman struggling with disordered eating who sought the help of a "local therapist" (no mention of campus resources). And while the dietary supplement section does state "it's crucial that you see a health-care professional or a nutritionist before starting on any regimen" and "a dietitian or physician can help you design a more personalized vitamin plan," the author continues to make specific supplement recommendations, including dosages and brand names.
C. The message in the disordered eating section could be interpreted as people with eating disorders do not require professional help. In this chapter the author states "if these descriptions sound like they fit your relationship with food, it's up to you to stop the self-sabotage." In a book whose target audience is students, it is important to emphasize that most universities employ nutrition, fitness and psychology experts who specialize in the needs of college students - and that these services are typically free of charge. I am surprised this was not stressed. In fact, it was not even mentioned.
D. When laypeople write nutrition and diet books, it suggests that degrees and credentials are not necessary to provide this kind of information, confusing consumers about whom to turn for nutrition advice. Nutrition is a complex science that requires years of formal training. While the author includes one quote from an RD, he unfortunately is not credited as being a RD. Had the author collaborated with an RD (particularly one with experience working in a college setting), I believe the book would have been much more comprehensive. The partnership of a current college student who has struggled with these issues along with the wisdom and expertise of a professional who helps students with these issues would have also have been more credible.
E. There is some messaging confusion in the book. For example, the author provides an equation to determine calorie needs, but later advises not to count calories and rather follow a list of foods to eat and not eat.
F. The Dorm Diet is poorly referenced. It is difficult to determine sources for nearly all of the information in the book, including statistics.
Is this book a healthy guide to losing weight? It depends on what readers' habits are already. I've seen plenty of college students gain weight overeating "good carbs," fruit, nuts and the other healthy items recommended in the book. It could help students who had previously been skipping breakfast, eating a lot of fast food, drinking soda and choosing chips and cookies for snacks. However, the information is far too general to help some readers lose weight or prevent weight gain.