To the nearly four million viewers of The Dr. Oz Show, he is the go-to guy for all things health. But he's also a practicing surgeon, a loving dad, and, by his own admission, an imperfect husband (not that he isn't trying). America's favorite physician talks to Oprah about his search for balance, the real reasons we gain weight, and what he'd like for lunch today.
I met Dr. Mehmet Oz in 2003—the year he and his wife, Lisa, created a medical series called Second Opinion with Dr. Oz for the Discovery Channel. My friend Gayle was so intrigued by him that she encouraged me to be his first guest. Lucky for me, Gayle isn't just persuasive—she's perceptive. The day of the taping, I immediately recognized what she'd sensed: a cardiac surgeon who cared as much about transforming people's lives as he did about fixing their hearts.
The following year, the doctor and I swapped couches when I invited him to be a guest on my show. It would be the first of 62 visits. Viewers came to embrace the Cleveland-born, Harvard- and University of Pennsylvania–educated Dr. Oz as "America's doctor"—the purple-gloved teacher who could talk frankly about everything from orgasms to the ideal color (brown with a hint of gold) and shape (S) of poop. Over the years, he educated us, gave us helpful advice, and saved countless lives—from heart attack victims who, thanks to him, recognized their symptoms in time...to a cancer patient who, mindful of his warnings about medical mistakes, realized that she still had the tumor her surgeon was supposed to have removed. He's the reason I started wearing lower heels (my bunions are eternally grateful), and he taught me everything I know about the omentum.
In 2009 Oz went from guest back to host with the launch of The Dr. Oz Show—and took home an Emmy the very first year. Last fall he began the show's third season with a big announcement. "Every person has the right to look and feel like a million bucks," he told his audience, "so we decided we would make a million dollars available as motivation." In a challenge called Transformation Nation: Million Dollar You, Dr. Oz, in partnership with Weight Watchers, is encouraging Americans to take practical steps to overhaul their health; the winner of the challenge (and the money) will be announced on his show in May.
It's enough to keep anyone more than busy—and it's only one part of what Dr. Oz has on his plate. He and Lisa, who've been married 26 years, are the parents of four children (Daphne, Arabella, Zoe, and Oliver)—the youngest two of whom still live at home. He loves to travel, especially to Turkey, where he spent much of his childhood and where his family's roots are. And every Thursday he still performs heart surgery at New York–Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia University Medical Center.
How does he do it all? Turns out, he's not exactly sure himself. We talked about that—and about food, fame, and the ups and downs of marriage—when we got together for a good healthy chat.
Next: Start reading Oprah's interview with Dr. Oz
Oprah: Maya Angelou says that when you know better, you do better, so here's the 64-million-dollar question: Why is it that we Americans, who have heard all the advice a thousand times—go with unsaturated instead of saturated fats, eat more fruits and vegetables and less white food, cut back on red meat—don't do better?
Dr. Oz: Oprah, you taught me this: People change based on what they feel, not what they know. Which means that understanding all that advice doesn't matter if there's no deep, profound, visceral awareness of why it's important. We know what we should and shouldn't put in our mouths, but in those times that pull on our souls, we revert to what's emotionally comfortable.
You can say that again.
Dr. Oz: You know, our ancestors didn't have this challenge. They never had a problem with too much food.
Their problem was not enough.
Dr. Oz: Exactly. They had to eat whenever food was around. And we're actually still hardwired the same way. The big difference is we don't have to hunt for our food. For us, "hunting" comes down to sliding the milk carton out of the way.
Dr. Oz: We pick up what's behind the milk carton and put it in our body. Which is why I spend most of my working hours trying to get us to pay attention to what we eat. If your best friend were eating as poorly as you are, how would you deal with it? That's the question you have to ask yourself.
Oprah: But it's even worse than that. Not only do our friends eat poorly but our children do, too. That's why we have an epidemic of childhood obesity.
Dr. Oz: People say their weight is genetic. But it turns out that people who are overweight don't just have overweight kids. They also have overweight pets. That's not genetic. So much of eating is about customs and habits, and we've developed some unfortunate ones. Not enough families eat together. We eat in front of the TV while we're absorbed in a program. You know, the average person will eat up to 50 percent more food when distracted.
Dr. Oz: Plus, it takes around 30 minutes for your body to realize you're full, so if you're hungry when you sit down to eat, and you eat as quickly as most Americans do, you're just going to keep throwing down food before that feeling kicks in.
Oprah: That's right. When you're really hungry, you're eating, eating, eating until you can feel not-hungry anymore.
Dr. Oz: And can I point out something else? I recently learned that the more decisions we make in a day, the more likely we are to make bad decisions—because deciding wears us down. You start making decisions in the morning, and by the middle of the afternoon, you're running on fumes.
Dr. Oz: And unfortunately, one way to fuel the brain to make more decisions is to feed it carbs. So as the day goes on, you start to crave more carbs—especially women, because women tend to make more of the day-to-day decisions in our lives than men.
Oprah: That's why we have the 4 o'clock slump.
Dr. Oz: Yes. So here's a simple tip: To the extent that it's possible, don't make so many decisions. Do what you can to automate your life—and your food—during the day, and then when 4 o'clock rolls around, it doesn't have to be "Pass the chips."
Oprah: You should be turning on The Dr. Oz Show at 4!
Dr. Oz: As long as you're not eating chips while you watch. But seriously, in my opinion, here's the number one reason Americans are heavy: The brain, very smartly, wants nutrition. But the average American is not eating nutrients; he or she is eating empty calories. So you finish that 2,000 calories and your brain says, Keep going until you get nutrients.
Oprah: That's the grazing feeling.
Dr. Oz: Exactly. The brain is literally looking to feed itself.
Next: Dr. Oz on his own eating habits
Oprah: You talk the talk, and you certainly look like you walk the walk. Do you have any flaws?
Dr. Oz: Oh, I'm a profoundly flawed person. For one thing, I've been accused of joyless eating.
Oprah: I wouldn't know what that is.
Dr. Oz: Frank Bruni, who used to be the restaurant critic for The New York Times, once wrote that I was the most joyless eater he'd ever seen.
Oprah: Were you eating jicama when he wrote that? 'Cause I think jicama is one joyless food.
Dr. Oz: Jicama has no joy.
Oprah: When I got to the photo shoot today and walked into my dressing room, there was a plate of jicama. I thought, Why would I ever want to eat that? They got our dressing rooms mixed up. So what do you eat on a given day?
Dr. Oz: Well, when Frank accused me of being joyless, I was eating walnuts soaked in water. I grew up partly in Istanbul, where my grandfather had walnut trees. I'd crack open the walnuts on the pavement and eat the moist nuts. But when you buy walnuts in a store, they're dried out and have a little bitterness. If you soak them in water, that bitterness goes away.
Oprah: I get mine at Whole Foods and they're perfectly fine unsoaked! Walnuts soaked in water—that is two degrees below joyless. What else do you eat?
Dr. Oz: For breakfast I usually have blueberries with Greek yogurt, which I love. Or I'll have steel-cut oatmeal with flaxseed on it.
Oprah: Love that. What about lunch?
Dr. Oz: I often get an oily fish. I love salmon, but black bass is to die for. The reason I like it more than salmon is that so much of the salmon you get on the East Coast is farm raised. They feed the fish pellets to get their color right. There's a color wheel, and the farmer picks the color he wants.
Oprah: Really? What an education.
Dr. Oz: You know, I actually went to Alaska last summer and caught wild salmon with my hands, which apparently is illegal.
Oprah: What are they going to do to you?
Dr. Oz: Too late now!
Oprah: You do get around, though, don't you? I know for sure that you're popular in Turkey. I was there last summer, and I found myself using your name to open doors. I'm like, "I know Dr. Oz. May I have a seat by the water, please?"
Dr. Oz: Oh, you're pretty popular in Turkey yourself. And the Arab world.
Oprah: It always shocked me that the Oprah show was popular in places like Iran and Saudi Arabia. But speaking of shows, tell me what having yours has meant for your trajectory. Last night I came home from work at 11—we've been going all out at OWN—and Stedman said, "We're back to the old days." Because when I first started my show, I used to come home at 10, 11 o'clock at night. I had only four producers, I was helping them book, we were arranging for the limo services, we were doing it all. And it changes your personal relationships and your availability to do things. Have you found that?
Dr. Oz: It takes up your life. That's the big sacrifice. You don't have balance.
Oprah: Now do you understand?
Dr. Oz: Yes. When you said you were stopping your show after 25 years, and everyone said, "How can she do that, she's at the top of her game!"—I knew exactly what you were talking about.
Oprah: And actually, the show is the easiest thing you do all day, because you've got a couple hundred people in the audience cheering you on.
Dr. Oz: Yes. It's all choreographed, you've done your homework, your producers have made the most spectacular graphics—that's the easy part. The hard part is 10 o'clock at night, when you want to go home. That's what happened Thursday when we were doing a detox diet. I didn't like it, and I said, "I'm not going to do this tomorrow on the show." But then the turmoil, the emotions—you don't want people to feel insulted after they worked their tails off. But it just wasn't right.
Next: Oprah's advice for Dr. Oz on setting boundaries
Oprah: And you no longer get to make mistakes that are just your own. For years I've said to Gayle, "All my mistakes show up on the 6 o'clock news." As now do yours. Have you and Lisa been in the tabloids yet?
Dr. Oz: Not really. So far, you're the only one I've had an affair with!
Oprah: Well, that makes sense because Gayle's having an affair with Stedman
Dr. Oz: Again?
Oprah: Mm-hmm. So now that you're doing the show, do you feel yourself pulled in every direction?
Dr. Oz: I do. It's a big issue for me—feeling like I should be helping every person who asks for something or who has a problem.
Oprah: You've got to learn to say no. May I say that to you?
Dr. Oz: Yes, thank you.
Oprah: You have to set boundaries. Years ago, during a mammogram, I was leaning over with my breast in the machine, and the technician said, "Excuse me, I know it's a bad time, but..." I'm thinking, You're damn right it's a bad time!
Dr. Oz: That is very funny.
Oprah: No hyperbole! And I don't want that kind of thing to happen to you, okay? Okay. Now, we all know you as "America's Doctor." Would you give yourself the same grade as a doctor that you would as a husband?
Dr. Oz: I think I'm a better doctor than I am a husband. I give myself a good grade as a doctor, then the next best grade as a father, and the worst grade as a husband. I don't listen well when Lisa talks.
Oprah: As well as I've tried to teach you?!
Dr. Oz: The reason she wrote Us is that after 25 years of me not listening to pillow talk, she figured if she wrote it down, maybe I'd read it and believe it.
Oprah: For anyone who isn't familiar with it, we should explain that Us is Lisa's 2010 book about transforming your relationships. Did you learn a lot about yourself reading that book?
Dr. Oz: Lisa asked me to write the foreword—but I wasn't allowed to read the book till it was done. She thought I'd mess it up. When she finally gave it to me, I sat there and read the whole thing, cover to cover. I wish I had understood the things she was telling me all along.
Oprah: What did you learn from the book? I learned that y'all have a very hot sex life!
Dr. Oz: That's how most men connect—in bed. The physical connection is important because it reinforces the emotional one. But what I learned most from the book is that Lisa is all about having a relationship with me. I would not be sitting here having this conversation if it weren't for Lisa. It was her idea to do the Second Opinion show, which is where you and I met. It was her idea to do the books that gave rise to that show. It was her vision early on to create the kind of show we're doing now. She had a much larger vision for me than I did for myself.
Oprah: I usually say that about God! You say it about Lisa.
Dr. Oz: Believe me, I do. But anyway, we actually had a big spat about this a couple of months ago.
Oprah: You two have spats?
Dr. Oz: Oh, gosh. In my house, the prosecution never rests. It's just one after another of things I do wrong. And I do do them wrong. But she's quick to make sure I own up to it. Anyway, a couple of months ago we were fighting about something, and she said, "Don't you understand? I didn't do any of those things so you could go off and make a television show on your own. I did those things so I could be with you! It was all about building connection in our life together. Because when you're in the operating room, I can't be close to you."
Oprah: Everybody wants to marry a doctor, but it's a lonely life.
Dr. Oz: Medicine is a jealous mistress. It demands all your time. That's why Lisa's involved in all the other things I do. And the wonderful part is, I trust her judgment more than anyone else's. She has become my true north. She's so insightful about the things I do—especially the dumb ones!
Next: "You've got to make a conscious decision that you'll create balance"
Oprah: Well, if I may give you some advice, even though I'm not taking it myself: You've got to make a conscious decision that you'll create balance.
Dr. Oz: Why haven't you?
Oprah: Because the show became the great love of my life—not just the mistress. It filled everything. With each year, as you'll see, you have to keep raising the bar. Right now you are the leader of all the talk shows. In order to maintain that position, you have to keep reinventing. It becomes all-consuming. So you've got to decide where that fits into your life and where the rest of your life folds in.
Dr. Oz: Yes.
Oprah: You think season three is hard? Season seven's going to kick your handsome ass, sassafras! [Laughs]
Now that you have the show, do you miss the operating room?
Dr. Oz: I do. Thursdays I'm still there, and I go diligently. But yes, I miss it. Especially the normalcy. You get to just be a heart surgeon, and it's a very Zen moment to hold the human heart.
Oprah: I can only imagine.
Dr. Oz: Everybody around you is focused on exactly what you're focused on. And everything you hear—like that "beep beep beep"—tells you something. "Boop boop" is bad—it means no oxygen. "Beep beep" is good. That choreographed dance is the art of surgery. It has always been a joy. That's why I still practice. It keeps me connected. And I love the fact that you can have a one-on-one with a person, hold their hands, look them in their eyes, and connect. That's what I try to do on the show. So surgery has trained me better than anything else to connect with people.
Oprah: But when you do surgery, you don't have relationships with patients.
Dr. Oz: Oh, yes I do! At 9 o'clock, I see the patient I'll be operating on the following week. Then I go to the operating room at 9:30 or 10 and operate till noon. I see three, four patients at lunch. I go back to the operating room in the afternoon, and then I go home. That evening I look through my briefing for the next day's show.
Oprah: Okay. Let's talk about Transformation Nation—you started it because you thought we as a country needed to improve our health.
Dr. Oz: We need a wholesale reevaluation of what health feels like. Most Americans don't even know what that is anymore. I want to tell people, "Listen, there are places where you can focus on your health, and it can actually be simple."
Oprah: Have you made any resolutions for this year?
Dr. Oz: My higher aspiration is to stimulate my brain by learning more Spanish. I've become so locked into being on top of all the medical stuff coming down the pike, and I want to stretch my brain in a different way. There are lots of directions I could have gone—it could have been taking up a musical instrument, or learning to dance—but I decided I want to learn Spanish. I'm going to try it this summer. We'll see.
Oprah: Si, señor! One year I, too, was going to learn Spanish. I was taking lessons at Harpo. I learned how to say, "You've done a really good job," because I wanted to be able to talk to the guys who were building a wall at my place in Santa Barbara. So I said to this one guy in Spanish, "You've done a really good job." And then Bob Greene, who was managing my property, walks by, takes one look at the wall, and goes, "Needs to come down." A stone happened to be off by an eighth of an inch!
Dr. Oz: Bob should have said, "Oprah's a very sarcastic woman!" So Oprah, tell me the other mistakes I'm going to make before I make them, if you don't mind....
Oprah: No, thank you. Let's just see how long the Spanish lasts.
Next: The two things you need to do to improve your life in 2012
Dr. Oz: Okay. And what about you—what's your resolution for this year? Have you decided?
Oprah: I haven't—and I'm not going to just casually throw something out there. For years I've been writing in this magazine, "What I know for sure is that I need more balance." So I'm not going to keep saying I need more balance until I can create it.
Dr. Oz: Very fair. If you can figure it out, it should be one of our 28 days to better health—because that's one thing I have no idea how to fix.
Oprah: I love the idea of 28 days of health. But if there were just one thing people did differently to improve their lives in 2012, what would it be?
Dr. Oz: Well, there are really two things that drive New Year's resolution success. Number one is telling somebody about your goal. Chances are, they'll either join you in pursuing it or at least support you. Number two is to be concrete and specific. You don't want a goal like "becoming a better person," because there's no objective way to judge that. It's got to be something like "I'm going to call my mother once a week." Or "I'm going to cut my body mass index to 25." It can't be fudgeable. Losing weight is a typical resolution, but you don't have to choose that. Your goal could be "I'm going to sleep for seven hours a night." If you're concrete, I'll bet the chance that you'll be succeeding by summer is 50 percent. Those are definitely odds worth taking.
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Printed from Oprah.com on Sunday, March 9, 2014
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