Who’s University Dining Really Catering To?
Amanda McKnight | Staff Writer
Hanging above the grill in Clark Dining Hall is a sign which informs patrons that eating a single cheeseburger will take 8,000 steps or 60-minutes of walking to burn off the calories consumed from that burger. Signs like this can be found adjacent to many foods in university dining halls.
Also, now when students go to get milk from dispensers, the nutrition facts are plastered right out in front, listing the serving size, calories, fat, carbohydrates, and protein.
The new display of nutritional facts at N.C. State should come as no surprise, as America has become more and more focused on healthy living. First Lady Michelle Obama has started her “Let’s Move!” campaign for school-aged children and Jennifer Hudson is the face of Weight Watchers. On Hillsborough Street and around campus there are signs encouraging people to walk or bike rather than drive. This semester all of the exercise classes in the Recreation Center are free to students and, N.C. State has further jumped on the healthy living bandwagon with University Dining’s “One Change” program.
According to the University Dining website, One Change is a six-week campaign that “encourages participants to make one positive change per week, such as walking more often or maintaining proper hydration.”
On the surface this seems like a great way to promote healthy lifestyles changes, as college students tend to eat whatever is fast, cheap, and accessible. However, despite the good this program may be doing, it is also alienating students who are dealing with eating disorders.
Molly McDonough, a freshman majoring in Women’s and Gender Studies who has been dealing with an eating disorder for several years, finds some aspects of the One Change program to be detrimental to progression. “I’ve struggled with an eating disorder for a very long time, and one thing that I did a lot in high school was calculate how many calories I’d eaten for the day and then figure out how far I needed to run to work that number off; there were several months where I was ‘consuming’ around negative 100 calories a day,” said McDonough.
McDonough continued, “I know for a fact that I’m not the only one who eats in Clark who’s had similar experiences. Seeing those signs triggers a lot of disordered feelings and behaviors in me when I see them. It’s dangerous and irresponsible to teach students that food is something you consume simply to work it off again. Health is so multi-faceted, and nutrition, which is just one part of it, is complex and different for everyone. Being fat is not inherently unhealthy, and knowing exactly how far you need to walk to work off a piece of pizza isn’t going to stop students from being fat- it’s only going to teach us to associate food with guilt even more than we already do.”
For students dealing with an eating disorder, the new signs could serve as a trigger, encouraging them to start counting calories on their plates, or go out of their way to work out. One way to deter these behaviors could be as simple as placing a flap over the current signs.
Excessive exercising is also a symptom of many eating disorders and giving people exact numbers on how long it will take to work of a meal could be harmful. This issue is especially critical for the age of patrons the dining hall serves. The National Institute of Mental Health reports that the average age for a person to develop anorexia nervosa is 19 and bulimia nervosa, 20. According to the South Carolina Department of Mental Health, 95 percent of people with eating disorders are between the ages of 19 and 25.
The One Change creator and University Dining dietitian, Lisa Eberhart, has been very invested in working to accommodate students with allergies and other special dietary needs. Eberhart, who in 2012 won the Governor’s Award for Excellence, says that University Dining has not overlooked students with eating disorders. “When it comes to eating disorders, I don’t mark calories at the point of sale, so the calories that cause some populations anxiety are not right in their faces, literally. But, the calories are always accessible,” said Eberhart.
She continued, “A new thing we do have is MyFitnessPal. It is a free online food diary and app. Most of the N.C. State Dining foods are in there and it makes it simple for students to keep track of their diet and exercise.”