Science Friday: Are Calories Controlling Us?

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FILE- In this March 6, 2018, file photo, a McDonald’s Quarter Pounder, left, and Double Quarter Pound burger is shown with fresh beef in Atlanta. Following years of reformulating at McDonald’s, most of the burgers it serves in the U.S. are now preservative-free. As of Wednesday, Sept. 26, the chain says classics like the Big Mac and Quarter Pounder with Cheese are preservative-free, with reformulated buns and sauces. (AP Photo/Mike Stewart, File)

Her highlighted blonde hair was pulled up in a messy bun, backpack on one shoulder. She was Wearing leggings and a UConn sweatshirt, bought big on purpose for the “oversized” look. She is talking with her friends about the upcoming, presumably tear jerking, season of This is Us, as they enter South Dining Hall, together.

One of her friends headed straight for the sausage and fried potato pancakes. The other, takes a slice of French toast, with a generous serving of maple syrup. She watches them, plate still empty.

153 for two sausage links. 221 for 4oz of potatoes. 356 for one piece of French toast.

She puts down the plate, picks up a banana. “I totally started crying when Jack Pearson died.”

Beginning in grade school, we are taught the concept of nutrition. First with the food pyramid, focusing on “colorful plates,” and junk food is bad. An apple a day, instead of Oreos. That kind of thing.

But as a teenager, we begin to have other influences. Weight Loss advertisement and celebrity exercise routines. Passing by a billboard for U Fit Gym reading “Lose weight, look great.” Watching “What I eat in a Day” videos on YouTube and “How to look like a Victoria Secret model.” The one common idea among all: Calories are evil.

Perhaps adding a scoop of ice cream to every meal is an unnecessary, and not exactly a “healthy,” addition to one’s diet, but the number focus on campus is absolutely detrimental to the health and well-being of college students. University dining halls label foods with the purpose of controlling calories, but instead, it is the calories that control us.

These numbers can lead to extreme forms of dieting and potential eating disorders. Also for anyone who has suffered from disordered eating, these numbers can be extremely triggering and anxiety evoking. The Center for Eating Disorders quoted Dr. Richard Kreipe, who stated, “Nutrition is not a simple thing that can be distilled down into a label. There’s a tendency for people to over-interpret what a specific number means”.
In fact, in the Collegiate Survey Project conducted by the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) stated that over a 13 year period, the number of college students with eating disorders rose from 23.4 percent to 32.6 percent from one college.

“I’m going to have oatmeal, it’s less calories.”

“Who’s going to the gym later?”

“I can’t have ice cream, I’m too fat.”

These are all real words I have heard spoken at the dining halls on campus. Real thoughts from real students, as a direct effect from the nutrition labels.

What do I propose that UConn, as well as many universities do? Get rid of the calorie count. Foods can still be labeled with nutrition information such as high protein, or high fiber, without the intimidating numbers. This would be an excellent way to help young adults make healthful choices, without the obsession with numbers.

Instead of “looking great”, the focus should be on “feeling great” in relation to a healthy relationship with food.

Leaving the dining hall, she throws the banana peel away, noticingly still hungry, yet somewhat euphoric. Today, she made a good choice, she thinks, to herself. Stomach rumbling, as she walks to class.

Yes, a good choice.


Kate Luongo is a contributor for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at kate.luongo@uconn.com.

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