Stern: Destructive dining tips

If you lost your appetite while reading Yale Dining’s “Wellness Information and Nutrition” flier on healthy eating, you’re not alone. The healthy eating tips are obsessive, restrictive and negative. As a whole, the list promotes the shift in American eating habits from appreciating food to obsessing over it. Rather than eating to live, the American population lives to eat. The obesity epidemic we have been battling for decades has plagued much more than our physical shape; it has left us with a totally distorted conception of food.

Our skewed beliefs have drawn us away from truly healthy foods in order to satisfy “low-carb,” “no saturated fat,” “cholesterol-free” fads. As Michael Pollan suggests in his “In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto,” we no longer care about where the food comes from, but rather, its nutrition label. And, sadly, the flier from Yale Dining encourages us to fall into this trap.

The flier encourages fixation over food, rather than love for it. For example, Yale Dining advises students to keep a “Food & Exercise Journal.” While it’s good idea to keep track of how you’re treating your body from a health perspective, keeping a journal makes you focus too intently on the individual foods you eat rather than on your diet in general. For a population of neurotic Yale students, this may be the first step down a slippery slope to some sort of disordered eating, a problem faced by 65 percent of American women, according to a recent University of North Carolina study.

The fact that the flier presents a laundry list of rules for daily eating only exacerbates the problem. Such a list is associated with overly restrictive eating that often leads to bad habits like binging and stressing about food. And the ideas listed are no better. The sheet suggests that students look at the dining hall’s menu online and pick what to eat in advance. This detracts from one of the most enjoyable parts of the dining hall experience — getting to meander, scope out the options and select the foods you crave because of their sight and smell, not their calorie count.

Going veg — as the flier tells us to do twice a week — was recently nominated as a go-to for teens seeking an excuse to avoid food groups and is known to be linked with eating disorders. It’s a manifestation of this all-or-nothing, restrictive food management habit that’s destroying our reality about sustenance.

In addition, the suggestions allow for very little fluctuation or variation; it calls for dessert as an exception and asks us to avoid late-night snacking. This is not only prohibitive, but it is inappropriate advice for a college population. We aren’t 60-year-old men and women; we can and should indulge. Furthermore, most students in Yale College are not obese, and the list should reflect that. While it is true that promoting low-calorie foods is good for those who need them, most college students are not in need of a “transformation,” as the flier states. The guidelines also recommend portion and serving sizes that are the bare minimum recommended on the government’s food pyramid for moderately active people. Worse still, Yale’s handout omits crucial recognition of the wide range in needs, servings and portion sizes among students here. Finally, Yale Dining promotes techniques to deceive the mind, like using a smaller plate. Using the word “trick” when it comes to eating is already a bad start — a nutritionally “Healthy New Year” should be about being intuitive and honest with internal cues, not some sick mind-game for falsified satiety and distorted hunger management.

But beyond failures of conception, some nutritional facts on the flier are just wrong. Yeah, maybe you shouldn’t douse your salad in mayonnaise, but the list prohibits items that are actually quite healthy. For example, the omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids in nuts are very beneficial, and olives and cheese offer calcium and healthy oils. In addition, Yale Dining suggests a single glass of reduced-fat milk between meals. One glass of milk is 120 calories — well below the government’s suggestion for snacks. And its promotion of juice should be replaced with suggestions for fresh fruit that incorporate less sugar and more fiber. Finally, Yale Dining offers unhealthy suggestions for meal planning, such as eating very little before a dinner out. Contrary to this suggestion, if you’re planning a special restaurant meal in the evening, you should eat balanced meals during the day to prevent overeating later.

As a whole, the list encourages stringent rules that threaten to exploit the obsessively faithful compliance of Yale students over the intuition that is crucial to healthy eating. This “month’s worth of tips” gives us 30 things to change about our eating habits, and there’s something off about many of them. I’m scared to see what they’ll come out with next month.

Rebecca Stern is a sophomore in Berkeley College.

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