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.


  • Yale 11

    A few points:

    1- Don’t use the food pyramid. It’s gov’t hogwash caused by various industry lobbyists.

    2- Eat WHOLE foods- minimally processed/prepared.

    3- Fat doesn’t make you fat. Calories make you fat. Eat real butter, ice cream, fried chicken etc. Just eat them in proper portions

    4- This article and Yale Dining fail to account for the most fattening moments of Yale consumption: drinking and late night feeds.

  • J. Song

    nice article becca!

  • appreciative

    Thank you for this. The nutrition reccomendations are ridiculous and dangerous. yale does not have an obesity problem. We have a disordered eating problem, by and large.

  • Emma S.

    Great article. Eating doesn’t need to be yet another source of stress for Yalies.

  • Robert T.

    The first two sections seem pretty reasonable to me (eating a balanced breakfast and fruits and vegetables), but the last half of the flyer sounds like it was written by someone with an eating disorder.

    I think the message of not eating a gluttonous diet is fine and good, but the level of detail reads as obsessive.

    “On days you eat creamy soup, skip the cheese slice in your cold sandwich. Save the cheese slice for days it’s a broth-based soup.”

    Most of the examples in that section are equally (strangely) detail oriented, when the message should really be ‘eat a balanced diet,’ which i don’t think is really news to anyone.

  • Goldie ’08

    The going vegetarian suggestion wasn’t all that bad. While it may be tough for someone to go entirely veg twice a week, we should all significantly up our quantities of fruits and vegetables. Meat (while delicious) just isn’t that good for us. I’m a big fan of one small serving of meat per meal, with the rest coming from minimally processed fruits, vegetables and high fiber grains, beans and legumes

  • Yalie11

    Thank you for this well-timed article. I think that the administration has to be much more careful about the information they present around campus in regards to health and nutrition. Aren’t we bombarded enough with information about being “thin”- seriously, we have more important issues to discuss and to print!

  • Yale 11

    Instead of worrying about the dining hall food (which is generally stocked with healthy stuff), Yale should require exercise/physical fitness to graduate.

    There are 300 lb offensive linemen on the football team in better shape than most of the skinny hipsters hanging out at Starbucks.

    Take the Naval Academy approach: every undergraduate must play a sport or work out every semester.

  • @ Yale 11

    Right… that’s not going to alienate tons of prospective freshmen… most people don’t get into yale for their superb athletic ability.

  • low salt suggestion

    Dining hall eating is a good time to begin developing an ongoing taste for lower or no salt added. Then you can really taste the excessive salt in snack foods, prepared foods, and convenience foods–which helps in making very good choices at all times.

  • LizLee

    River, you are awesome!

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