Forgive me for the clickbait, but I mean it: college
students really have no idea how to regulate our own eating, and the
all-you-care-to-eat dining facility on campus feeds (pun intended) into the
vicious cycle of dis-regulated eating.
It is ultimately up to the students to recognize that our
own needs supersede the food rules we have internalized through years of
practice. We do not need to base our eating off of the models of others; we can
trust ourselves to make food choices that will make us feel good.
Growing up, you probably learned to respond to external
cues about your hunger and fullness, rather than the intuition that has guided
humankind since we first crawled out of the muck. Someone else made most, if
not all, of your meals. You ate when meals were served; a meal was over when
your plate was empty. You may not have had any input as to what was on the
menu, and you were forced to eat what was served, irrespective of your likes
and dislikes. Whereas in nature, eating is regulated by internal cues like feeling
hungry or full. We all learned to eat on someone else’s schedule.
You probably also grew up indoctrinated into the cult of
diet culture; that is, you received messages through your friends, family and
the media about which foods were ‘good’ and which were ‘bad,’ ‘sinful’ or, god
forbid, ‘guilt-inducing.’ Not only which foods, but also the quantity of food
and the timing of your meals. This was almost certainly tied up with the size
of your body; you learned from a young age that baby fat stops being cute
eventually, and you needed to control your body size through food and physical
activity. Even if you were naturally thin, you were taught to watch what you
ate, lest you end up as one of those sad, out-of-control fatties.
So what happens when you throw a bunch of those people
into a situation where they have nearly unrestricted access to food, without
any of the external regulators they relied on their whole lives? Mass hysteria,
Some people opt to eat as much as possible—more bang for
your buck, am I right? After a lifetime of denying ourselves the pleasures of a
good donut, the endless array of tots and soft-serve is too delectable to
resist. We go back for seconds, and thirds, leaving feeling physically
uncomfortable and probably a little mentally uncomfortable, as well. We beat
ourselves up for our apparent lack of willpower and vow to keep an even tighter
grip on our eating habits in the future.
The other strategy when confronted with an infinite
supply of food is to take a cautious approach. Carefully selecting a ‘balanced’
and ‘nutritious’ plate of food while ignoring the things that look truly
satisfying, we fail to eat enough to really feel full. We leave feeling like we
wasted money on a less-than-fulfilling experience, but at least we managed to
ignore the ever-tempting dessert table on the way out.
Neither of these approaches to food leave us feeling
satisfied. Neither is sustainable in the long-term, and both are endlessly
complicated by the food rules and messages we receive as we attempt to navigate
the food landscape at Lawrence (I’m looking at you, calorie labels in the
Cafe). While I don’t believe in placing moral labels on food or ways of eating,
the goal of eating should be to fulfill a need, our physical or emotional
hunger, without creating more problems for ourselves. Eating does not need to
be complicated, but the college lifestyle makes eating according to our actual
needs and wants, nearly impossible.
Of course, our eating habits are not solely the
responsibility of the school. Class schedules and extra-curricular activities
compete with our desire to prioritize food. I would argue that Lawrence does
the best they can with the resources they have and the biases they carry.