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, of course.
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.