Colleges often provide students with suggestions for maintaining physical health and well-being.
Illinois Wesleyan University aspires to the same ideal. A variety of foods are offered in the various dining areas, the Shirk Center is nearly always open for students, and the Health Services Center on campus hosts programs every so often to raise awareness of health issues.
But Illinois Wesleyan may have gone too far when it comes to their emphasis on dieting and weight management.
All first-year dorms’ laundry rooms have large posters above the machines listing tips to “keep from gaining that dreaded extra weight and staying fit!”
While this wouldn’t necessarily be a problem if the tips simply focused on eating and exercising in moderation, some of the helpful hints are excessive.
Take the suggestion to “Hit the gym on or off campus whenever possible,” or “Read nutrition labels carefully.” The poster goes on to advise, “Check serving sizes and the amount of calories, fat and sugar grams.”
Though this may be daily routine for many students, such behaviors actually border on being eating-disordered, according to National Eating Disorder Information Center (NEDIC).
Far more troublesome than the tips mentioned above is the table of meal suggestions that runs alongside the tips. Here, the poster gives an example of what would be an apparently appropriate amount of food for a college student to consume during a given day.
But the food listed is far from adequate. In fact, when the calories are calculated, the net intake advised by the poster comes to roughly 1,070 calories at most.
To put this in perspective, most doctors recommend a diet of around 2,000 calories for the average person. If that doesn’t give the reader enough of a perspective, here is an added fact: the human body goes into starvation mode when fed less than 1,200 calories a day.
While those in charge of such health information on campus didn’t mean harm, these nutrition posters have a potential hurtful effect on college students, particularly young women.
Students are already stressed by academia, relationships, and other aspects of college life. Such a hectic environment can easily produce eating disorders, or at least disordered eating.
The dieting mindset is already common among college students as it is.
According to the National Association for Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders (ANAD), 25 percent of college-aged women engage in bingeing and purging as a weight-management technique, with a smaller but still significant amount of male students doing the same.
Dianne Feasley, nutritionist at Illinois Wesleyan University Arnold Health Services, views suggesting dieting techniques as not only irrational, but harmful.
“Studies have shown that 95 percent of dieters gain the weight back and are worse off than when they started, while 2 percent succumb to eating disorders. If 97 percent of dieters end up negatively affected by diets, why would you recommend a diet to anyone?” Feasley said.
Sophomore nursing major Laura Woodsmall shares this opinion.
“These posters simply fuel our fire to lose weight quickly by increasing our desire to fit in with what is ‘normal.’ But all of my friends who have tried dieting wound up heavier and unhappier than before,” Woodsmall said.
In the end, while the college’s intentions may have been sound, the posters hanging on the laundry room wall have at least equal potential for harm as for good.
Though students need to be warned about health risks and learn about the benefits of a healthy lifestyle, the way to go about it is not suggesting excessive exercise, constant counting of calories, or any other form of weight obsession.