Opinion: Calories in TDR are not worth it
Calorie counts next to food options can trigger disordered eating among students
Editor’s Note: This story contains references to disordered eating.
As an underclassman with a meal plan on American University’s campus, every meal I ate came with a number. This didn’t bother me too much at first, as like many people, calories were never something I paid attention to. But as someone who had always struggled with feeling like I needed to shrink my body, I began to consider how tracking these numbers could help me lose the pounds that had always carried so much insecurity. My freshman year at AU was the fresh start I needed to do just that.
Within its respective name placard, there are calories next to nearly every food item in Terrace Dining Room, from the cream cheese spread to the pasta dishes to the omelet bar toppings. The more I paid attention to these numbers, the more I began restricting food choices in the name of losing weight and “health.” I became obsessed with eating what I deemed would make me look “perfect.” I felt immense anxiety at the thought of eating many of the food options in the dining hall.
Tracking calories began as something I used to feel more confident in myself, and ended in an obsession I could not control. It has taken me months to recover from a pattern of thinking that guilted me for eating basically anything outside of TDR’s salad bar. If the calorie counts had not been so accessible in the first place, my eating disorder may have not developed into something so extreme.
Although the knowledge of a food’s calories might be meaningless to some, it can trigger others who struggle with eating disorders to act on disordered thoughts. When I returned to AU for my sophomore year, I knew I wanted to stop adhering to the food rules that had been controlling me. Once I began to reintroduce foods I had feared for months, the awareness of calories made it extremely difficult to view certain foods as “safe” to eat. I assumed eating too many calories came with weight gain.
A calorie is defined as a unit of energy. The amount of calories we eat, derived from carbohydrates, fats and proteins, determines how much energy our body receives. People assume that when they eat fewer calories than they are using for energy, they will lose weight. This is not only overly simplistic, but also a harmful mindset that leads many to become disconnected from their bodies and the true nourishment they need.
I don’t think calories need to be unknown by everyone who eats on campus. Students can still access this information on the AU Kitchen website. I only suggest that they be removed from direct proximity to the food itself.
Calorie counts are often unavoidable. Plenty of restaurants outside of campus have them on their menus, often due to FDA requirements. When it comes to a place that so many students visit every day, however, the University must consider the effects calorie counts and nutritional information can have. Those who have struggled with harsh diets and eating disorders deserve to have the freedom to rediscover the meals and types of foods they have long avoided, without the guilt of seeing the associated calories. If AU wants to support students who are attempting to heal their relationship with their body and food, removing calories from TDR is one of the steps they should take in doing so.
Emily Sohl is a junior in the School of Communications and a columnist for The Eagle.
This article was edited by Jelinda Montes, Alexis Bernstein and Abigail Pritchard. Copy editing done by Isabelle Kravis and Charlie Mennuti.