Friday, September 26, 2008
Harvard bucks the mainstream on "nutrition information"
Last year, if you ate at a Harvard dining hall, you were confronted by a large sign listing the calorie, fat, protein, etc. content of everything you ate.
This year the signs are gone, thanks to a group of parents who protested them.
"The feeling was that for people who have eating disorders or who struggle with issues around the literal value of food, the emphasis on nutrition information does not always lead people to eat in a healthy manner," said Harvard dining hall spokeswoman Crista Martin.
It's naive of anyone to think that an "emphasis on nutrition information" will lead to "healthier" eating decisions. Most of us can't help but be aware of fat grams, calories, etc. in the food we eat (or don't eat), and the effect is hardly salutory.
I practice intuitive eating most of the time. I gave up dieting years ago. I parented a child through anorexia. But when I'm faced with those "nutrition information" signs, I immediately feel that whatever I'm eating, or about to eat, is too much. I immediately slip back into a mindset of any calories are too many.
It's like the story about the old miser and his horse. Each day the miser fed his horse a little less, until finally the horse died of starvation. The miser's comment: "Just when I was training him to need no food at all!"
Those calorie count listings make me feel as though the goal is to eat as little as possible--ideally, nothing. They immediately trigger fear, anxiety, and the restricting mindset.
Luckily I am too ornery to stay in that mindset for long. But is it really a surprise that for students at Harvard, one of the most competitive schools on the planet, signs listing calorie counts of everything served in the dining halls might be a bad idea? That a vulnerable population (driven, intensely competitive Harvard students) might be triggered by these reminders of "healthy eating"?
I don't think so.
I only wish the rest of the world would follow Harvard's lead on this one.