Friday, May 01, 2009
Calorie counts in college dining halls
Over on the Academy of Eating Disorders listserv, there's been a discussion going about whether it's good (or even just OK) to post calorie counts for food served on campus. I've listened with interest, and a growing sense of frustration and horror, as both researchers and clinicians debate the pros and cons.
What most of them seem to be missing--or deliberately downplaying--is the damage these calorie listings can do, not just for people with eating disorders but for everyone. And especially women. About three-quarters of women say their eating is disordered in some way, and my personal experience (for myself and watching my friends and acquaintances) certainly bears this out.
It gets right up my nose to hear the sometimes pompous arguments made by academics and researchers on an issue like this. Statements like this one: "Awareness doesn't equal obsession." Um, maybe not if you're a 40-year-old male doctor who's never had an eating issue. If you're a woman in today's culture? I beg to differ. Many years ago when I "did" Weight Watchers I was aware that eating on the WW meal plan simply replaced one food issue with another. Instead of constant anxiety about how much and what I was eating and whether I was gaining or losing weight, I became a good little obsessive weigher of foods and follower of instructions. In nine months on the program I never deviated from it once. Not even for a bite. This was a testament not to my willpower or moral virtue but to the deep level of obsession that being hyper-aware of my calorie intake inspired in me.
I'm quite sure I'm not alone in this.
Which is why I was happy to see this article, written by a senior at Yale, arguing against listing calorie counts for food served on campus.
In theory, maybe "awareness" of calories isn't a bad thing. In reality, I can't see the upside.