This National Eating Disorder Awareness week has served as a valuable period of introspection for me. While reviewing the various modes of personal recovery I’ve gone through—mental, physical, emotional—I’ve also been thinking about how the transition to college has been both liberating and exacerbating. In many ways, I feel that Yale creates an atmosphere conducive to holistic wellness. Every college has a gym open at all hours, the dining halls serve balanced menus, the Good Life center offers meditation, yoga, and intuitive eating seminars, Frocos run duty nights three times a week so freshmen have access to low pressure, alcohol-free gatherings, and in my experience so far, professors have been nothing but understanding in regards to granting extensions.
While Yale’s mental health services have been under fire, especially in the midst of COVID, I do believe that the University attempts to emphasize undergraduate wellness. However, due to a chronic lack of access to quality and timely mental health care on campus, its cherry-on-top resources (napping rooms, anxiety reduction workshops, etc.) feel insufficient and superficial. Campus publications have repeatedly spotlighted the need for the Yale administration to hire more counselors, minimize wait times, increase access to specialty services, and guarantee regular appointments. I am certainly an advocate for these larger structural changes, but in the meantime, there is one small change that I feel could make a momentous difference: Yale, stop showing me the calories in everything I eat!
The first time I walked into a Yale dining hall I was both astonished and grossly absorbed by the food labels advertising the caloric value and macronutrients of every single item. Awesome Burger, 18.05 grams of fat; Chicken panini with apple butter and brie 477.59 kcal; Rocky Road Brownies, 25.79 grams of sugar. As a woman who has spent nearly a decade battling an eating disorder, I am no stranger to the danger these statistics pose. For some, these facts may be harmless; for others, though, they can easily feed into obsessive behaviors, cyclical guilt, and suffocating bouts of self-loathing.
Eating disorders are rampant on college campuses. The most recent available study on collegiate eating disorder prevalence rates concluded that 25 percent of men and 32.6 percent of women suffer from eating disorders. (This study included Anorexia, Bulimia, BED, and EDNOS, Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified, which is a diagnosis used when a patient meets many, but not all, of the criteria for anorexia or bulimia). College students are particularly vulnerable, as anorexia, bulimia, and binge-eating disorder most often take root between ages 18 and 21.
Given the pervasive nature of fraught food relationships and diagnosable disorders on campus, it feels obvious to me that Yale Hospitality should refrain from publicizing the calories and macros of its offerings. On my visits to various other college campuses—Brown, Dartmouth, Claremont McKenna—I have never seen a dining hall list caloric values. I am not advocating for dining halls to scrap labels completely; I understand that allergens and ingredients need to be listed. However, those who must follow calorie-specific diets can simply check the app for additional nutritional details—those details don’t need to be printed on an unavoidable card looming over every dish.
While attempting to learn more about Yale’s decision to include macronutrient information on their labels, I reached out to the Senior Manager of Marketing and Communications for Yale Hospitality, Christelle Ramos; I received no response. I also reached out to Leah Beck, the head of Menu Design and the Nutrition Quality Assurance Manager for Yale Hospitality. Unfortunately, she was unable to comment, but she did inform me that she terminated her employment at Yale last week. With Ms. Beck leaving the Hospitality Staff, I am left wondering if a new menu and nutritional manager will bring a new policy to the table.
I appreciate that Yale intends to encourage mindful and healthful eating by giving students numerical data, but truly, who wants to be confronted, every single day, with the grams of fat in every spoonful they scoop on their plate?
The National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA) runs a free, confidential hotline available Monday–Thursday, 9:00 am EST – 9:00 pm EST and Friday, 9:00 am EST– 5:00 pm EST. Call 1-800-931-2237
The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) also has a text option for their confidential helpline. Text “NAMI” to 741-741
If you’re looking to schedule a session with Yale Mental Health and Counseling, you can do so here. On-call counselors are also available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Call (203) 432-0290 between 9 am and 5 pm or (203) 432-0123 any other time of day.