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Thursday, December 9, 2021

Column: UCD nutrition programs

Many students feel college is to blame when it comes to their health shortcomings and weight gain, leading to common misconceptions. A popular one is that campus food is the root cause of an unhealthy diet. Is that true? Here at UC Davis, the answer is no.

For one, most students have heard that freshmen gain 15 pounds from eating at the dining commons. Not only do studies disprove this, but also the truth is that today, eating healthy on campus is probably as easy as it’s going to get.

Many students aren’t aware that healthy food options and wellness programs are available on site. To learn about these possibilities, I spoke with our Dining Services Director of Nutrition and Sustainability, Linda Adams, about why campus life can help you with your nutrition goals. Let’s start with the Dining Commons (DC).

Believe it or not, the health standards at the dining commons are pretty high. “We focus on fresh, whole food. Our goal is to provide students with food that is healthy [and] additive free,” says Adams.

Protocols are numerous, stipulating that almost every dish be cooked in oil, not butter. Fruits and vegetables often come from local farms low in pesticides. Many dishes are made from scratch, including sauces, soups and house-made French fries that are baked, not fried. On top of that, virtually every entree and dessert is labeled for calorie breakdown, allergens, and vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free diets.

In fact, the abundance of fruits and vegetables at the DC was what made me accidentally lose weight as a freshman. But if this all sounds too healthy, I recommend the broken cookie diet — everyone knows there are no calories in those.

Of course, while healthy eating on campus is possible, not everyone dines here. If this is you, you might like to know that our university offers a variety of free health services.

The dining services nutrition hotline, for example, offers appointments with Linda for nutrition advice. Resident Advisors can invite nutrition talk programs for residents, and there are also services at the Student Health and Counseling Center that Linda recommends. Logging into the student health and counseling website gives you access to a wide range of free health workshops that vary from a weight loss series to healthy cooking, helping you set realistic goals, like mine: Thou shalt not weigh more than thy fridge.

Not only that, but even Student Housing provides its own nutrition support with off-campus housing workshops, food budgeting and nutritious meal preparation. So if your best recipe is instant oatmeal and boiled egg, you might want to try one of these.

Despite these resources, it is still common for students to gain weight, though “The Freshman 15” is definitely a myth. According to research, most people between 17-20 gain two to three pounds, and it has little to do with college attendance, dorm residence or income. Unfortunately, the number of students overweight and obese has still risen to 32 percent. College dining is not the root cause, but stress can certainly have an impact.

Over 50 percent of students report feeling overwhelmed with anxiety within the past year, about half of which is reported to come from academic-related reasons. Unfortunately, students reporting a higher stress level, inadequate sleep and lack of social support for exercise are also more likely to gain weight.

A primary reason for this is that stress can lead you to make nutrition changes you may not be fully aware of. These include lack of motivation to eat healthily, emotional eating and forgetting to have breakfast. Lack of sleep can also lead to increased hunger and eating out of boredom. On top of that, increased alcohol consumption can also lead to overeating.

This is why maintaining a positive attitude for making nutrition a priority is just as important as the food itself. Of course, being bombarded with midterms and tuition fees is probably not helping you. So to reach your nutrition goals, instead of focusing on food alone, I recommend you also focus on optimism. Remember, if you gain five pounds, it’s water. If you lose five pounds, it’s weight.

You can contact THERESA RICHARDSON with comments or questions at terichardson@ucdavis.edu

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