the creator of smart girls gotta eat
Riley Hicks and Claire Kraemer
Betsy has a bowl of ice cream every night before she goes to bed. She is also the kind of person who, while eating a banana, will look up the particular nutrients she is receiving from her food. Her behavior exhibits the type of balance she wishes to create in her, and her reader’s, relationship with food. As a college student, Betsy saw how flawed young women’s relationship with food can be. She started to see “the spread of a contagious and not healthy mindset about food and wanted to change” it in her founding of her blog Smart Girls Gotta Eat. As women, we’ve normalized feeling guilty about the food that we eat. We keep to ourselves about our struggles instead of speaking out about it. These are the unfortunate universal truths of being young women and yet, unless we exhibit a severe eating disorder, we believe that our relationship to food is just like anyone else’s.
Born and raised in Atlanta, Georgia, Betsy has always lived an active lifestyle as she grew up running cross-country, swimming, and playing lacrosse. She was lucky enough to be properly educated from nutritionists who were brought in to speak to her sports teams, but realizes this access is expensive and therefore limited. Although Betsy had mostly positive food experiences in high school, when she got to college, that changed. Betsy voiced that without a doubt, there is a toxic culture surrounding food among university students, and in her experience here, at Duke University.
Betsy is not a registered dietitian or nutritionist, which is what makes her work so approachable. She isn’t immune to an unhealthy relationship with food, and because of this she is using her passion for nutrition to educate those around her. She speaks to doctors, but most of her blog posts are brought about by independent research. Betsy allows her research to “marinate” in her brain so that she is accurate, but also authentic. She draws upon her own experience in order to better communicate the importance of nutrition. Betsy’s power lies in her ability to personally connect with her audience. When asked of her mission and inspiration for Smart Girls Gotta Eat, Betsy said, “It’s not a blog for people who struggle with an eating disorder, nor was it intended to be in the first place… the purpose is to bring attention to everyone… to talk about how food affects you internally because there’s way too much attention on external and not enough on internal.” We have programmed ourselves to think about what food will do to our outside, whether it will make us bigger and smaller, instead of realizing what ingredients in your meals can fuel you throughout the day. When we restrict our eating, we deprive ourselves of the nutrients we need to function properly, and end up causing internal harm.
The internet is full of unrealistic body expectations and fad diets that are truly harmful to our metabolism and long-term health. In the past decade, diet culture has exploded. Betsy credits this to social media and the unrealistic images that were placed on our timelines when we were entering a time of immense physical and emotional change. At our most vulnerable stage, social media took off and filled our minds with impossible to meet physical expectations. Social media perpetuates an infamous diet culture that preys on teens and young adults who are in the crucial years of “finding themselves.” Betsy believes that “comparison kills confidence” and all that social media does is provide a platform for you to compare yourself to others. In addition to social media’s influence, Betsy states that one’s upbringing and their familial experiences that one may have shapes our perception of food. She references an hypothetical situation of a brother eating two cheeseburgers at the same time as a mother barely touching her salad. The unhealthy disparity between the two can cause a child at that same table to feel uncomfortable or rather confused as to how they should approach their own meal.
Toxic eating culture on our own campus sticks out like a sore thumb if you choose to acknowledge its existence. Duke prides itself on its dining experience of fresh pasta from Il Forno and poke bowls from Ginger and Soy, but chooses not to focus on the culture surrounding the dining hall. Betsy states that “There is definitely a culture that food is bad… ‘the least I can eat the better’”...stems from the idea that we all feel the need to be perfectionists.” The idea of effortless perfection that is ingrained in the Duke community exists in all facets of college, not just academia. According to Betsy, a way to help this unhealthy culture that plagues Duke’s campus would be “Providing more education on nutrition…[and urging students] to pick up something that could be better for them.” Betsy wants to inspire college students not to only think about the taste of the food, but to consider its nutritional benefits. In addition, Betsy suggests that Duke students need more places to eat breakfast, especially on West Campus where options are few and far between. At a top-tier institution, Betsy expressed her frustration that Duke isn’t able to provide a simple, but healthy, grab and go for the most important and necessary meal of the day.
In the end, all you can really do is try your very best to fuel your body for the essential energy to be a successful Duke student. When thinking about food, “think about what it is going to give you.” More often than not, people exhibit the fluctuation in their eating patterns constantly. People struggle to find a balance between satisfaction and health. Our body craves sugar naturally and we are quite frankly, addicted to it. The more you restrict, the harder the binge. To overcome this obstacle, she suggested mixing in those cravings during the day, along with a healthier option. This way, you will not feel the need to binge on what you restricted yourself from having at the time you wanted it most.
Betsy believes that college-aged women are at the perfect crossroads to spark change, especially in our relationship with food. We have younger women looking up to us for advice, and still have connections to older generations through our families. We need to become comfortable opening a dialogue where we can recognize our unhealthy habits with food. Habits like refusing to eat before going out so we can fit into our crop tops. Or feeling guilty the entire day after going out and having a late night burrito from Cosmics. Or skipping meals because we are too busy in Perkins and can’t step away. These habits that college normalizes are damaging our bodies.
Betsy believes that the first and hardest step in our journey with food is acknowledging and accepting our relationship with food, and then realizing that we aren’t alone. The most rewarding part of her work with Smart Girls Gotta Eat has been the countless number of people, those she knows personally or those from oceans away, reaching out because they realized that they’ve had a negative relationship with food. Betsy is working to “educate, motivate, and inspire.” The million dollar question is what the future will hold with Smart Girls Gotta Eat. What started as a side gig based on a passion for food has turned into a place for inspiring people of all ages. A place where people who Betsy holds dear and strangers alike can relate to her personal, yet informative pieces. A place where the healthiest diet is no diet at all.
We encourage you to take a look at her site for further information on how nutrition affects you from within, rather than how it may affect your appearance.