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Breaking down Eating Stereotypes on college campuses

Claudia Espy
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I walked into Eden's laundry room to find a sign on the vending machine that shocked me. It read -- “Calories count, check then choose.” 


I was quick to blame Duke for this triggering language, but then found that the  sign was part of Coca-Cola’s advertising efforts. 


But someone at Duke had to peel this sticker off and place it onto the vending machine. A sticker that could’ve been thrown in the trash, instead of showing it to all those waiting for their clothes to dry. I feel as if Duke and Coca-Cola are to blame.


Eating at college can be tough to navigate. Each time I enter the dining hall, a haunting feeling of eating too much or too little fills my brain. The line for Sprout and the salad bar is always the longest in WU. Eyes feel like they’re watching my every move. I see girls running around with the western societal “idealized” bodies and green juices in hand. 


Adapting to eating in college is already scary. There’s an uneasiness of not knowing the exact ingredients going in the food you're eating. You miss the convenience and comfort of your mom’s home cooked meals or local hometown spots down the street with your “go to” meal. The decision of what to eat feels like a constant burden.

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Others may walk past that sign in the Eden's laundry room and not be bothered. But I know that those who are already battling with food are immediately impacted in some way or another...they might think about it the next time their friend offers to get a Milkshake from the Loop or a crepe from Cafe. 


We are brought AGAIN to a pervasive issue: there exists an idea both of the  “correct” amount of calories, and that some foods are  “good,” while others are “bad.”


Instead of focusing on the smells, tastes, and textures of food, aka intuitive eating, we look at the calorie count. 


Coca-Cola using this as an advertising technique makes me sad, not only because I love their soda and products, but more because it is one of the largest companies in the world advertising a common dieting phrase. Yet coca-cola ignores the fact they sell the sugariest drinks on the market! 


How could any college campus advertise caution around calorie count -- the one trigger of one of the BIGGEST mental illnesses in the nation? Especially at a school where half of the women experience an eating disorder by the time they graduate. Half.

According to the National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA), eating disorders typically begin between 18 and 21 years of age, and the association estimates that between 10 to 20% of women and 4 to 10% of men in college suffer from an eating disorder, and rates are on the rise.


College should be a place where one finds confidence, where one learns how to make hard decisions and live independently. The place where the long-lasting friendships are made and the biggest leaps will be taken. We don’t need a reminder to count our calories. 


Food is fuel for our bodies, in scientific terms.. protein, carbohydrates, and sugars that are entering our body. 


And if you are reading this, I hope this opens a door for you. I encourage you to have more uncomfortable conversations with friends and family, it’s healthy! Be more considerate of the people in the room who may be struggling. 


Eating is supposed to be ENJOYABLE and FUN. Listen to your body, and surround yourselves with supportive people. You are not alone. 


If you or any loved ones feel as if they are struggling and need any professional help, DON’T be afraid to reach out to the National Eating Disorders Helpline: For 24/7 crisis support, text 'NEDA' to 741741, or call  1-800-931-2237. 


It’s my hope that we can break the social stigma around unhealthy eating patterns...especially among women on Duke campus. 

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