NU Dining removes calorie counts from dining halls in response to research, student feedback


Katie Chen/The Daily Northwestern

On Feb. 2, Allison dining hall modified its food bar menus, removing calorie count from its displays.

Erica Schmitt, Audio Editor

Content warning: This article contains mentions of eating disorders.

Students grabbing lunch from the dining halls may have noticed a small change starting earlier this month.

On Feb. 2, Northwestern Dining removed the calorie counts from food labels in all undergraduate dining halls.

Campus Dietitian Maddy McDonough said the change was made in response to input from individual research, student feedback and numerous campus resources, including Counseling and Psychological Services and Northwestern Dining.

“We saw an opportunity to positively impact the student dining experience by creating a dining environment that more closely resembles home and provides students with the choice to view calories as personally desired,” McDonough said.

The calorie counts were removed to better support the student body, she said, especially those with eating disorders who may have limited access to care or resources. 

CAPS Eating Concerns Coordinator and staff therapist Fallon Weatherspoon said the CAPS eating assessment and treatment team heard feedback from several students struggling with eating disorders about how calories displayed in the dining halls were triggering, which prompted the change.

Weatherspoon added that mealtimes are already very challenging for students with eating disorders.

“(The calorie counts put) more pressure on someone struggling and impacts their ability to kind of be present in the moment during meals,” Weatherspoon said. “It puts more focus on the food and maybe sometimes increases anxiety during the mealtimes.”

Weinberg junior and Active Minds co-President Maddie Kerr, who has struggled with an eating disorder in the past, said they think the removal acknowledges that students struggle with disordered eating and body image issues on campus.

However, Kerr said they were bothered by a common critique of the change: that removing calories displayed would only benefit a minority of students on campus.

“I think it’s just so normalized that people don’t recognize it as something that’s actually a very pervasive issue,” Kerr said. “ I would just encourage people to be mindful when they’re discussing things like this because it is something that anyone around you could be struggling with.”

While Kerr agrees with removing the labels, they said it is a Band-Aid solution to addressing eating disorders on campus. 

One way Kerr said they would like to see change is by increasing the number of faculty on campus who specialize in eating disorder recovery on both a nutritional level and a mental health level.

“It would be really nice to maybe see some programming from Northwestern Dining about things like intuitive eating and building a more balanced healthy relationship with food,” Kerr said.

According to a Winter 2018-2019 Healthy Minds Study, a higher percentage of Northwestern undergraduate students had both elevated and mild symptoms of eating disorders than the national undergraduate percentage. An average of 33.8% of undergraduate students nationwide had elevated symptoms, whereas 8% had mild symptoms. At Northwestern, 41% had elevated symptoms and 16% had mild symptoms. 

Pediatric gastroenterologist and Feinberg Prof. Mark Fishbein said while he does not promote calorie counting, he does not think removing calorie labels is the best way to support students with eating disorders.

“I definitely don’t think taking the calorie labels off the food is going to change someone’s behavior in that respect,” Fishbein said. “It’s maybe a message from the University saying that we’re not going to contribute to (harmful triggers).” 

Weatherspoon said she will work with CAPS, the campus dietician and health services to continue supporting students struggling with eating disorders using a “multidisciplinary” approach.

She added that now is the right time to spread awareness for eating disorders since this year’s National Eating Disorder Awareness Week begins Feb. 27 and ends March 5. CAPS is hosting events for “Body Acceptance Week” throughout the week to promote eating disorder awareness.

“We encourage anybody who’s struggling with an eating disorder to just see us for support,” Weatherspoon said. “We want to be just a resource for students as well because we recognize that the earlier eating disorders are treated, the higher the chance for recovery.”

Email:  [email protected] 

Twitter: @eschmitt318

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