OPINION | Tulane meal plans promote problematic eating

Anna Dixon, Staff Writer

Meal plan options play in to unhealthy eating habits. (Maggie Pasterz)

Many college students are hyper-aware of their bodies: the size of their thighs, the way that their arms look when they walk and the appearance of their stomach when they are sitting down. The image of the ideal body, particularly for women, is engraved in every young adult’s mind through continuous reinforcement from the media. 

Discussions of weight in college are omnipresent, starting at the very beginning with the fear of gaining the “freshman fifteen.” Entering college requires a lot of lifestyle adjustment and typically coincides with change in metabolism for women. This frequently leads to a fluctuation in weight which causes students to be self-conscious of their size and appearance from the beginning of their time at school. At Tulane, the concept of what an ideal body looks like is extreme, especially for female students. Simply by walking through campus, it is obvious that a disproportionate number of female students have smaller builds. As we have entered the end of the spring semester and the weather warms, this becomes more obvious as students tan on the quads and attend daytime parties. There is a constant drive within the female student population to look like one’s peers and attain an “ideal body,” even if it requires unhealthy behaviors.

Problematic eating behaviors are so ingrained in us that we do not notice them. If a student were to mention that they are going to skip a meal because they plan to wear a revealing clothing item later, it would not be viewed as abnormal.

Tulane’s meal plan options do little to quell the weight-conscious student body and even further promote unhealthy behavior. Aside from the unlimited dining option, all of the other meal plan options rely on the student eating fewer than three meals a day on campus. While this seems like a trivial aspect of the dining options, it inherently promotes problematic eating behaviors by forcing students to limit how much they consume. The end of the semester brings a limited Wavebuck$ balance and discussions of summer bodies simultaneously. When there are already so many excuses to limit meals, lack of Wavebuck$ should not be added to the list. 

For students who have dietary restrictions, the dining options on campus are further limited. The school does a poor job of accommodating students who are gluten free, vegetarian or vegan. When students are unable to find food that they can eat on campus, they are forced to buy it off campus, which is only an option for some. Tulane should not assume that students are financially able to provide their own supplemental meals on top of a required meal plan and doing so is deeply classist. 

The limiting aspect of Tulane’s meal plans reflects a larger issue for American society: eating is often viewed as an optional part of the day, not a basic necessity. Regardless of how many times people are told by doctors and other experts that they need to listen to their bodies, diet culture is pervasive in everyday life. Unless one has major health concerns, nobody should be so closely monitoring what they eat. This very idea was created in order to motivate women to shrink themselves, but its ramifications are felt by all genders. Problematic eating in men is not discussed as frequently, but one in three people with an eating disorder are male. This is not acknowledged because the topic has been feminized; for a man to admit that he has issues with eating would be viewed as a reduction in his masculinity. 

There is a lot of gray area that exists between healthy eating and disordered eating, and most people find themselves in this gray area. They skip meals or only eat enough if they work out. These behaviors appear so natural that we do not view them as problematic, especially since many outlets in our culture mark them as healthy. By offering meal plans that require students to eat less than three meals a day, Tulane is not only subscribing to but promoting diet culture to a group of people already dangerously susceptible to these ideas.

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