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Experts say calorie counting is potentially harmful

Some nutrition experts have suggested calorie counters (above) could be inaccurate.
Some nutrition experts have suggested calorie counters (above) could be inaccurate.

Most people think of calories as a way to gauge how healthy a food item is. Whether you are dieting or just trying to eat healthier, calories are what most people look to when deciding on which foods to eat. Jessica Pelletier of Eating Concerns Mentors (ECM) said that listing the calories on cards next to the food at dining halls is actually doing more harm than good.

According to Pelletier, when students with eating disorders see the calorie listings, they may be driven away from eating the food.

“If you talk with people who have gone through it, it’s a big trigger for them,” Pelletier said.

ECM works with students to help them with their eating disorders or their body image issues, and Pelletier said the problems are widespread on campus.

“Eating disorders, eating concerns, body image issues; major concerns at UNH” said Pelletier.

“A lot of people are interested, a lot of people of people contact us concerned about their friends and how to deal with that, because it’s kind of just become accustomed to culture not to accept your body and love your body so a lot of people don’t come forward to get help,” she added.

Pelletier said that removing the calorie tags at the food stations will make eating at the dining halls a more safe and comfortable experience for students with eating disorders.

Understanding that many students use the calorie listings as a dieting tool, Pelletier warned that the calorie information is not accurate for that purpose.

“They’re not accurate in the dining hall, because when you produce in mass quantities everything is inaccurate. You can ask the chefs and cooks in the back, they don’t measure everything out and the students working there don’t portion when they cut it,” said Pelletier.

Pelletier suggested that students who are dieting could look up the calories online instead or through the UNH app.

To advocate for the removal of calorie listings, ECM has worked with Emily Counts the chair of the Health and Wellness Committee.

“It’s helpful for some people who are overweight and obsess because they have to really monitor how much they are taking in to help them lose weight,” said Counts, adding, “but for some people who have an eating disorder… it can be really destructive because they will look at the caloric intake and be like ‘oh no, that’s not okay, I can’t have that at all.’”

Counts, who also happens to be passionate about nutrition, said that serving size is an important point to consider in the discussion of the calorie cards.

“You can take double or you can take even less so it’s accurate for the serving size but it’s not accurate for what everyone puts on their plate, ”said Counts.

Counts also stressed that the plan is to remove the tags at the dining halls but students will still be able to look up the calorie counts online.

Counts has been meeting with dining services administrators and is hoping to experiment with the idea of removing the calorie cards at one of the dining halls.

“I hoping to have a dining hall picked and ready to go for the fall,” said Counts.

The process to roll out this plan has proven to be difficult for Counts and ECM. Waiting on the approval of several administrators and organizing meetings are some of the obstacles Counts has encountered in the process so far.

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