Strum: First Lady’s fitness plan at college

Lora Strum

Lora StrumCollege students maintain that leftover pizza is a reasonable breakfast on Saturday morning, but Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” initiative argues otherwise.

The First Lady’s Let’s Move plan uses body weight, height, sex, age and activity level to compute our body mass index. Michelle Obama’s goals are relevant, considering issues with childhood obesity in this country.

Even as college students, we should follow her lead and develop healthy habits. Temple has taken measures to ensure its eateries help hungry consumers make calorie-conscious decisions, including signs in the Student Center food court highlighting meals under 600 calories, green apples that advertise Cosi’s “Lighter Side” items and vending machines emphasizing that “calories count.” Some students said this impacts the decisions they make before purchasing food.

“When choosing something to eat, I’m generally most concerned with the food item’s caloric and fat contents,” freshman advertising major Megan Sawey said.

It should be noted that if calories always determined health, eating well would be simpler. Let’s Move doesn’t acknowledge the negative effects of calorie consciousness. Calorie counting and BMI rules can lead to food obsessions and eating disorders, including orthorexia, the obsession with healthy eating.

“A few years ago, I watched my caloric intake like a hawk,” Sawey said. “Recently, though, that habit has definitely dissipated. I’ve learned that I can’t be a successful runner, or functioning human for that matter, without a good amount of calories.”

According to Temple’s Wellness Resource Center, 20 percent of college students struggle with eating disorders. Turning food into a number ruins students’ ability to measure the nutritional value of a meal, which contradicts the entire point of a balanced diet. On Main Campus, some students think more of their peers should be aware of this.

“Oftentimes, people that count calories do not eat enough and thus lack essential nutrients,” said sophomore early childhood education and special education double major Lauren Hassall. “Unless someone eats an excess of food every day, counting calories is not necessarily the best way to be healthy.”

Hassall teaches group fitness classes at the IBC Student Recreation Center. Along with exercise opportunities like those taught by Hassall, Temple offers free nutrition counseling, grocery store tours, group fitness classes and myriad eating establishments to provide a more complete approach to healthy living.

This may be the adult version of the Let’s Move campaign – college-aged students can set realistic and attainable goals for their eating habits.

While Let’s Move restricts students to a select percentage of “bad” calories, Temple’s nutritional guidelines argue that there are no “bad” foods. Chips, pizza and candy all have their place in a balanced diet. The university advocates students’ awareness of their own needs and desires to make an informed personal decision.

“It is important to be mindful of what I eat, but calories are not the sole indicator if a food is healthy or not,” Hassall said.

Students who follow the Paleolithic diet, or are vegan or vegetarian, have different caloric needs, which Let’s Move doesn’t take account for due to its more simplistic message geared at a younger generation.

“I am vegan [and] there are ample options available,” said freshman anthropology major and president of the Temple Vegan Action Network Kristen Welser. “I certainly never have to go hungry, and I very seldom am unhappy with the taste of my food.”

Temple now offers grocery store tours to show students how to fill their carts to satisfy their wants and nutritional requirements. Some said this helped them to be less picky in their purchases and feel more comfortable while shopping.

When it comes to working out, Hassall said the activity should be to reduce stress and release endorphins to make healthy living more sustainable. Let’s Move urges exercise, comparing an hour of jogging to the calories of a cheeseburger. Food again becomes a number, something college students don’t necessarily benefit from.

Though Temple supports the Let’s Move campaign in some ways, the approach that gives students personal freedom is the best course of action.

Lora Strum can be reached at lora.strum@temple.edu. 

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