Dining halls are one of the great social gathering places on campus. They provide a common place to meet friends outside of class, sports and other extracurricular activities. While they serve both a physical and social purpose, they can also be a source of unconscious stress, particularly among those who are insecure about their bodies. Even a seemingly harmless comment about something unhealthy on your plate can have an unintended effect on someone at your table. Because saying, “I can have froyo because I ran on the treadmill today” can so easily be interpreted in a negative way, it’s best to just not say it at all.
Fitness is an important priority to have, as is general well-being and healthy eating. However, it is easy to forget that simply talking about food in the wrong way can have a negative effect on another person. It is difficult not to compare your plate to your neighbor’s when they are talking about it. We’ve all sat in a dining hall with someone going on and on about how much they just ate, even if it was two pieces of pizza. Hearing those words immediately draws attention to the plate in front of you.
If you’re like me and sometimes just need to have three pieces of pizza because it sounds so good, there is an immediate flow of negative thoughts following the words, “Wow, I ate waaaaaaaaaaaay too much.” They only had two pieces of pizza, and they’re full? I had three. Should I be full? Did they notice that I had three pieces? Maybe I should not have dessert. Will they notice if I don’t eat the cupcake on my plate? I’ll just say I’m full too … and so on and so on until everyone at the table has mentioned in some way or another what they just did or didn’t eat. These negative thoughts about food, eating and body image can be instigated by an innocent comment, and often the speaker is unaware that his or her words could have such a strong effect on the people he or she is with.
It is so hard to tell how a person feels about his or her body, and often, negative thoughts can go unnoticed by a group of even close friends. For this reason, it is incredibly important that we choose to talk about food in a positive way rather than a negative one. Instead of directly connecting your plate to your body, which forces the rest of the table to do the same, we should make comments that relate only to the food. “This cake is delicious”, “I’ve enjoyed the green beans” and even “I’m a little upset with Mission’s quinoa” are all much more conducive to healthy minds and bodies. Ultimately, what a person chooses to put on his or her plate is a personal decision and should not be directly or indirectly criticized.
This is not to say that horrible eating habits are healthy in any way or that good eating habits shouldn’t be valued. Over-talking about food is not a healthy habit, and it is better for all if we take a moment to think about how words about food may be received. No one should have to feel the need to justify eating a piece of pizza or two to the group they are sitting with at dinner. Moderation is key, both with food and with the amount that we talk about it, because ultimately, if health is a personal goal, there is no need to share how much or little you’ve eaten today.
Erica Bucki ’15 is an enviromental studies major from Eagan, Minn. She lives in Woodbridge.