“It’s a pleasure to be a teacher,” said Professor Levitsky, nutritional science and psychology. Levitsky has been at Cornell since 1968 – that’s over 40 years! But Levitsky was not always on this path. “I didn’t want to go to college; I wanted to be a TV repair man.”
It was not until his sophomore year, when Levitsky began work in a psychology laboratory, that he became “totally intoxicated by research.” He began to enjoy college while designing an experiment that could potentially be accepted by peers.
To students that may feel similarly, Levitsky said, “Search for something that really turns you on. It might not be the first thing you find, but keep searching.”
Levitsky completed his degrees at Rutgers University, where he mainly studied psychology; he came to Cornell to do his post-doctorate work.
“Cornell’s nutrition is unique, in that, most of the faculty wasn’t trained in nutrition.” Because of this, a multidisciplinary approach is taken. “It’s the problems that bring us together.”
Currently, Levitsky teaches “Nutrition, Health and Society and Obesity and the Regulation of Body Weight. “ He enjoys the reward of watching the “aha” moment in students.
“Students are challenging – Cornell students push you and are often enthusiastic about research,” he said. Levitsky is an unconventional teacher – he writes poetry to keep his students on board with intricate concepts. His poems explain everything from the mechanisms that regulate blood glucose at a certain levels to the route that fat travels through the body. These poems are put to music and available for his students as study tools.
Levitsky oversees 15 to 20 research projects, often run by undergraduate students.
In his opinion, a major problem is that Americans eat too much, and this is reflected in his projects. For instance, one project published last year examined self-weighing in college freshmen. Results suggest, if freshmen weigh themselves daily, they won’t gain weight.
A current experiment investigates self- weighing, and no evidence suggests that this behavior can cause eating disorders.
“Our problem is that we eat too much. The solution is to eat less,” Levitsky said.
His philosophy is that partnership between food production and nutrition is difficult, as currently, food producers can sell Americans more food than they need.
Another issue is the economics of healthy eating. Levitsky explained that it takes basically the same amount of energy for one to prepare a full portion as a half portion, so if half portions are sold at half price, it will not be as profitable. As a member of the University Dining Committee, Levitsky believes the university is serving “very good food, as nutritious as they could make it and still sell it.”
As a teacher of introductory nutrition, Levitsky has encountered a number of misnomers. Of these, one misnomer suggests that individuals can increase bodybuilding capacity by eating more protein, which is false, according to Levitsky.
Likewise, he said, breakfast is not the most important meal of the day. In fact, Levitsky indicated that while some people need breakfast, others do not. He often receives phone calls from parents with newly-established vegetarian children worried about protein intake. Levitsky sees meat as a “condiment and flavoring” to other foods; an addition, not an essential.