September 8, 2005

Environment Shapes Eating Habits For Cornell Students

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Waffles, Greek salad, lo mein and frozen yogurt can all be found in several of Cornell’s all-you-care-to-eat dining halls. What’s stopping students from eating piles of food each day? “Certainly not biological cues,” said Prof. David Levitsky, nutrition science.

A study published by Levitsky in the Physiology and Behavior Journal found that after a two-week period of overeating, participants returned to the same normal eating behavior they had prior to the study. This suggests that environmental factors, such as portion size, have a more significant effect on our eating habits than genetics.

The study was co-authored with Eva Obarzanek, a nutritionist for the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, of the National Institutes of Health; Gordana Mrdjenovic Ph.D. ’00; and Barbara Strupp, nutritional science.

As a follow-up to the study, The Sun asked students about their own eating struggles and strategies.

One site of potential weight gain cited is Cornell’s famous all-you-care-to-eat style dining hall. “We have found that freshmen do gain weight and it is due to the environment of which they live. We also know that the amount that you put on your plate is a major determinant of how much you eat,” Levitsky noted.

Lindsay MacLeod ’09, who lives on North Campus, eats in the dining halls approximately twice per day.

“My daily meals usually consist of salad, grilled chicken and definitely frozen yogurt afterwards,” said MacLeod.

“It’s very easy to eat more than I normally would at home because all of the food is right in front of me,” she said. “Because the dining halls are buffets, I find it is much easier to put more on my plate.”

MacLeod said, “When I live in Collegetown I don’t expect that I’d eat as much.”

Brad Newman ’07, a member of the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity, noted that he eats a smaller amount of food in his fraternity than he ate in the dining halls when he was a first year student.

“Now that I’m in a fraternity I’m eating much healthier. We have a cook who makes us lunch and dinner Sunday evening through Thursday evening. Our cook takes a lot of suggestions from guys in the house on what we would like,” Newman said.

“Freshman year I ate in the dining halls at least twice a day. Now, I live in my fraternity house with some pretty big guys who eat a lot. There is always plenty of food left over,” Newman said. “Just because the food is there I don’t feel like I need to eat it.”

Newman said, “In the all-you-can-eat dining halls you are tempted because of a fixed price, so you want to put a lot on your plate. But you should be aware that the more on your plate, the more you will eat.”

“As a freshman I also ate in the dining halls and ate more than your average sized meal. I even ate dessert every day which I normally wouldn’t do,” said Rachel Brook ’07. “When I lived in my sorority house, meals became more standard. They were relatively healthy and balanced.”

Brook feels that living in Collegetown has allowed her to be more creative with her meals.

“I typically eat some sort of protein like a hamburger or chicken, plus a vegetable and a starch occasionally,” she said.

Brook notes that she spends a lot more time thinking about what she will eat because she must plan ahead.

“It takes a while to get used to living and cooking on your own. I definitely think that I have been eating a lot less during mealtime, but snacking can sometimes make up for it,” Brook said.

“When you cook at home, you cook one meal. At the dining halls when you have an array of sumptuous food, you are likely to take many things,” Levitsky said.

“One of the changes at Cornell [for] students coming from home to the dining halls is the after-midnight eating. When you are up late and studying, there is a greater opportunity to want to consume more food. You need to be aware that this eating at non-meal times is cumulative,” he said.

“When you eat outside of the meals make them less calorically dense as possible. Salads and fruit are great,” he recommended. “And remember, one way to stay healthy and prevent gaining weight is by a controlled diet and of course exercise.”

Archived article by Allison Markowitz
Sun Staff Writer