UA Female Students Prioritize Optimal Nutrition

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Kaylee Scott, a freshman and theatre arts major at the University of Arizona, assumed her yoga pose on the first day of acting class. While in the pose, Scott knew she had learned her first college lesson outside the classroom and ate lunch at Core, a salad bar food vendor, as opposed to eating at one of the fast food chain vendors located in the memorial student union just feet away. 

Scott is one of the thousands of UA students who must learn how to navigate the menus of vendors who accept the UA meal plan. She wants to consume foods that will benefit her body while on campus. Scott wants to help other women who encounter or will encounter dietary dilemmas during their college careers.

Yoga has become a routine part of Scott’s acting class. She strives to eat in a way that will allow for optimal performance during physical activities. She knows it is hard to completely avoid high-calorie foods. As her first semester in college progresses, she already has dietary advice for female high school seniors looking to “bear down” in Tucson next school year.

“It is okay once in a while but don’t eat [fast food] every day. Do not deprive yourself. It is about balance and making smart choices,”  Scott said.

On the first day of classes, Scott walked into a concoction of smells that veteran Wildcats are used to: orange sweetness from Panda Express, combined with Papa John’s doughy grease and a French fry smell with an unknown origin. These smells penetrate through the union constantly.

Scott relies on her body to tell her when a food is helping her and when it is not.

“If I eat an apple I do not feel sick afterward. I feel more energetic as opposed to eating a slice of pizza,” Scott said.

According to Sarah Marrs, a nutrition counselor at UA campus health, women should take the opportunity to eat in public more often, due to being away from home, as an opportunity to unite in an effort to achieve optimal health and to reach their goals. She thinks every woman is unique and should not be compared.

“Women should make an effort to share freely what they love about their bodies,” Marrs said.

Marrs added that body-positive attitudes can rub off on family and friends who observe healthy behaviors.

In extreme cases, eating habits can have psychological effects on people and can develop into a range of conditions known as eating disorders.

Marrs explained that eating disorders happen for multiple reasons. She added that household environment plays a role along with messages conveyed by the media. She encourages women to disregard ideas that can make a woman feel bad about herself.

When it is possible, women should be skeptical of what they see and hear if it does not come from medical doctors or registered dietitians. Marrs added that having an investigative mindset can stop disordered eating patterns in their tracts.

“Be very critical of social and media messages that make you feel bad about yourself or your body,” Marrs said.

Krysten Provencio, a junior who studies nutritional sciences, provided her interpretation about what the media portrays as the ideal physique for women. However, she has an alternative thought process.

“You are set to be one type, thin and small. I think your body type will be how it is supposed to be,” Provencio said.

Marrs suggests referring to accredited eating disorder prevention groups when concerns about an individual’s relationship with food arise. On a lesser scale, Marrs encourages women to enjoy food and to have balanced habits. She says that women do not need to eliminate foods they enjoy even if the food does not make a beneficial nutritional contribution.

Provencio is an example of how money and nutrition intertwine. She grew up in a single parent household. She says that her family’s arrangement impacted her dietary patterns growing up. Although she could not always eat fresh produce at home, she was aware of the importance of them to her body. During middle school, Provencio learned how to read nutrition labels. She played sports in middle school, where her coaches encouraged her to eat with the purpose of fueling her body.

Provencio added that her eating habits would have suited her better if her family’s finances were not a factor. She challenges those who think that anyone can eat healthily.

“Eating healthy is a privilege. We just ate what was affordable at the time.” Provencio said.

She hopes food assistance programs can find less expensive ways to package and transport fresh produce to areas in need. Upon graduation, she hopes to attend medical school to become a dermatologist. Provencio sees a connection between having a diet that can optimize skin health.

Dena Cabrera, the executive clinical director of Rosewood Centers for Eating Disorders, wants the public to know that anyone can acquire an eating disorder regardless of gender or education level in nutrition.

“Just because you know something does not mean you can apply it,”  Cabrera said.

She added that physical appearance does not explain the entire story. Eating disorders affect the loved ones of those facing them. Cabrera described having an eating disorder as a “health crisis.”

“It’s a destruction of personal and family functions,” Cabrera said.

Cabrera ended by urging women who are struggling with eating disorders to take action.

“Eating disorders are complicated in nature. There are many components. Get support {when you need it},” Cabrera said.