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Nutritionist keeps students focused

Lisa Schultz | Thursday, October 6, 2005

New Notre Dame students are under an immense amount of pressure learning to adapt to college life – they must learn to navigate campus, courses and the Irish social scene. Most accomplish this successfully by the end of the first semester and by senior year can consider themselves professional Domers.

One area most students do not learn to navigate well, however, is dining on campus.

A 2001 study about eating disorders at the University indicated that the seriousness of high-risk eating behaviors and patterns is ignored.

In an effort to combat unhealthy habits, Notre Dame Food Services provides a professional resource for students who want to become educated on how to eat healthily in college – nutritionist Jocie Antonelli.

Antonelli said students can see her if they want help regarding anything to do with eating habits – gaining weight safely, avoiding the dreaded “freshman 15” or hints on how to eat healthily in the dining halls.

According to a July 2005 University press release, 72 percent of the class of 2009 lettered in at least one varsity sport during their senior year of high school. The high level of participation often drops when students reach Notre Dame, where gaining a spot on a sports team is far more competitive.

While many students choose to participate in interhall sports, their level of physical activity is no longer regulated by conditioning or daily practices. The change in exercise routines and inevitable change in eating patterns makes the healthy eating education Antonelli offers especially useful.

Antonelli said a nutritionist’s main goal is not to figure out a good diet for an individual, but to develop a healthy life plan.

“I focus on general health,” she said.

Antonelli said healthy eating – not calorie counting or extreme exercising – is a big part of a healthy lifestyle for everyone from varsity football players to sedentary freshmen who may be 25 pounds overweight.

She also said she attempts to help students avoid eating disorders through education.

When a student goes to see Antonelli, she tries to get a general picture of the student’s eating pattern and general lifestyle. Standard questions for students are, “What is your biggest meal of the day?” and “How often do you exercise?”

Antonelli said she also typically asks students who seek her help to keep track of their eating patterns for three days so she can get a better idea of their behaviors in order to come up with an individually specific plan for each student.

This is especially important at a large university like Notre Dame. The 2001 study found that Notre Dame’s residential environment, coupled with extremely high-achieving students, can even cause the behaviors of some students to impact others significantly. The study also indicated that eating disorders on campus are largely underrated.

Jessica Weiner, who authored “A Very Hungry Girl” to raise eating disorder awareness, told students that discussion about eating is the key to figuring out a healthy life plan when she visited campus during Eating Disorders Awareness Week last spring.

“The need to talk about this issue is profound,” she said. “Like many college campuses, [Notre Dame] is an incredibly tough school, and you all are perfectionists. There is incredible pressure on you.”