“I actually consider the LFIT class as my primary trigger,” Daly said. “There were a myriad of factors. All of those factors came to a pinnacle when they asked me to record my calories for a week.”
The nutrition lab has students keep track of what they eat and their exercise for a week on the app, MyFitnessPal. At the end of the unit, students print out their results and turn it into their teaching assistant.
“The lab activity is never meant to be a calorie counter,” said Becca Battaglini, director of the Lifetime Fitness and Physical Activity programs. “The goal behind it is to kind of give them the bigger picture of their overall nutrition.”
But Daly, who graduated in 2013, felt the LFIT activity wasn’t designed in a healthy manner.
“For me, it became a game — it became how low can I get this deficit, and that really became unhealthy,” Daly said. “I never thought I had an eating disorder. I didn’t understand truly what an eating disorder was.”
‘It focuses on numbers’
Embody Carolina, a subcommittee of the Campus Y that trains friends of those dealing with eating disorders, has begun working with the Lifetime Fitness and Physical Activity programs by changing the way the course talks about and teaches nutrition.
“The main problem that we have with it is that it really focuses on numbers,” said Sarah Leck, Embody Carolina co-chairwoman. “It’s not about choosing foods that are good for you or eating food when you’re hungry or having a good relationship with food.”
Leck, who leads the Embody Carolina team aiming to change the LFIT curriculum, said the MyFitnessPal activity puts too much emphasis on tracking calories and not enough on holistic nutrition.
“It creates a really overly warped view of how your relationship with food should be,” Leck said. “A relationship with food that is healthy is more than numbers.”
For those who live with eating disorders, it often began with a diet, she said.
“If you eat ‘X’ amount of calories, you shouldn’t have to work out for ‘X’ amount of minutes to burn it,” Leck said. “The way that it’s taught in LFIT — there’s not a lot of context brought around it.”
Battaglini said the app is the most efficient they have found so far at showing a whole picture of nutrition.
“It really has nothing to do with calories,” Battaglini said. “It also takes in the amount of carbs, proteins, sugars, all of that that you are (taking in).”
Battaglini said most of the students in LFIT classes are freshmen, so this is likely their first time away from home.
“The purpose is not to make anybody feel self-conscious or make anybody think that they have to change their diet or go to the gym,” she said.
“The goal behind it is to help them see the bigger picture of what they are eating and to see if they possibly need to make healthier choices or see if they are doing a really good job.”
Embody’s next step
Daly’s own eating disorder and her friends’ attempts to help her is part of what inspired Embody Carolina. She is one of the four founders — along with fellow graduates Cora Wilen, Ben Barge and Savannah King.
The four began working with the UNC Center of Excellence for Eating Disorders to develop the curriculum for Embody trainings. The LFIT effort is focused on changing the nutrition unit by making the alternative assignment more visible and steering away from MyFitnessPal, with an eventual goal of abandoning the app completely.
“There are other apps that we’ve looked at that don’t focus on the numbers but more on how are you feeling after you eat and why did you eat,” Leck said.
Embody Carolina trained LFIT teaching assistants last year on sensitivity when discussing issues related to eating disorders.
“People have told Embody that TAs use the project to scare students from the freshman 15,” Leck said. “We don’t want first-years and transfer students who are coming in and are already in a vulnerable time in their lives, we don’t want this unit to click with them somehow in their mind and send them on a downward spiral.”