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How To Use Your Meal Plan To Your Advantage

By: Desiree Cunningham

Upon entering college Brendan Walker, 20, knew he wanted to keep active from his former football playing days. Playing multiple intramural sports, Walker said that it should be more than enough to keep him in shape.

“Unhealthy is anything that is going towards your body or your well-being that is keeping you from having the best image of yourself that you can have,” the Arizona State University student said.

However, over the course of two years, his weight increased from a moderate 240 pounds to a sizable 280 pounds that his 6-foot-3’ frame couldn’t hide.

Pamela Swan, fellow of the College of Sports Medicine and the Obesity Society, says that this occurrence is due to a concept known as the energy balance. “The idea of energy balance is that obesity or body weight balance is based on what you do, in other words the physical activity you do, in balance with how many calories you eat- in other words the nutrition in,” Swan said. “It’s the nutrition in versus out.”

The physical effects were almost instantaneous. “Because I was eating a lot of unhealthy foods and bad foods that really got my cholesterol up and I wasn’t feeling the healthiest and not confident at all,” Walker said.

Over time, the mental effects of being overweight weighed Walker down until he came to a single decision that made him realize that a change needed to occur. “This is not the person that I want to be,” he said “This is not what I want to do. I don’t want to weigh this much. That’s not the person that I want people to see me as- like a heavy guy. It’s not the best image that I want to portray to my friends and my family.”

With a goal in mind, Walker was forced to face his unhealthy eating habits that were sabotaging his body image. For Walker, that meant reevaluating his approach to eating in the dining hall. Before Walker would be cautious when eating at the dining hall. However, over time due to a busy lifestyle, his cautious tendencies were replaced by more relaxed eating habits that eventually led to his weight gain.

“The dining hall mainly was for convenience. It was time efficient to go down and get food and come back up [to the dorms]; my time was scarce,” said Walker.

Aramrak food services provides all the food in dining halls. Aramrak abides by all the Arizona State Food Safety codes and regulations, according to Shanice Curtis, Marketing Coordinator.


Sun Devil Dining Nutritionists are available on every campus for free student consultation. Periodically, they set up tables in the dining halls to engage students and give them nutrition information. Otherwise, consultations can be scheduled by phone or email with the nutritionist of the student’s choice on their campus; contact information can be found on the ASU Dining Hall website.

Nutritionist Paula Cole said that she met with over 30 students this semester, in regards to food allergies and sensitivities, gut issues and weight loss. Additionally, she consults with students looking to optimize their energy and focus levels, and muscle development and endurance training by putting together appropriate meals in the dining hall.

“There is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ type diet, which is exactly why Sun Devil Dining Nutritionists are available to all students for reference,” Cole said. “With the relationships I build with each student, I am able to learn what the students need from us as a company and work with the Sun Devil Dining to make changes to accommodate those needs.”

Curtis said that the structure of the dining hall has changed over time to better accommodate students based on feedback and demand. Ingredients made without gluten have been incorporated to the menus, such as pasta, bread and cereals, according to Curtis.

Other options, such as made-to-order stations, themed meals and premium nights are included for more variety with limited time offers. The dining halls across campus have an increased number of vegetarian and vegan options for students who don’t eat meat or want other options.

The Daily Root Station is located at each All-You-Care-To-Eat dining hall. The Daily Root offers plant-based breakfast, lunch and dinner options, as well as vegan desserts. After recently renovating the Tempe Campus dining hall Pitchforks, the eatery now offers an array of Middle Eastern, Baja, Mediterranean and Asian cuisines.

“Breakfast options have enhanced including crepes, smoothies, traditional South American fried beans and chorizo,” Curtis said.

Residential hall menu boards display nutrition information, including calorie and fat content for student reference. Additionally, in partnership with MyFitnessPal, nutritional information for each item being served is available online on the MyFitnessPal website or via their app.


Photo Courtesy of Desiree Cunningham

For students who aren’t interested in tracking calories or rather practice intuitive eating, the idea that becoming more responsive to the bodies hunger signals is more effective than tracking the amounts of energy and fats in foods, nutritionist Jessica Braboy offered some advice. She said students should aim to fill half of their plates with fruits and veggies, a quarter of the plate should be protein, and the other quarters of the plate should be grains to get a balanced meal. “I suggest making fun and creative trips to different stations to get a plate full of nutrient dense food,” said Braboy.


Photo Courtesy of Desiree Cunningham

With the support of a close friend looking to achieve similar goals, Walker set out on a weight loss journey that he dubbed “Shed 40.” Self-educated, Walker continued his usual active lifestyle and implemented a healthier diet that he prepared himself at home. Two months later, Walker is now 16 pounds away from his goal weight of 240 pounds.

Despite these accommodations, students like Victoria Grijalva Ochoa said the dining hall presented inconveniences that made upholding standards difficult. Ochoa approached dining hall setbacks creatively to create a system that suited her needs. Ochoa’s community-involved lifestyle made eating at the dining hall inconvenient. She participates in two internships, hosts a radio show and is a full-time student. Because of this, she has opted to buy her own groceries that consists of fruits, low sodium and low calorie options. With a full kitchen located in Taylor Place and minimal kitchen appliances like a Nutribullet, refrigerator and microwave in her dorm room, Ochoa is able to cook and meal prep at her own discretion.

“I don’t have to go to the dining hall, I don’t have to wait in line,” Ochoa said. “I’m also saving money- at least $1,000.”

She said that being able to cook for herself is convenient because she does not have the same variety in the dining hall as she would if she were cooking for herself. “Variety wise there isn’t much going for them [dining hall],” Ochoa said. “It’s not something that I miss.”

Students like Ochoa symbolize the lengths some will go to ensure their health and finances.

Walker’s success story is one that he says he hopes will inspire other people. Many others would like to follow his example.  However, he says that living in a dorm room with a meal plan at the dining hall presents a hurdle.


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